Vikings in the Attic: “Food”
The following is an excerpt from Vikings in the Attic: In Search of Nordic America by Eric Dregni, now out in paperback from the University of Minnesota Press. Catch Dregni in St. Cloud, Minn. on Nov. 19.
Where are all the Scandinavian restaurants in the Midwest? If combined the offspring of these Nordic settlers make up the largest ethnic group in the area—why isn’t shrimp smørbrød standard fare at Perkins? Only in church basement potlucks, Christmas hooplas, or ethnic lodge meetings does the real Scandinavian inventiveness show its Jell-O laden face.
Whoever said that Scandinavian food is bland and tasteless obviously has never had lutefisk. Besides that, try salt licorice, herring in dill sauce, gravlaks, gjetost brown cheese (or whiffy gammelost “old cheese”) washed down with a shot of aquavit or gut-wrenching bitters. Scandinavians are brave eaters, or as the Swedes say “Lite skit rensar magen” or a little shit cleans out the stomach, said when you drop something on the floor and then eat it.
To eat this food, one must be born into it. To witness the hungry Scandinavians, stop at Ingebretsen’s in Minneapolis to dodge the blue-haired throngs descending busses directly from Lutheran nursing homes to line up on Lake Street during the month of December so these geriatric partygoers can load up on lutefisk, lefse, and glögg mix.
For brevity’s sake, I’ve left out the ubiquitous cookies, the meatballs and the disturbing Scandinavian obsession with pølser (wieners). Although I couldn’t resist including this delicious quotation: “Only the Norwegians eat blood sausage with cream.” Instead, I’ve focused on mush (rømmegrøt), giant, rich potato dumplings (klubb), cod in drain cleaner (lutefisk), and—in spite of Andrew Volstead—beer.
It all begins with food. Just as any good Scandinavian will immediately offer coffee and maybe a treat to guests, so too does this book begin with dessert. Then at the end of any meal, the visitor must reply “Takk for maten” (thanks for the food). Even if the meal consisted of a disturbing casserole concoction of creamed corn and leftover turkey bound with cream of mushroom soup and topped with crumbled potato chips and for dessert, snickers bars with tart apples and Cool Whip. Oh, so that’s why the Midwest has so few Scandinavian restaurants!
This article appeared in the Oct. 31, 2014, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.