Exploring Nordic cuisine & culture in Utah
Has the current Vikings: Beyond the Legend exhibit at the Natural History Museum of Utah made you want to adopt a Viking lifestyle? While setting out in a longship to raid a distant village might not be in the cards, eating like Scandinavians of yore is.
For the Vikings, life revolved around pig, cattle and sheep farms. They roasted their meat on spits over embers or open flames and also enjoyed seafood. As in many ancient food cultures, bread played a pivotal role. And while Vikings get a bad rap for table manners, they actually did use utensils on occasion, such as bone spoons for soup.
Here’s another myth to bust: Vikings weren’t the big hunters they’re often depicted to be. “Hunting is a bit special and most likely more a part of societies’ upper-class occupation than food providing,” explains Antje Wendt, a curator at The Swedish History Museum, which created the traveling Vikings: Beyond the Legend exhibit. “This kind of meat would be eaten only at very special occasions.”
So, you don’t have to pull a hunting permit and abandon cutlery to eat like a Viking. And it just so happens there are a few places right in the Salt Lake area serving cuisine befitting Valhalla itself.
The Viking Yurt
One of the cornerstones of the Viking lifestyle is, of course, the cold. After all, the people now known as Vikings were living in the northern reaches of Europe between 750-1100 C.E., before the days of modern heating or down jackets. But here in the Wasatch, we’re no strangers to chilly temps either. That’s why winter is the perfect time to truly dine as the Vikings did. And the best place to do so is The Viking Yurt. While the yurt is located at Park City Mountain, it’s privately owned by wife-and-husband team Joy Merritt Vik and Geir Vik.
The four-hour experience begins with a 23-minute sleigh ride that gains 1,800 feet up to a wood stove-heated yurt. There, the Viks take visitors through a culinary Viking journey that begins with a glass of glögg and sails through five more courses, including an appropriately meaty entrée such as braised short ribs and a cheese course served on an aspen slab designed to be eaten by hand, Viking style.
Every year, the Viks gain new inspiration for their menu by traveling to Geir’s native Norway. It was a trip there that gave Joy the idea to start serving her intermezzo course—a sorbet palate cleanser—in a dish made from Norwegian rocks. “A famous Norwegian geologist made 50 rocks for me from rock collected all over Norway,” she explains. The Viking Yurt opens Dec. 15 for service, but you can begin making reservations Oct. 1.
If you can’t wait until December for a taste of Norway, head to Finn’s. The café has more or less been around since 1952 when Finn Gurholt first opened this tribute to his Norwegian heritage atop Parleys Way in Salt Lake. After closing down in the early ’90s, Gurholt’s son, Finn, Jr., reopened it in Sugar House in 2006.
Take advantage of warmer fall days and head straight to the patio, where suspended sail-like blue cloth panels offer shade and just the right amount of sun. Finn’s serves breakfast all day, so you can enjoy Norwegian waffles with wild lingonberries or a traditional Scandinavian breakfast for lunch if you please. Scandinavia has developed a reputation of late for open-faced sandwiches, and you can sample these, too, with selections like roast turkey with lingonberry jam and dill-laced bay shrimp salad.
For a truer Viking experience, dig into the craggy hand-formed spicy meatballs in the Norwegian vegetable soup, or brave the signature Pyttipanna—chopped beef, potato, carrot and onion crowned by a poached egg. And, appreciate the steadfast Viking dedication to the loaf still alive at Finn’s, which bakes all its own breads (except the English muffins).
1624 S. 1100 East, SLC
The Old Dutch Store
Few Viking adults lived to be older than 34 and at one ancient site, the average age of death was as young as 23. That means to live like a Viking, you must live it up. So, forego dieting and frugality and go on a Scandi-shopping spree at this adorable grocery store in Sugar House. You can even make an afternoon out of it, procuring a brat or sandwich at the deli in the back to eat on the little sidewalk patio beneath a row of northern European flags waving above. Start by investing in a Scandinavian cookbook, then pick up some authentic imported condiments, snacks and—why not—salt licorice.
2696 S. Highland Drive, SLC