Beijing Scene, Volume 5, Issue 9, May 21 - 27

Scandinavian meatballs in Beijing
IKEA brings Swedish home cooking to the furniture-shopping masses

When Swedish meatballs are prepared properly they taste the same in Stockholm, Paris, New York, Sidney and now Beijing. We Swedes are very happy about that, although to be honest it is not the most complex dish in the world.

The restaurant on the third floor of the new Beijing IKEA store is of course designed and decorated with products from the plug-and-play furniture chain. It is sparsely furnished in a Scandinavian style, with an emphasis on natural blues and greens and combed steel detail that makes it look modern and fresh. Eating here is a bit different from other places in Beijing, both in terms of food and environment. As usual at IKEA stores, kids are catered to: there is a playground in the restaurant so that the parents can relax enough to actually enjoy their food.

The food will not come to your seat: you have to go to the cafeteria-style counter and pick up what you want on a tray. For those who want to be safe there is Chinese food, but there is not much point in going to the IKEA restaurant for the fare available in any Beijing restaurant. You go to the IKEA restaurant because you miss Europe or because you want to introduce your friends to some typical Swedish food. The customers consist of Chinese and foreigners in about equal numbers. Most Chinese people going to the restaurant eat the Swedish food in family-style, which would be a rare sight in Stockholm, but chopsticks seem to be against IKEA's environmental policy because you can't find any.

You don't however need chopsticks to tuck into hearty Swedish food. Try the Gravad Lax - it sounds weird but is a delicious cold dish consisting of raw, marinated salmon. Another typical Swedish dish is the mixed herring plate - a selection of cold marinated fish. Each plate has chunks of herring with several different flavors.

Almost everything is prepared in Sweden and imported, except for the potatoes, which are grown in China and cooked in the kitchen at IKEA. Even the pancakes are imported and therefore perhaps not as crispy as the ones your mother makes. They are served with a Swedish type of preserve called lingonberry jam. This is a little odd: sour lingonberry jam usually goes with savory dishes but perhaps there is a Chinese regulation prohibiting imported strawberry jam!

The meatballs can be compared with your Swedish grandmother's. Together with the brown sauce, lingonberry jam and extra-green parsley on top of the potatoes, this dish is good enough to take you or at least your palate back to Scandinavia. Meatballs are probably the most popular traditional Swedish food, so if you want to get an authentic taste of Sweden, order the meatballs.

The restaurant manager tells us that Chinese people really like the potatoes because of the smell. Another favorite with Chinese and Westerners alike is the 'vacuum cleaner' chocolate balls. Together with some real Swedish coffee it is a perfect dessert and quite different from anything served on a Chinese plate. Which is perhaps why you sometimes see people eating it with a knife and fork and adding some ketchup. The Swedish Health Ministry warns against eating too many chocolate balls, but this is a risk you will have to take if you are to gain a deeper understanding of Swedish food culture.

IKEA store, 3rd floor, 27 Middle North 3rd Ring Rd.,
Western District
Tel: 6200-2345
Hours: 10 am - 9 pm
Food: ***
Amibience: **
Service: **

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