Something Swedish


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Finding Sweden in New York City

The Big Apple is known for being the most culturally diverse place in the world, so there is no wonder that you’d be able to find a taste (literately) of Sweden and it’s Nordic neighbors there. This post is for those of you who have moved from Sweden,  Denmark, or Norway to NYC and are feeling homesick or those of you who live in, or are visiting, NYC and are curious about the culture, history, and food…most importantly the food.

20+ Scandinavian ‘Somethings’ in NYC

TO DO (yearly)

1) Battery Park Swedish Midsummer Celebration (mid-late June)- There’s nothing more Swedish than celebrating Midsummer. It’s a mix of everything you need to satiate home sickness or curiosity about a country you have never been to. Traditional Swedish food, music, and dancing around the maypole – all while being surrounded by other Swedes (Swedish Americans, at least). Besides, who wouldn’t want to wear a crown of flowers in the middle of Manhattan?

2) Bay Ridge Norwegian Parade (May): This part of Brooklyn has Scandinavian roots, here is your chance to see some of it in action. Everyone is welcome to watch the festivities – get a glimpse of traditional Norwegian clothing, eat the food, hear the language, listen to the music and make some new Norwegian-American friends.

3) Crayfish party (August) – Fishing Crayfish during the early summer months in Sweden is not permitted, so come mid-August to mid-September it is Crayfish season! This is a beloved tradition of sitting around the table, drinking snaps (after singing), and chowing down on pounds of tasty crustaceans while wearing a colorful bib and hat, of course. While in Sweden this would be celebrated with friends and family, in NYC you have two main options: Ikea’s Crayfish_Party [Limited tickets, buffet style, August 16, $12.99] or Aquavit’s Crayfish Festival [Formal meals and dessert, August 17 – September 11, $52.00]

4) Nordic Food Festival (September) – For three years in a row  Nordicfoodfestival has been bringing Nordic cuisine (One day dedicated to each Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Denmark) to the front lines for five full days with top chefs speakers, cooking classes, gourmet pop-up dinners and other (free & ticketed) events.

TO DO (whenever)

5) The Scandinavian East Coast Museum – A museum in Bay Ridge that focuses on the historical and cultural link between Scandinavia and America’s East Coast (specifically New York City) They host events and meetings for groups, cultural societies, and the Scandinavian community.

6) Scandinavian House This is an all-in-one stop Nordic Center you can’t miss: exhibits, films, music, performances and lectures, or simply stroll through the museum to brush up on your knowledge or to learn some history. Best yet, there is a restaurant with a selection of Scandinavian foods (Smörgås Chef, see next)

TO EAT

7) Smörgås Chef Known for it’s new Nordic cuisine, ranging from fine dining to open faced sandwiches, this is the first restaurant people think of when asked about Scandinavian food in NYC. With one location downtown, and the other midtown (Scandinavian House, where there is sometimes Dinner and a film) – you are never far from some Swedish food.

8) Fika – This little coffee shop/café/restaurant (depending on location) is sweeping Manhattan with almost 20 Manhattan locations. Named after the Swedish tradition of drinking coffee and eating something sweet with friends, why not have a Swedish pastry or piece of chocolate? If you are looking for a meal, their menu is made up of Swedish specialties.

9) Konditori – With seven locations in Brooklyn, this seems to be Brooklyn’s version of Fika. Meaning “bakery” in Swedish, Konditori focuses more on the “strong Swedish roast” coffee and Swedish pastries with light food options such as bagels and sandwiches.

10) Aquavit –  A midtown restaurant with two Michelin stars that focuses on modern Nordic cuisine and Swedish culinary traditions where you can find both formal and casual meals created by executive chef, Marcus Samuelsson, who went to the Culinary Institute in Gothenburg, guest lectures at Umeå University, has published multiple cookbooks, has his own television show, has cooked at the White House, and has hosted a fundraising dinner for the president at his own restaurant (See next).

11) Red Rooster – This might seem but a long shot, but if you are looking for Swedish flare or fusion but not in the mood for Swedish food (though they do have classics like gravlax (smoked salmon) and Swedish meatballs with lingonberry sauce), this is the place to go. The Ethiopen-born, Swedish-raised award winning chef that put Aquavit on the map opened up this restaurant in 2010 in the heart of Harlem and is a hot spot for tourists and locals alike.

12) Danish Athletic Club – Located in Bay Ridge Brooklyn, the Scandinavian Center of NYC, this is a much more homely option for food and socializing. The kind of food you will find here is the comfort food made in Danish kitchens, and costs less than 20 bucks a plate. On the same street you’ll find the Norwegian Sporting Gjøa Club and the Swedish football club – but this is the only one with a restaurant.

