My Visit to Swedish Ikea in China

It’s always amusing to find influences my tiny Swedish country has on this massive Chinese empire. The most obvious must be the huge Ikea buildings painted boldly in the colors of the Swedish flag. But to which degree does it actually “feel like home”? It was time to finally find out!

An evil manager pouring up drinks at a Skyscraper looking over in Bangkok

Will my visit to Chinese Ikea feel “just like home”? The answer might surprise you!

Wherever you travel as a Swede, someone will recommend you to visit their country’s Ikea, “for all your Swedish needs”. More than just a generic furniture store, they offer hints of their Swedish origins in everything from their food to their product-names.

Until now I’ve turned down such recommendations, I don’t find myself particularly addicted to Swedish meatballs. But as the culture shocks of China was beginning to feel like living on a different planet, my craving for familiarity peaked. It was time to finally make a visit.

Would it have that promised Swedish flare or be filled with have the usual Chinese flavor? Back home an urban legend is that some Chinese take actual naps in the showcase beds. Would these rumors turn out to be true?

The Dilemma of Ethnic Food in China

You may wonder what is the big deal with foreign food. You probably had Italian pasta on Monday, Japanese sushi on Tuesday and thinking about Indian food tonight. Well, unlike our western fascination of eating our way around the world, the Chinese appear less interested. Many times I’ve heard Chinese tourists in Thailand say “It’s so beautiful here, such shame the food is so bad”, a statement that always shocked this lover of Thai food.

Niber choosing Swedish food at Ikea China but the Chinese sticks to their Chinese food

In a crowded line of Chinese holding trays of spicy food, I stand out with my tray of authentic “Fläskkotletter med Potatismos”

Examples how rare foreign food is in China can be found in my office. When us foreigners suggested pizza for overtime, it was a Chinese programmers first time to try such an “exotic” dish. He initially enjoyed it but then nearly threw up after we corrected him that cheese are actually made from dairy, not soybeans! The visual imagery of his food having been squeezed out of a cow nearly overwhelmed him of disgust.

So how could a Swedish restaurant make a living in China? The answer was of course that the food was about as Swedish as bamboo chopsticks. Everywhere I looked people were eating their ridiculously spicy rice & chicken. Luckily the option for Swedish food existed for the adventurous, and my Chinese friend was happy to try some ‘Swedish Meatballs with Lingonberry Jam’.

The Food Verdict

A meal of Swedish meatballs served in Chengdu China with tiny little Swedish flags

I was happily surprised that even far into China I can get authentic Swedish meatballs. The tiny Swedish flags a much appreciated bonus!

The result wasn’t much to write of, the meat didn’t have the grass-fed taste this snob associate with home, but the recipes were right and the meatballs even had tiny little Swedish flags in them!

After finishing our meals and filling my friend with useless information about lingonberry, it was time to check out the store itself.

Product names

I was amused to find that even in China they stick with their original Swedish names. I’m aware that many or all countries have this to intentionally give it that Swedish flare. But at least in western countries the languages are somewhat similar. A British customer could roughly make out how a Swedish word is pronounced, in China I suspect that’s not the case!

A Chinese sign featuring its original Swedish product name

Would the Chinese staff really understand me were I to ask them for a ‘Färgrik’?

For example, upon first arriving in China I was happy to see that at least Subway have their menu in familiar English. Upon requesting a “Veggie Delight” however I found that the staff had no idea what I was talking about. I had to resort to finger pointing. I can’t tell if Ikea suffers the same syndrome, but I envision funny reactions from the staff were I to ask to buy a “välkänd”, “vittsjö”, or “gulört”. In fact I had plenty of fun daring my Chinese friend to pronounce these products names.

Christmas is Coming to China!

Niber buying Swedish bread and lingonberry jam to bring a taste of Swedish Christmas to China

At the end of the rainbow was the gold I was looking for, Swedish Christmas “tunnbrö”.

As I passed the counter I expected this adventure was over. Little did I know things just got exciting!

An entire store just for Swedish ingredients is just what I needed for Christmas! I made sure to plenty stock up on delicious thin-bread, or as we call them “tunnbrö”.

But this is only the beginning of my many adventures in China, so make sure to sign up to blog updates by email! Until next time, what do YOU think about Swedish food?

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