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Swede Nothings with Brian Burns: Leave the Meatball, Take the Fish Paste

Photo: Aline Chaprazian

Photo: Aline Chaprazian

In high school, I fulfilled every requirement of the token fat chick. I was attracted to gay guys, I hated gym class more than chemistry and I got scoliosis from carrying my lunchbox. I’d say it was when I got lock-jaw after over-estimating my ability to bite into a hummus-laden pita chip that I really knew I could land Mo’Nique’s role in my school’s production of Precious.

I used to spend the three o’ clock hour—the lull period between coming home from school at two and flicking my spiritually-empowered bean to Oprah at four—not just eating but grazing. I’d start off with something light: a piece of fruit or a ham hock left over from last night’s dinner. I would then cleanse my palate with a bowl or four of raisin bran before tucking into a final course of pizza rolls and fondue. I’d then give my mom a call at work to see what she was planning for dinner.

The constraints of a college meal plan tempered my appetite. A meal-swipe granted me access to an all-you-can-eat buffet of salt and starch but it didn’t pay for the food pantry I dreamed my closet would turn into. I had just come to terms with the idea that, for nine months out of the year, I would only ever feel comfortably full when I decided to study abroad in Sweden: a country with cuisine often described as “simple and sustainable.” The only “simple and sustainable” thing in America is Gwyneth Paltrow and who doesn’t hate her?

After being treated to some lukewarm coffee and margarine packets on the plane ride to Sweden, I had my first meal in Stockholm’s airport: laxpudding with a side of “find me a toilet before I implode.” The pudding is layers of salmon, eggs, potatoes, dill and bad breath. I don’t know if I was just hungry, or if Swedish airports really do offer finer fare than the “Hemorrhoids-‘R-Us” haunts I’m used to at JFK, but it was heavenly.

Since I shop for my own groceries here, I’ve been adhering to a strict European diet: fresh produce, good cheese and cigarettes. But, like everything else in this country, food gets expensive. Though I don’t regret my decision to come here, I would only recommend studying abroad to people who want to spend most of their time feeling hungry and horny. The one-two punch of grocery expenses and Swedish bone structure have left me with a sense of longing that only the French could have a word for. I’ll walk past the window of a bakery and, by the time I peel my face away from the glass, I’m left wondering if I’m drooling at semla, the pastry or Stellan, the baker.

My shoe-string budget has forced me to do some lowly things lately—I bought generic brand yogurt the other day—but I’m still trying my hardest to get a taste of genuine Swedish cuisine…at Ikea. I can feel the collective eye roll of 9.6 million Swedes after saying that but I’m also pretty sure that I saw 9.6 million Swedes in Ikea the day I made sweet, sweet love to my first heaping plate of köttbullar.

The Ikea dining area works just like a cafeteria but with hotter lunch ladies and better lighting. You grab a tray, some stemware and wait to tell the servers if you want 10, 12 or 47 meatballs. They then dive-bomb your plate with two pillows of mashed potatoes and smother it in creamy gravy goodness and a dollop of lingonberry: more or less cranberry sauce but consisting of actual fruit instead of Astroglide. By the time I finished my plate, I didn’t know what I should do first: unbutton my pants or send a personal thank-you note to the government of Sweden for existing as a nation.

As I laid down to digest on a model bedroom set, I felt disappointed in myself. Was I just as bad for going to Ikea for Swedish food as the people who take pictures of themselves “supporting” the Leaning Tower of Pisa or the blowhards who think visiting Times Square is visiting New York City?  In search of redemption, I went to the (Ikea) food market and bought a tube of Swedish kaviar: a spreadable paste made from fish roe. At home, I spread the kaviar on some knäckebröd and stared down the barrel of that culinary rifle. In life, sometimes you have to eat ground-up fish guts to really find what you’re looking for. I held my nose and took a bite.

Brian Burns is a Staff Columnist for The Hub and may be reached at . Follow him on Twitter @burnsing_up732 .

Posted by on February 10, 2014. Filed under Around Campus,Swede Nothings with Brian Burns. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.