my knowledge of things scandinavian is limited to furniture design and IKEA (i'm pretty sure the tack för besöket! on the receipt means "thanks for visiting" though); however, thanks to IKEA i've come to appreciate a good lingonberry or two, and a nice elderflower cordial. truthfully, i don't find myself...gravitating towards the culture of sweden, denmark, nor norway, but there is something quite appealing about what woefully little i do know about these countries and their respective culture, even if it's just a little tord boontje, a lot of moomintroll, and like, way too much sondre lerche.
i was fascinated, and way too thrilled, when i learned a few months ago that i live a hop, skip and a jump from a scandinavian deli. i didn't think something like this existed in my neighbourhood, and in fact has since the late 'sixties when bertil and helene ohlsson first set up shop on pico boulevard. olson's scandinavian delicatessen and gift shop is tucked up next to an auto body shop (really, what isn't in this certain stretch of pico?), in a building i must pass every day, but never noticed, despite the flags flying outside. i'm actually quite ashamed that i never noticed it before; everything about it screams for my attention--the handpainted signage in a vintage font, advertising a family run business specializing in foreign foods and possibly strange trinkets. really, it should have been like a siren's song. still, i'm glad i've finally found it.
the shop itself is divided in two sections--one that seems almost abandoned, with open boxes of various tinned and bottled food items, sitting next to christmas items, folk art, music cds, and more than a few dalahästs. there's half a dozen kinds of pickled herring, a chiller case with lefse potato bread, an entire shelf dedicated to salted licorice. the comestibles seem to have just come in, but some of the gift items look like they've been there for years; frankly, i could probably spend a couple years perusing all the odd items. there's a man in the corner who excitedly reverts from speaking english to possibly swedish when he sees a cod roe paste he's been looking for, gesturing to his friend that he might have to buy a case of the stuff. in the adjacent room there's a young man from the auto body shop, waiting for his sandwich from the deli to be made (a meat sarnie will only set you back $3.95, a meat and cheese combo $4.95). there's various cheeses, homemade liver paté and european-style cold cuts. the man behind the counter (mister olsson?) offers me a taste of the rullepølse, a danish spiced meat roll. it is fatty, but such a gorgeously thin slice of pork, cool and lightly herby, that i think that i will buy some for some open-faced sandwiches at a later time. i also pick up the house made pickled herring salad with beets, and a nice chunk of gjetost, a norwegian brown cheese made from goat's milk with an almost caramelized edge to it. i mosey on over to the chest freezer and open it; inside are dozens of hand labelled white paper packets of homemade meatloaf and swedish meatballs, potato sausages, frozen lingonberries, butter ring pastries and--just in time for christmas!--lutefisk. oh, where is lisa oslo foodie when you need her?? i pick up a coil of potato sausage ("a crazy minnesotan creation," i'm told), and will return later for some swedish meatballs. man cannot live on ikea swedish meatballs alone.
i love this place; there's an air of the run-down about it, but it still manages to have a healthy inventory. there's nothing manufactured about it--most of the signs are handwritten, the deli meats and cheeses are hand carved and individually weighed, and the folk behind the counter are friendly enough, knowledgeable, and there to serve you. while i was looking around, i became acutely aware that this wasn't a venture that would be passed on to another generation; when the owners pass on, olson's deli will probably just be another note in pico boulevard's history. i hope that day doesn't come soon; having just found it, i think of it as a treasure box of items i have yet to discover, and of spoken histories not yet told. the place wasn't exactly bustling, there seems to be a loyal clientele. i count myself as one of them.
tack för besöket!