New Nordic food movement

How to eat like a Scandinavian

"Things haven't changed much," says Steve Dahl, whose father Warren joined Bud Jr. as a partner. Dahl manages the meat market today while Julie Ingebretsen, granddaughter of the founder, runs the Scandinavian gift shop on the opposite side of the store.

The biggest changes at Ingebretsen's may have been made in the early '70s, when Warren imported a pølsemaker (meat maker) from the old country and expanded the menu to include even more Scandinavian recipes. Today, Steve says that 75 percent of what's on the shelves come directly from Norway, Sweden, or Denmark.

The meat market and deli stock julskinkas (a Christmas ham) for Swedes, lutefisk for Norwegians, and blood sausage for those barbarian Danes. Ingebretsen's smokes its own hams, bacon, frankfurters, and wieners, as well as offering a variety of Scandinavian cheeses, eight different kinds of herring, and delicacies such as pigs' feet.

Soile Anderson's Finnish Bistro in St. Anthony Park serves hearty pasties, but also delectable pastries
Bre McGee
Soile Anderson's Finnish Bistro in St. Anthony Park serves hearty pasties, but also delectable pastries
Taste of Scandinavia, owned by Finnish-Swede Tiina Nordlie, is known for its Nordic flag-bearing kransekage and wedding cakes
photo by City Pages
Taste of Scandinavia, owned by Finnish-Swede Tiina Nordlie, is known for its Nordic flag-bearing kransekage and wedding cakes

For those with less adventurous palates, the Swedish meatball mix makes an excellent hamburger, and the Swedish sausage of beef, potato, and onions is a top seller.

"We're still here because we make pretty much everything ourselves," says Dahl. "You can't get this stuff anyplace else. We're unique in that sense."

Scandinavians on visits to the Twin Cities often express amazement at how many traditional foods they can find here. Sometimes they even find candies or other treats so traditional that they are no longer readily available back home.

Do Minnesotans not intimately connected to their Viking culinary ancestry ever have trouble warming up to herring and pigs feet?

Yes and no, says Dahl. "Lutefisk is something you either like or don't like: There's no in between there."

To expand the ranks of the faithful, Ingebretsen's offers lutefisk tastings on the second to the last Saturday in October.

"Some who've never had it before actually like it!" Dahl says.

Finnish Bistro

HERE IN THE MIDWEST, the most recognizable Finnish food is the Karelian pasty, a hearty meat or fish pie that became popular with miners in Minnesota's Iron Range. But as in neighboring Sweden, with which the Finns share many of their culinary traditions, foraged fruits and vegetables are also abundant in Finland.

In St. Paul's St. Anthony Park neighborhood, across the street from Micawber's bookstore, Soile Anderson's Finnish Bistro offers dishes that are sweet and savory, light and hearty.

If your day begins with the "Perinteiset" traditional breakfast — a plate filled with smoked salmon lox rolled into a cone, pickled herring, salami cold cuts, eggs, and slices of cucumber, tomato, Swiss cheese, and fresh bread — you'd do well to sit and nibble until 3 p.m. No one will stop you. Then have a spinach scone to help you transition to the Finnish Bistro's delectable pastries, cakes, and sweet crepes. Or if you're a working man on your way to a construction site, nourish yourself with the Finnish Beef Pasty, stuffed with beef tenderloin, carrots, rutabaga, onion, and cucumber dill sauce.

Anderson, who hails from Savonlinna near the Russian border, started her first Twin Cities business, Taste of Scandinavia, in 1982, and opened the Finnish Bistro in 1996. Six years ago she sold Taste of Scandinavia to a fellow Finn, but continues to run the bistro, as well as Deco Catering, which serves private events, weddings, graduations, and holidays.

What does New Nordic mean to her?

"It's a creative take on what you can do: old-style cooking but with good quality," says Anderson. "The Nordic food scene is changing. People think about meatballs and potatoes, which is what the hard-working immigrants ate when they came here, but there's potential for so much more color and diversity."

Taste of Scandinavia

HAVE YOU HEARD THE JOKE about the Scandinavian cruise ship that marooned on an uninhabited island? Two days later, when the rescuers arrived, they could easily tell the Scandinavians apart: The Danes were all drunk and carousing, the Norwegians were all fighting each other, and the Swedes were standing around waiting to be introduced.

But at Taste of Scandinavia, which boasts suburban locations in Little Canada, North Oaks, and Bloomington, the descendants of those stubborn Vikings get along just fine. Neither the regulars nor the food need any introduction.

It could be the Swedish pancakes topped with lingonberries and whipped cream, or the chicken lefsa melt, or the open-faced smorgasbord sandwiches. Tiina Nordlie, a Finnish-born, Swedish-speaking blonde who moved here 15 years ago and acquired Taste of Scandinavia from Soile Anderson six years ago, has that effect on people.

Given its suburban clientele, Taste of Scandinavia wisely Americanized some of its menu. The traditional Finnish beef pasty, for example, now resembles an Anglo breakfast sandwich, with bacon and ham in the mix. For these regular customers, the herring and the lutefisk are a tougher sell.

Nordlie also caters wedding cakes. Taste of Scandinavia is most known for the Scandinavian strawberry torte: yellow sponge cake with bananas, raspberry jam, chocolate mousse, and fresh whipped cream and strawberries on top. This recipe came from Anderson's grandmother and crossed the Atlantic with her. The kransekage, an almond layer cake with Scandinavian flags stuck in it, is also a big hit.

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