13) Copenhagen Street dog – All throughout Denmark, and even making an occasional appearance in Sweden (and I assume other Scandinavian countries), you’ll find the long, smokey, bright red Danish hot dog – pølse. If you are a hot dog fan but want to try something different, something Scandinavian – look no further.

TO SHOP

14) Sockerbit – Surely you’ve heard about Swedes’ everlasting sweet tooth and affinity for loose candy? All candy is not created equally, come pick out a selection of Swedish candy and get addicted. Yes, that black stuff is liquorice.  The store’s white interior mirrors Swedish minimalist design and the wall of candy is exactly what you would find in any Swedish supermarket – even including each candy’s Swedish name and translation. There’s also a wide selection of Swedish food and merchandise if candy isn’t enough.

15) Nordic Delicacies Have a craving or want to impress your friends with an authentic home-cooked smörgåsbord? Looking to stock your fridge with real Scandinavian food?  Make your way to Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge to go shopping for authentic Scandinavian foods and brands you can’t find in other stores like Abba sill, knackerbröd, tubes of cheese and Kalles cavier, lingonberry, and more.

16) Ikea Brooklyn – A trip to Ikea is both practical and cultural (kind of). It is certainly the one thing people associate with Sweden, and Ikea furniture is actually a feature of Swedish home decor. It doesn’t hurt that the big blue bags make amazing laundry bags, the food is probably the cheapest Swedish meal you’ll find in the city, and you can find a few food items to buy for your kitchen. It might seem out of the way, but Ikea Brooklyn has it’s own 20 minute ferry from Wall Street Pier 11 – it’s $5 ticket price is deducted from your Ikea purchase and completely free on weekends.

17) Fjällräven: Be Swedish sleek with these classic Swedish backpacks, originally designed with the durability for camping, 50 years later these bags have a much wider assortment and are fashionable and hip – both in and out of Sweden.

18) The largest H&M in the world: That’s right, H&M is Swedish(it stands for Hennes & Mauritz, and is pronounced “Ho-Em” in Swedish) and it’s largest store ever (4 floors, 63,000 square feet/ 5,800 square meters) just opened up in 2015 in NYC, Herald Square. So if you want to dress like a Swede, you know where to shop.

TO VISIT

19) The Swedish Cottage – An authentic piece of architecture from Sweden in the heart of the Big Apple. Built in Sweden 1875, imported to the United States in 1876 for an exhibit, moved to NYC in 1877 and now a marionette theatre in Central park.

20) “Seamen’s Churches” Svenskakyrkan (Swedish), Sjømannskirken (Norwegian), Sømandskirke (Danish): A church might feel like a strange place to “visit,” but it is a place for community, social gatherings and cultural events. A great way to meet people or practice the language. Plus, there’s usually a café.

21) The Swedish Consulate: If you are planning on moving to Sweden, it’s good to know you can find this building on Park Avenue – a few blocks from the Swedish Church. The people were friendly and helpful when I went there and there were pamphlets for additional guidance. The website is a good source of information and local Swedish events.

2015 exclusives:

See Mamma Mia on Broadway (After 14 years on Broadway Mamma Mia will be closing SEPTEMBER 12th – go now before it’s too late!) While the story line of a daughter looking for her father to give her away at her wedding in Greece has nothing to do with Sweden – the music sure does. The one thing all Americans associate with Sweden is the music of Abba, so this broadway-play-turned-movie that was written based on two dozen Abba songs doesn’t get much more Swedish.

Nääämen: A comedian from New Zealand that moved to Sweden 6 years ago, Al Pitcher, is known for poking fun at Sweden’s culture, people, and traditions from the perspective of an outsider. Catch his performance on SEPTEMBER 22nd at Scandinavia House (first bit will be in Swedish – rest is in English).

Ingrid Bergman: A Centennial Celebration – If you stop by the Museum of Modern Art before SEPTEMBER 10th, you will find an exhibition dedicated to Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman, showcasing a selection of her films, to celebrate her birth 100 years ago.


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Someone, Somewhere, Something: A Transcontinental Love Story.

(Written a year and a half ago, never posted, newly updated. Happy 2 year Anniversary!)

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Everyone has a different form of love, success, opportunity, or happiness that they don’t even realize they need or want. Something that completes you. Sometimes that “something” is a “someone,” or even a “somewhere.” Mine turned out to be both, my “Something Swedish” you can say.

