Smorgasbord IKEA: IKEA Grocery Store Shopping List

[image-1]Swedish fish are just plain good. They combine the gelatine fruitiness of gummi candies with a tender texture that will stick to your teeth but never need more than a casual chew. IKEA's chocolate bars -- in milk, dark and hazelnut varieties -- have that creamy, almost parrafin texture and milky flavor common to mass-market European chocolates. Distinctly non-Hershey.

Bread: One of IKEA's bread products -- Finax Ragbrod -- comes in a cardboard milk [image-2]carton, with detailed instructions. Pour in warm water, shake vigorously, then decant into a loaf pan. After rising and baking you're left with the dense, seedy rye bread that is a Swedish staple. Toasted and topped with lingonberry jam, or smoked salmon, and it's one of the best food items in the store. There is also a Finax lingonberry yeast bread mix that requires actual kneading but is damn tasty as well, although you'll need more preserves to amp the berry flavor.

Preserves: IKEA's lingonberry preserves are sweet, tart, chunky and amazingly versatile. Use them like jam and your toast will wake you up with bright flavor. Use it like cranberry sauce for a punch of flavor with meat, on the plate or in a sandwich. I'll be buying a few jars of this instead of the cans of ruby gel next Thanksgiving. Other varieties that are also tasty are cloudberry -- very sweet, with hints of raspberry -- and gooseberry, which is mild, grapey and less profoundly sweet than the others.

[image-3]Frozen meats: A bit spongy and lacking in the herb character of Italian varieties, IKEA's Swedish meatballs (kottbullar) are damn tasty and easy to heat for a quick meal. Cured salmon is also better than expected, and a good deal, with just enough dill seasoning to let you know it's from Sweden.

Syrups: See my list of IKEA cocktails for more on these.

The Bad

Cheese: Harsh and pungent, IKEA's Swedish cheeses lack both the subtlety of Western European varieties and the simplistic directness of American mass-market cheese.

Candy: The Swedes love their salted candies, and IKEA represents with classic salted black licorice. Black licorice is a flavor that you love or hate, but even if you love it this candy should give you pause. The salt subtly permeates the chewy substrate, heightening the sweet and sharp flavors of the licorice. One taste tester claimed that he could feel it in his sinuses even after spitting out the small bite he sampled. Less troublesome are candy laces, which look like nothing more than a tangle of amber-colored spaghetti, and taste like corn syrup al dente.

[image-4]Crackers: Swedes love whole grain flatbreads cooked until there's nothing left but crunch. Good if you need something weevils will disdain on a long sea voyage, bad if you're looking for more than the flavor and texture of sun-dried cardboard.

Herring: Fish is a fundamental part of the Swedish diet and herring, a ubiquitous belly-filler, is preserved in so many ways, forms and flavors that it's difficult to escape. Try, nonetheless. Brined and jarred, the little chunks of white flesh are sodden, oddly tart and reek of whatever spice or herb was used to flavor the liquid. Tinned varieties are oily and look less preserved than you might be comfortable with, and are often seasoned with sweet spices that remind you more of sea-brine chai tea than cold-water seafood.

The Odd


Fish Pastes: Perhaps it's Sweden's version of spray cheese, or perhaps it's just a cultural oddity, but those northern European's seem to love whipping fish products into a froth and stuffing them into glorified toothpaste tubes. Kalles -- which bears a gleefully smiling blonde boy on the outside -- is basically creamed fish roe that oozes from the spout like liver paste or some sort of third-world bagel spread. It's not bad, quite, but the pungent flavor takes some getting used to even when masked by fat and a slice of heavy Swedish rye.

(Follow Brian Ries on Twitter: @brianries.)

(This is the third installment of our week-long Smorgasbord IKEA series.)

After a week eating out of IKEA's grocery store, I was impressed by the amount of food I tried that I'd actually make a trip to buy again, whether or not I'm picking up an area rug or cartload of picture frames.

Here are my picks for must-haves, must-nots and must-experience for yourself:

The Good

Frozen desserts: Across the board, these Swedish versions of Mrs. Smith's were tasty enough to justify the purchase, although perhaps not enough to make Ikea a weekly stop. Standouts were Tarta Mork Choklad — a dark chocolate-covered thin cake with hints of espresso, reminiscent of tiramisu — and balls of fluff and chocolate that are essentially gigantic mallomars the size of your fist.


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