Vegetarian Scandinavian Food in Los Angeles

Swedish flag (blue & yellow), Finnish flag (blue & white), Norwegian flag (blue and red)

Swedish flag (blue & yellow), Finnish flag (blue & white), Norwegian flag (blue and red)

It was great seeing the Nordic Cross flags waving in Los Angeles this past weekend. Not to brag, but I'm one quarter Finnish. Okay, I'll brag: my Finn-kin hail from the Tornio valley bordering Sweden in the Lapland region. So, when AK and I travel we keep an eye out for Scandinavian shops—sniffing sauna soaps, sizing up pancakes, and pretending my Scandihoovian blood is thicker than 25%.

Los Angeles has several Scandinavian owned/focused businesses (in addition to IKEA, of course) and yesterday was our first visit to Olson's Scandinavian Deli, located at 5660 West Pico Blvd.

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Olson's features predominantly Swedish offerings on its menu and in the deli case. Think pickled herring, shrimp salad, and gravlax.  Even though Scandinavian diets have a significant focus on fish, seafood, and all manners of meat preparation, there are a number of vegetarian options at Olson's. Scandinavians love their milk, butter, and eggs, so it's not surprising that I saw no vegan options. Check out their partial menu on Yelp.

We shared brunch of egg salad sandwich, Swedish pancakes, and an oat bar.

Egg salad sandwich at Olson's Scandinavian Deli in Los Angeles

Egg salad sandwich at Olson's Scandinavian Deli in Los Angeles

The egg salad sandwich was the best of the three. The dill and spices elevated an otherwise standard egg salad and the brioche bun was quite special. I would eat anything on that brioche bun. In fact, I would eat that brioche bun without anything!

Olson's Swedish pancakes - served with whipped cream and a seedy jam for $8.

Olson's Swedish pancakes - served with whipped cream and a seedy jam for $8.

Having grown up among the strong influence of Finnish & Swedish culture in Michigan's Upper Peninsula (the largest population of Finns in the U.S.), I'm picky about my pancakes. And I'm afraid I can't give Olson's top marks here.

Finnish and Swedish pancakes are much thinner than the standard American hotcakes. They should taste custardy from egg and, importantly, have a hint of saltiness from being griddled in butter. In my mind, Scandinavian pancakes are farm food so they should taste "farmy". It's important that they have a delicate texture like a crepe, not "floury" or heavily doughy like their American counterparts. Olson's were pretty good—certainly better than most breakfast joints—but there's room to take them from a 7 to a 10. A slather of butter, a sprinkle of sugar.

We finished off the meal with an enjoyable oat bar. "Oat bar". Not exactly a name fitting of sweet indulgence. But it was moist and chewy like a honey granola bar, and topped with just enough chocolate that it doesn't give you sugar-stomach.

Olson's oat bar

Olson's oat bar

There are more vegetarian options to try at Olson's next time: The Cloudberry Sandwich (goat cheese with sage and cloudberry jam on French roll), The Vasterbotten Sandwich (Vasterbotten cheese with cucumbers and Swedish seasoning on French roll), and a grilled cheese sandwich. So, cheese, cheese, or cheese.

But for now it's time to discuss some questionably Swedish food...IKEA!

This week IKEA added vegan "vegetable balls" to their menu. While they look like the archetypal Swedish meatballs, the veggie balls aren't meant for side-by-side comparison. IKEA's press release doesn't market the offering as a meat-free counterpart to the meatballs, but rather a part of the company's commitment to increasing their healthy and sustainable menu options.

The vegetable balls are made from pure vegetable and spices, and are not a faux (soy) meat substitute like Boca burgers or Morningstar Grillers. This is apparent upon cutting them open:

IKEA vegetable balls

IKEA vegetable balls

IKEA vegetable balls served with cream sauce- their standard meatball gravy.

IKEA vegetable balls served with cream sauce- their standard meatball gravy.

We thought the vegetable balls taste more pan-Asian than they do Swedish. Indo-Chinese vegetable manchurian, perhaps? The menu board listed them as being served with cauliflower sweet potato sauce (in addition to the side of limp steamed vegetables), but the chef said they didn't have the sauce. Instead, she offered us their standard meatball "cream sauce" gravy, which she said is vegetarian. We later confirmed that it's vegetarian but not vegan:

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In the end, the vegetable balls made for a pretty tasty and cheap shopping pitstop (10 for $4.49) ...especially paired with the french fries that we also dipped in gravy. Mmm gravy.

We also tried one of these difficult-to-describe green and white pucks. It was listed as potato spinach gratin, but I can't find any information about this dish online. I don't know if they're vegan but I do know they're unexpectedly chunky and contain too much onion. Sorry IKEA, you have some work to do on these:

IKEA's potato spinach gratin

IKEA's potato spinach gratin

Okay, so IKEA probably shouldn't be our Swedish culinary baseline; but who cares, cafeteria food is fun once in a while. Plus, if you sign up for the free IKEA Family card, you get all the free coffee and tea you can drink.

There's more vegetarian Scandinavian food in L.A.—especially pastry—but I'll save that for a future blog. The bakeries are so amazing they deserve special, devoted, mouth-gaping attention.