Minnesota was a whirlwind trip. We decided to make the trek from Chicago to Minneapolis on my birthday, for one night, before returning to Illinois. Because it was such a spur-of-the-moment decision, I planned a couple things but didn’t put much research into the region.
I was pleasantly surprised by the vast amount of Scandinavian influence when we arrived in Minnesota. Though I’ve yet to visit any of these northern European countries, many cornerstones of their cultures are appealing. With the biggest population of Swedes and Norwegians outside of their homelands, it was a great time to immerse ourselves in Scandinavian culture.
A Museum with a Mansion
Possibly the best way to delve into the city’s Scandinavian culture is at the American Swedish Institute. A museum within the center features related exhibits and artwork. When we came to town, a special showcase featured moody watercolors by Lars Lerin—watercolors that highlight natural environments in a Nordic style.
Permanent collections at the institute include those featuring historical Swedish literature, sheet music, cookbooks, children’s stories, history books and more. They also own a collection of material goods depicting everyday objects, like dinnerware, toys, tools, clothing and carved figures.
Beyond the artwork, the ASI property is home to a stunning castle called the Turnblad Mansion. At the beginning of the 19th century, the house was home to Swan Turnblad, a man running the largest Swedish-language newspaper in the country. The house was a display of wealth, until 1929, when Turnblad donated it to the institute.
While the interior is a distinct display of Scandinavian culture, the exterior is French in style, inspired by the family’s vacations. Inside, we walked past detailed woodcarvings made by Scandinavian artisans, impressive sculpted ceilings, ornate Swedish rugs and more. We also encountered decorative stove tiles, ceramics over the fireplace, a stunning grand piano, stained glass windows and a deck with an observatory overlooking the ASI courtyard below.
For traditional Swedish food, stick around at the American Swedish Institute. Right in the lobby, FIKA, an award-winning cafe, gave us a chance to sit back and relax. Translated into Swedish, the name of the restaurant means to take a break for coffee and a snack.
I couldn’t help myself—I opted for the Swedish meatballs, a classic dish. Served atop a unique juniper-spiced potato puree, the meatballs came with mustard sauce, cucumbers and lingonberry. Others looking to try some authentic Swedish food can try the braised rabbit stew, an herb-crusted roast beef or tarragon chicken salad sandwich, gravlax with house-cured salmon or even desserts like Swedish cookies or cardamom buns.
However, ASI isn’t the only spot for foodies to soak up Scandinavian culture in Minneapolis. The city’s Midtown Global Market, an international-themed public market and food hall, is home to Finspång. There’s no place better to find traditional sandwiches, cookies, bread, pastries, hand-rolled chocolate truffles, flatbreads and more.
What’s really special about this market is that you can explore cultures beyond Scandinavian ones. Enjoy food and treats hailing from Africa, Mexico, Vietnam, Morocco, India, Italy, China and more.
Storing Scandinavian Culture
After you’ve enjoyed learning about Scandinavian culture and eating Swedish food, it’s time to shop. Even the stores in the region have inherited some of that cultural influence. One major example is IKEA, which is located near the Mall of America. This famous, Dutch-based furniture and home décor store was founded in Sweden, but now serves as the biggest retailed for furniture in the world.
For something with a little more hometown feel, consider a trip to Ingebretsen’s. This shop offers Scandinavian gifts that are sure to delight anyone interested in the culture. You’ll find everything from knitting and needlework projects to serving dishes, music, calendars, clothing, jewelry and other homemade treasures.
Few cities in the United States allow visitors to immerse themselves so completely in another culture so, if you’re interested in Scandinavian culture, be sure to take advantage.