At first, the idea of connecting with my Swedish roots at Ikea seemed novel.
The store, which opened in Round Rock in 2006, is first and foremost a furniture store, and though I was well acquainted with their meatballs, I didn’t think of the Ikea cafe as a dining destination, much less a cultural hub.
But that’s exactly what I found last month when I went to Ikea’s midsummer smorgasbord celebration, one of four annual feasts that they host at the restaurant inside the store.
Bonafide Swedes, both those born in Sweden and those — like me — who are of Swedish descent, had come from all over Central Texas to celebrate midsummer, one of the largest holidays of the year in Sweden, with several kinds of salmon, ham and herring, meatballs and potatoes and trays of hard-boiled eggs, cheeses, crisps and traditional Swedish desserts.
No lutefisk, though. (That’s the famously smelly traditional fish that has given Scandinavian food a bit of a bad reputation to Americans.)
I struck up conversations with as many of the guests as a could, and it was amazing to hear them talk about what led them (and their families) to Austin and how they are trying to keep Swedish traditions alive in their homes. When I started working on this story, which is our lead in today’s food section, I found that even though Swedes were integral to the state’s history, there are no longer any Swedish restaurants or even bakers not just in the Austin area, but in the entire state. (I’m still waiting for someone to prove me wrong I’m this, and I hope they do. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any leads on people serving Swedish food.)
I also discovered a number of Swedish groups and celebrations that are still active but waning as the organizers struggle to find new leaders to take over.
And when I thought about how well-known and loved kolaches and German sausages are but how little I know about herring casserole or lingonberries, I realized what a gift Ikea — consciously or not — has given to Texans who have an interest in preserving history through food.
And I thought all they served were meatballs.