Finding Norway at the Minnesota State Fair

From Norwegian waffles to “Oof-da Tacos”

The hungry crowds never let up at the Nordic Waffles stand, located in the fairground’s West End Market.

LAILA SIMON
St. Paul, Minn.

While standing in line at one of the 20 park-and-ride locations, waiting to bus to the Minnesota State Fair, a couple behind me explained that they thought last year, 2021, would be their last year at the fair. The Minnesota State Fair is the biggest in the country when it comes to daily attendance numbers. This year, the fair broke daily attendance records on six days (according to their website) and topped 2 million total visitors. The biggest state fair in the United States is in Texas with its 24 day span.

Nordic Waffles has been a hit at the Minnesota State Fair since 2018. This year, the “Slammin’ Salmon” was one of their favorite offerings.

The couple told others in line that their children had finally been selected for a coveted spot as a food vendor, after waiting on the interest list for 15 years. This accomplishment inspired their reluctant return to the Saint Paul Fairgrounds.

Nordic Waffles became a vendor in 2018 and is now a highlight and must-see for thousands of state fair visitors. Tucked in the West End Market, the Nordic Waffles stand can be spotted with a heart-holding nisse poking out on top of the roof (complete with waffle cone hat).

This year, the Norwegian business that has taken the waffle industry in Minnesota by storm since 2016, had local buzz over their new state fair offerings. The new menu items included two waffle sandwiches, the “Belly Full” and the “Vanilla Dream.” One filled with pork belly, coleslaw, and jalapeño jam, and one with fresh vanilla custard, alongside a new drink: “Nordic Spiced Tea.” The tea was the real hit, for me and many of the news outlets covering reviews of all the new foods. Spiced with mulling spices—cloves, cardamom, anise, and ginger—and topped with a splash of lemonade, this drink really paired well with the rich waffle sandwiches, my favorite of which is the “Slammin’ Salmon” (lox with cream cheese and chives).

The servings of Ole and Lena’s “Løkringer”—Norwegian Onion Rings—were so delicious but so big that a few people couldn’t finish them.

Nordic Waffles navigated challenges over the past two years, like almost every business. They closed their only brick-and-mortar location in Potluck Food Hall at Rosedale Center mall, and took the smart approach of focusing solely on their frozen waffles and waffle sandwiches. Aside from the Minnesota State Fair, grocery aisles are now the only place to buy these tasty Norwegian treats. All in all, these heart-shaped favorites have come a long way from the Norwegian gas station where founder Stine Aasland sold her first waffles.

A second Norway-inspired booth caught us by surprise this year. In Minnesota, Ole and Lena are household names. These two characters, born from the humor of Scandinavian immigrants to America, are emblematic for both Swedish and Norwegian Americans. Their humor can also be quite divisive, but Minnesotans claim Ole and Lena as their own. It was truly a delight to stumble upon Ole and Lena’s “Hotdish on a Stick.” What really caught our eye was not the layered tater tot and meatball fried in cornbread, but the heaping mound of “Løkringer”—Norwegian Onion Rings. Between the two of us, we couldn’t finish the pile, but were thrilled by the unexpected lingonberry dipping sauce and perfect light crunchy texture. Some of the best we’ve had.

The Minnesota State Fair has something for everyone. With over 500 foods to choose from, it spans every culture and shines a spotlight on what makes Minnesota such a diverse place to live. From Hmong Nqaij skewers, to arepas, to Norwegian waffles, and “Oof-da Tacos” with frybread, everyone can find their favorite place for the annual trek to the fair.

Minnesotans like to claim Ole and Lena as their own, and at the Minnesota State Fair, they offer up a variety of specialties inspired by them.

When it was time to cool down, Nordic Waffles offered up a “Nordic Spiced Tea,” a delicious combination of tea, lemonade, and mulling spices.

 

All photos by Laila Simon

This article originally appeared in the October 7, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Laila Simon

Laila Simon is a writer in Minneapolis. She is a dual citizen of Norway and the United States and has been writing for The Norwegian American since 2017. When she’s not attempting ambitious recipes, Laila translates Norwegian poetry and adds to her houseplant collection.