A food cart to nourish the Nordic soul
Walking up to The Bite, a food cart pod tucked between two buildings on Belmont, there are no open seats on a sunny October Saturday. The Viking Soul Food cart is in the back, past Thai food, mac ‘n’ cheese, and Korean. The shiny chrome trailer (named Gudrun, after a Norse mythology heroin) looks like a space object but has some fun Nordic flair, like a bronze Viking ship hanging on the front. I brought a friend along so we could try a few dishes together.
The menu is surprisingly large for a cart! The last food cart I visited was French cuisine in northeast Portland, which had only had three offerings. Viking Soul Food has a complete menu with variations, specials, sides, and drinks! Because it was 70 degrees, we could not resist ordering the lingonberry ice tea—and were not disappointed. Not overly sweet with a hint of black tea and a vibrant red color, this was the perfect mid-morning sip.
Their lefse wraps are obviously popular; several people at nearby tables were enjoying the burrito-looking wraps. According to the Viking Soul Food website, lefse was the original inspiration for this unique food cart. Co-founder Megan grew up eating the traditional potato “flatbread” and co-founder Jeremy fell in love with lefse and saw its potential as a backboard for a fusion street food.
Although it might be sacrilegious to say, I think I prefer lefse utilized in a savory wrap over layered with butter and cinnamon sugar. In my opinion the floury potato lefse lends itself better to a variety of fillings. And I am clearly not alone in this! Viking Soul Food offers not one but four savory wraps with lefse handmade daily. The lefse has a classic flavor and texture and is delicate but hearty enough to hold meatballs, chicken sausage, salmon, or mushrooms. We opted for the Norwegian Meatball lefse wrap, containing meatballs in a caramelized goat cheese gravy and pickled cabbage. I saw this as Viking Soul Food’s signature dish. It has strong Scandinavian elements and soul food comfort all wrapped up in an easy-to-grab shape.
We also ordered a salad with house-smoked salmon, pickled shallots, dill cream, and lemon over greens. The greatest triumph of this food cart is taking a historically heavy food culture and making it lighter and fresher. Some of Norway’s most famous foods are cured fish, meat, and potatoes, because that is what would last during long cold winters. Viking Soul Food turns this concept on its head with the use of fresh local ingredients and daily creations.
The specials board featured a savory hand-pie with a chanterelle mushroom filling. I am hard-pressed to resist anything involving this Pacific Northwest delicacy, delicate orange and white mushrooms typically found in mossy forests. It was clear from the first bite that the small pie was baked on the spot. The crust was flaky and warm and served alongside a side salad. I savored the hand-pie as best as I could, wanting to eat it all at once. The flavors were simple, allowing the chanterelles to be the main focus. This was my favorite plate by far.
The salad had a surprising taste that got better as you went along. Loaded with delicious pink fish, the initial bite was quite sour. The lemon is strong and complements the dill and salmon very well. The citrus was also a nice cut into the richness of the meatball wrap. The wrap is large, with probably eight or so meatballs inside. We found ourselves unable to finish the whole thing, partially because we ordered a lot of food but also because the caramelized sauce is very sweet. The goat cheese has a specific rich caramel flavor. It pairs well with the brine of the cabbage but at the end of the wrap with mostly cabbage and sauce, it became a bit much.
Viking Soul Food has made itself attractive to both traditional Scandinavian folks—they do offer warm lefse with butter and sugar or lingonberries—and Portland foodies new to Nordic cuisine. With a unique menu and seasonal specials, this cart appeals to any meal time including a quick snack (try the Troll Snack, a rye crisp with Jarlsberg cheese and roasted shallot spread). Prices are generally a bit high but comparable to other carts, with dishes in the $7-11 range for a midsize amount of food. The wraps are either $8 or $9.
Viking Soul Food is open every day from 12:00 to 8:00 p.m., with an extra hour on the weekends. Named one of Portland’s 15 best food carts in 2016 by Willamette Week, this local Nordic spot is not to be missed by die-hard lefse fans and diners who want a fresh and unexpected experience.
Visit www.vikingsoulfood.com for more info.
Laila Simon is a recent graduate of St. Olaf College. Based in Portland, Ore., she writes poetry, works at a Nordic nonprofit, and looks for her next travel opportunity. Previously published in St. Olaf’s The Quarry, Silver Birch Press, and on the Rain Taxi: Review of Books website.
This article originally appeared in the Nov. 17, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.