Five years ago I met my “someone,” in a somewhat strange way, having only spoken through Skype and video games, proving that the world is truly a small place. It was the first time he stepped foot in a plane when he traveled 3,800 miles across the Atlantic ocean to meet me in New York City, a long way away from Sweden.

I was expecting to meet “someone,” unaware he’d introduce me to two “somewheres” – one of which was in my backyard my whole life, unexplored. The other, on the other side of the world.

I learned that you don’t need to go far to experience something, or someplace. Being a tour guide in my own city opened my eyes to where I live. Known as ‘The Big Apple,’ New York City has something for everyone (who knew?) When growing up in New York it’s easy to overlook all of the sites, attractions, culture, and history around you and at your fingertips, not recognizing why millions of tourists flock to the annoyingly crowded area of Times Square every year. You don’t understand why people want to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge when you can simply take the train. We hatched an “attack” plan of how to see/do as much as possible in just one week. I learned that there are three kinds of tourists: the sight seers, the shoppers, and the museums goers.

It turns out my Swedish guest was very excited to see the museums. I had a “museum goer” on my hands and a museum goer I was not. (Since then we’ve become more of sight seers and shoppers, but still enjoy a good museum from time to time) First I brought him to a childhood classic; The Museum of Natural History, a staple for N.Y.C. school kids to learn about science, history, animals, and geology through impressively gigantic exhibits – the most memorable being the model 94-foot blue whale dangling from the ceiling and being greeted by the fossilized T-Rex in the lobby.

A tourist in my own backyard, I wondered how I’ve lived in New York City my whole life and never even seen the famous white curves of The Guggenheim.

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The Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) greeted us with contemporary exhibitions of photography, film, architecture, typography, and design. The Cloisters showcased a collection of European sculptures, tapestries, paintings, statues, gardens, stained glass, and architecture from the 12th -15th centuries.

We were drawn to the bright lights of Times Square where we instantly regretted not preparing and buying Broadway tickets ahead of time, knowing it is a New York experience that will be cherished for a lifetime. We instead went to an off Broadway rendition of Shakespeare’s Twelve Night, leaving us thirsty for more. (Making sure never to make that mistake again, seeing something every visit: Wicked, Phantom of the Opera, Chicago, Sleep No More) Instead we soaked in our surroundings: the huge stores and flashing lights, and the overwhelming amount of people walking, selling, yelling, performing, and painting on the streets.

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Seeing Manhattan together let me see it for the first time, I learned my way around my own city. We taught each other how to navigate the named streets and the subway system. I took him downtown, away from the large crowds into the comfort of Little Italy and China Town where we ate cannolis and Chinese food. We took a tour boat around Manhattan, passing by the iconic Statue of Liberty.

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I showed him the massive buildings in the financial district, whose archways were built for giants, we rubbed the famous balls of the charging bull, explored the oldest church, solemnly soaked in the wreck of the ground zero work site, and then walked through an illumination of blue lights sparkling against the water along the southern tip of Manhattan at Battery Park.

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We reached new heights in New York. We might not have climbed to the crown of the Statue of Liberty, but we did see the famous view from the iconic Empire State building (and the next year finding the even more breathtaking view from Rockefeller Center). A horse and carriage ride through Central Park was the perfect end of the evening.

We even escaped the grasp of Manhattan. Something that most tourists don’t get to do, know to do, or care to do. He taught me how to see Manhattan and I taught him that there was more to New York City than the “city”. We walked across the Brooklyn bridge, bringing us to where the most beautiful Manhattan skyline photos are taken.

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I took him off the beaten tourist path and showed him my version of NYC. We went to the Queens botanical garden and Flushing Meadow Park, were the worlds fair was held in 1939 and 1964. We went to Coney Island, known for its amusement parks (with the oldest wooden roller coaster in the U.S., the Cyclone, and the iconic Wonder Wheel),

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walked along the famous boardwalk, and enjoyed the food vendors, aquarium, beach, and minor league baseball. We ate traditional Coney Island food: Nathan’s hot dogs, sausage and peppers, and Italian ices followed up by his first American baseball game. (Which has since  become a tradition)

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Five months later it was my turn to travel to his world, to be the real tourist instead of the clueless tour guide. Traveling the world never even crossed my mind. Sure, I always wanted to trace back the history of my heritage in Ireland, Scotland, Germany, France, and Italy, but it seemed like nothing more than a childhood dream – “something” other people do. I never thought there would be a “somewhere” other than New York City.

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I took the same 10 hour flight and finally landed in Sweden to experience my first time in another country. I didn’t know much about many other countries, let alone Sweden, where as he knew a lot about New York from school, movies, and television. I didn’t know what to expect or how to act. To my relief most Swedes speak English extremely well.

