Sunday, August 27, 2017

Vikings, from Buenos Aires to Berkeley

In late 2014, I traveled crosstown from our Palermo apartment to San Telmo’s Svenska Kyrkan (pictured above), where the Scandinavian communities of Buenos Aires—Swedes, Norwegians and Finns—were holding their annual Xmas festival. I’m not religious—to say the least—but I was still curious about this gathering of the Vikings in what, on the face of it, is an improbable urban environment.
San Telmo's Dansk Kirke is Buenos Aires's Danish church.
To the best of my memory, the Danes were absent from the event, though there’s a separate Danish church just a few blocks away and lunches at Retiro’s Club Danés are a delight. In the Buenos Aires province beach resort of Necochea, it’s common to see cars with Argentine plates and “DK” decals, but here I recall nothing.
Flags of Finland, Norway and Sweden hung from the ceiling at the Svenska Kyrkan.
All throughout the building and the grounds there were Scandinavian delicacies, along with souvenir items—some of them brought by the countries’ respective embassies because, at that time, arcane import restrictions effectively kept private parties from acquiring them. Most of the baked goods were local, but almost everything produced overseas had to enter by extra-official channels.
Many of the manufactured foodstuffs arrived through embassy intercession.
That’s not the case in Berkeley, adjacent to my hometown of Oakland, where the Nordic House specialty shop imports all sorts of Scandinavian food items and even carries a selection of Nordic noir novels (mainly in English) and travel guidebooks. On Saturday, though, Nordic House hosted my first-ever kräftskiva, at which Swedes and other Scandinavians devour plates of boiled crayfish and slug down shots of akvavit, with a shout of Skål! at the end of boisterous drinking songs.
Berkeley's Nordic House carries a diversity of Scandinavian supplies.
A plate of crayfish and potatoes at Nordic House's kräftskiva

In honesty, I didn’t find the crayfish especially appetizing (it doesn’t help that they make a messy meal), though almost everyone else devoured as much as they could grab. Nor did the various herrings and other specialties thrill me—I much preferred the roast moose, scalloped potatoes (identical to what my Swedish-American mother used to make) and other side dishes that my Swedish cousins served us in rural Värmland. Still, my only real complaint about Nordic House is that they’ve run out of Hungry Troll lefse (my Norwegian grandmother used to make this), but I’m told it’ll be back next month.
Lunch in Värmland. Note the scalloped potatoes (upper left) and the roast moose  (upper center-right)

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