Good things come in small packages

Nordic Preserves Fish & Wildlife Company serves up the flavors of Scandinavia from a stall in New York’s historic Essex Street Market

Photo: Marcus Santos / NY Daily News
Smoked salmon quiche with red onion is just one of the lunch (brunch?) items available at Nordic Preserves Fish & Wildlife Co.

Victoria Hofmo
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Although I am a native New Yorker, I have to confess that I only recently visited the historic Essex Street Market for the first time. This market opened in 1940, through the vision of Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia and funds from the WPA. In its heyday it boasted 475 vendors.

Today, this charming indoor abode for purveyors of chow continues to serve residents and businesses. Besides vendors offering cuisine such as bread, cheese, poultry, meat, produce, and spices, one can also get a haircut and enjoy art at the Cuchifritos Gallery & Project Space. Prepared food is also available; a variety of delights reflect the consumable delicacies of many of the cultures that inhabit New York: Japanese, Mexican, Italian, and even Scandinavian.

Nordic Preserves Fish & Wildlife Company offers Scandinavian delectables. The name is a mouthful, but the market space is tiny. And it is amazing, if not almost a sleight of hand, how they are able to provide the quantity and variety of fare they offer. As stated in the market’s directory, “They serve everything Swedish style including Swedish meatballs, Scandinavian-style hot dogs, smoked eel, toast skagen, traditional herring, soups, elderberry soda, and much more.” Annika Sundvik, one of the owners, was interviewed in the NYCEDC blog in 2012 and listed some of the company’s other specialties. “We sell homemade herrings as well as cured and smoked fish such as gravlax. We also hand-roll Swedish meatballs and bake cardamom cakes and crisp breads.”

Sundvik has run this business since 2012 with her two partners, Lu Ratunil and John Lavelle. Their creation has been well received. They also offer catering services and their food can also be eaten at the popular annual Midsummer Festival in New York.

The day I visited Nordic Preserves, the friendly and easygoing Ratunil was there and we spoke about the logistics of preparing the food in the building’s kitchen. Hailing from the Philippines, Ratunil often experiments and incorporates spices and twists found in his culture.

Photo: Paula C. / Yelp
The Caribou head, Vesh, rules over the tiny space NPFWC has managed to fill to the brim with imports and homemade Scandinavian foods.

This is not Sundvik’s first food emporium in New York. She, along with Ratunil and Lavelle, ran a very funky Scandinavian restaurant and bar, right around the corner from this market booth, called Good World Bar and Grill. It was always packed, had a great backyard scene, and it was here that I first experienced Pytt i Panna. This dish was described to me by a Swedish friend as one that combines leftovers as a means to be frugal by preventing waste, and the version I tasted had an egg on top.

In the same blog earlier noted, Sundvik was asked about her favorite memory. She replied, “When I [still] had my restaurant together with the Block Association, I closed off the stall for a week each Christmas and held a Nordic Christmas Market on Orchard Street between Canal and Division. I would set up stalls and invite local vendors to sell their wares in the showing room.”

The blog interview also asked her for fun facts about her business. She spoke about the head of a caribou that adorns the stall. It actually seems to be keeping guard over all it surveys. His name is Vesh. Vesh “has been with us since Good World, our first restaurant, and majestically holds court over our stall. It was featured in a scene in the first Sex and the City movie and was energetically talked about on the Regis and Kelly show when they joked about it by saying, ‘The moose is loose on the Lower East Side.’”

Though all is well at NPFWC, there is much upheaval outside the market walls. The Lower East Side, where the market resides, has watched as the neighborhood, once a stronghold of the poor and working class, is being rapidly replaced by a growing number of luxury condos, inhabited by absentee owners looking for a place to sink their money and the very, very well heeled. Unfortunately, the Essex Street Market is not immune to these ominous forces and is slated to be demolished in 2018. So, if you’re in New York, it’s worth a visit before yet another important piece of our history is smashed into rubble.

Luckily, NPFWC has been offered a space in a new location, across the street where the developer has guaranteed them a spot within the new luxury building he is constructing. It is to include a new market space, a trade off for the developer getting the Essex Street Market site. I hope that the rent remains affordable but am not optimistic about New York developers’ promises nor the city holding them accountable. However, I am optimistic that this trio will survive and continue to provide Nordic delicacies to the New York public as they have been doing for close to 20 years, in whatever incarnation suits them or they can imagine.

The NPFWC’s hours are: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday & Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.; Wednesday & Saturday, 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.; and Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Their booth number is 36C.

This article originally appeared in the June 30, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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