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My first impression was of how beautiful everything around me was. Flying into Gothenburg, the second largest city in Sweden, felt very comfortable and pleasant. It was a mix of both fast and slow pace, just the right amount of hustle and bustle. When I saw the trolleys chugging along the cobblestone streets I knew I wasn’t in New York anymore. Everything was picturesque – the carefully crafted architecture of each beautiful and impressive building, the churches, the stained glass, the abundance of fountains and statues.

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It felt empowering to be amongst a place so rich in culture, tradition, and history. I fell in love. Not only with him, not only with Sweden, but with traveling and soaking in another country and its culture – with him. It was my “something” – both Someone and Somewhere. I enjoyed Sweden without feeling the need to have a packed site-seeing schedule. In that way, my trip to Sweden was different than his trip to NYC. Just being there was enough. I didn’t know whether to soak it all in and enjoy the moment or take a lot of photos to make the moments last forever.

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We casually strolled the streets, shopped in the stores, and ate Swedish food. When people ask what I did in Sweden I replied “nothing.” Everyone wanted to know about the sites, the museums, what I did and saw, and were disappointed by my lack of being a tourist. They wanted to vicariously travel through me but I didn’t feel the need to rush and experience every historical or cultural crevasse of Sweden. Maybe I sensed that I was the fourth type of tourist; not a sight seer, shopper, or museum goer- but a “stayer.” I was the kind of tourist that wasn’t in a rush because I knew I would be back and would have all the time in the world.

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Since then I have enjoyed a Swedish Midsummer meal highlighted by pickled herring, new potatoes, and fresh strawberries. Then I experienced the festivities as people dance around a maypole to special songs about frogs and summer while wearing traditional clothing and a crown of flowers on their head. I’ve endured through the harsh winters when there’s only 6 hours of daylight, as well as basked in delight during the 18 hour days of summer.

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Together we have conquered the tallest wooden roller coaster in Sweden as well as visited the museum with the most Scandinavian art. I’ve adapted to stores being closed on Sundays and buying Swedish groceries. I’ve learned to eat thin Swedish pizza with a knife and fork. I have grown accustomed to taking my shoes off at the doorway of every home and have gotten used to open faced sandwiches for breakfast. I’ve seen little kids wearing witches hats to celebrate Easter and have eaten the Swedish specialty of Lutefisk for Christmas dinner. I saw that the stereotype that every Swede is a blonde bombshell with blue eyes is not true, it is actually a diverse country.

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We’ve been aboard the world’s largest operational wooden sailing vessel, a replica which originally sank in the 18th century. We learned all about the history of Älvsborg, a fortress castle built to protect Göteborg in the 17th century, then pretended to get shot out of one if its many cannons.

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I now know my way around a town in Sweden, where as six years ago I hardly knew the country existed. I have favorite places to eat and favorite Swedish foods. I’m learning the Swedish language, going to Swedish school, making Swedish friends, and working at Swedish places.542887_10151033620320628_1458500220_n

I have seen the red and white houses sprinkled through out the beautiful country side, such as is classically depicted in any story about Sweden. I’ve celebrated “Fat Tuesday” by eating a decadent creamy pastry with almond paste called “Semla.” We live in a town filled with rich history such as viking naval battles, valiant struggles between Sweden and Denmark, and a fire that destroyed almost everything. I’ve heard the cheerful drinking songs that Swedes sing before taking the first sip of liquor, and I love to say “Skål” in Sweden instead of “Cheers” while drinking snaps at every holiday dinner.

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I loved Sweden the first time I stepped foot there even though I didn’t do anything touristy or exciting. I couldn’t explain that it was the day-to-day life that I enjoyed. Maybe it’s because I was meant to get married in Sweden on a sunny day that lasted 18 hours with perfectly “lagom” weather. It’s because I was meant to move here, meet new people, gain the courage to socialize, and adapt.

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Since his first visit in New York, my “someone” and I traveled back and forth between our two “somewheres” twice a year for three years, experiencing something new each time. We have explored and experienced each place together. Not only do I now feel more comfortable in Sweden, but NYC is now a home away from home for him.  We can compare our experiences and each  country more and more each time we travel back and forth. Each time is like a vacation and visiting home all wrapped in one.

It doesn’t matter if you are looking to see the world, given a job opportunity far from home, if you want to help the less fortunate, fulfill a bucket list, or maybe you are following love. Everyone needs to find their “someone,” “something” and/or “someplace” which sometimes means taking a leap of faith.

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