Norwegian food for the soul
Viking Soul Food in Portland, Ore. is a small food trailer that packs a big punch
By Kelsey Larson
Viking Soul Food is buzzing with customers. This would make more sense if it was actually the lunch or dinner hour, but instead it is 3 p.m. on a sunny Friday afternoon when it seems most people would want to be in their cars, heading out on a weekend getaway.
Instead, these would-be weekend vacationers chose Good Food Here in Portland, Ore. as their destination, where the Viking Soul Food trailer is parked amongst other trailers toting a wide variety of foods, including Greek, barbeque, coffee, you name it. There is even a trailer that sells primarily crème brulee. But amongst all these delicious options, Viking Soul Food, which boasts a tasty spread of Norwegian lefse, pickled herring, meatballs and other Nordic goods, is garnering lots of attention.
Megan Walhood and Jeremy Daniels met in the food service industry, and with over 20 years in the food service industry between them, they were ready to open their own business; they only needed a concept.
One Christmas, as Jeremy – who doesn’t come from a Norwegian food tradition – sat with Megan’s family making lefse and meatballs, he took a piece of lefse, wrapped some meatballs, surkål, and brown cheese inside, and ate it like a Norwegian burrito.
Concept found. Viking Soul Food specializes in sweet and savory “lefse wraps” which are prepared in such a way that they are easily consumed on the go. This is a new level of accessibility when it comes to Norwegian specialty foods. “Scandinavian food is underrepresented,” explains Walhood. She and Daniels aim to give it a bit more publicity.
Besides getting the word out about Scandinavian food in a creative way, Viking Soul Food specializes in working with local farms and businesses. After finding out that IKEA lingonberries are actually imported from China, for example, they checked out some local farms and stumbled across Friendship Farm in Rainier, Ore., which grows the tart Scandinavian berry, and is the only farm in the Pacific Northwest to do so. The partnership has been great for both parties. Walhood and Daniels work with the freshest local lingonberries, while Friendship Farm has increased their production to keep up with Viking Soul Foods’ sales. “It’s a win-win,” says Walhood. They are even in conversation with local goat farmers, and eventually would like to use locally produced gjetost, Norwegian brown cheese, which hasn’t been produced in the U.S. before. “We like to support the local economy as much as we can,” says Walhood.
Viking Soul Food also focuses on producing healthy products. They make their lefse with extra-virgin olive oil rather than butter. This may come as a shock to many champion lefse-flippers, who know that butter is a key ingredient. But the olive oil lefse is just as tasty, in addition to being better for you. “We even had a blind taste test, and people couldn’t tell the difference,” says Daniels.
The community response since Viking Soul Food was founded in the spring of 2010 has been quite positive. At first, the trailer was located in a quieter area, and they weren’t doing much in the way of advertising. Then, the Norwegian-Americans in town found out about it. “The Scandinavian community was like…whoa, this is awesome!” says Walhood, describing the overwhelmingly positive reaction. Since then, business has boomed; especially around the holiday season, Viking Soul Food pulls in giant lefse orders. “We even had people calling up for fattigman,” says Walhood. Not to mention that the 1958 silver trailer that Viking Soul Food calls home (christened Gudrun, and appropriately purchased on the 17th of May) is now located at one of the poshest food trailer pods in town.
So what should you order at Viking Soul Food? With all the delicious options, it’s hard to choose. Walhood’s favorite is the vegetarian lefse wrap, with savory mushroom hazelnut patties, blue cheese, beets and parsley sauce. “We put a lot of work into that,” she says. “Most people add a vegetarian option as an afterthought, and I didn’t want that.”
Though Daniels doesn’t come from the Scandinavian food tradition, he feels it is the ultimate comfort food and has definitely bonded with it. “I didn’t grow up with it, but I feel like I should’ve,” he says. Daniels’ favorite is the wrap that started it all: the pork and beef meatball wrap. With meatballs, gjetost sauce, and surkål wrapped in delicious lefse, it’s no wonder this is Viking Soul Food’s best-selling item. “I still have it two or three times a week,” he admits.
For more information about Viking Soul Food, visit www.vikingsoulfood.com. Don’t forget to check their website, Facebook or Twitter before you go to visit; they will keep you updated on when they are closed.
This article originally appeared in the May 4, 2012 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.