20 (Tue) August 2013
Köttbullar med Lingonsylt
-Oksu, Seongdong, Seoul, Republic of Korea-
with GK et al.
Ever since my first attempt at making the dish (3.292 Köttbullar), it just didn’t feel complete without the jam. All meatball recipes that I’ve seen, as well as recipes for other Swedish dishes, end with the directive “Serve with lingonberry jam,” as if Swedes only and always eat this one condiment at every meal. Number One Swedish Fan GK confirmed that lingonsylt (lingonberry jam) is indeed the traditional condiment for certain iconic dishes, like the ones that I’ve been making, though it’s not an absolute requirement on a daily basis. Köttbullar (meatballs) are so commonplace that they’re often eaten with whatever’s available (e.g., ketchup) or nothing at all. Still, I had to try acquiring the jam.
Acquisition was no easy feat. I scoured Seoul – foreign markets in Hannam and Itaewon, boutique supermarkets at Galleria and SSG, specialty delis at the hotels Hyatt and Marriott, even Austrian Chef Meili’s Deli upon the suggestion of one reader – but to no avail. At one point, Number One Fan LJY promised to bring me a jar from IKEA in the States, but forgot. At long last, GK came through and brought me some himself, directly from Sweden. What a perfect way to get it.
So, on this second meeting of ours (see previously 4.223 Won Bindae Ddeok), I invited GK over for dinner and served Köttbullar med Lingonsylt – not really a full dinner, more if a quick tasting. More than a show of thanks, I had to take advantage of this possibly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get a Swede’s assessment on my Swedish meatballs. As I’ve been following an amalgamation of recipes found on American websites, I wanted to know whether my rendition could be considered the real deal. Secondarily, whether they’re any good.
Yes and sort of. GK acknowledged that the meatballs, including the cream sauce, constituted bona fide köttbullar. In terms of taste, he found them initially to be on the bland side. They seemed properly seasoned to me. Of course, standards of saltiness are not universal, as I recently discussed. Then again, when he tried a second batch later on, which had been cooked in the sauce for a bit longer, he said that the seasoning was just right. Seasoning aside, I’ve received official validation on authenticity, and that’s what counts.
As for the jam, it took me by surprise. Frankly, I’d been prepared not to like it, as I tend not to like jam in general. I don’t like sweet foods. Fruit is sweet. Jam is sweeter. Moreover, I couldn’t possibly imagine how something so sweet would pair with such a creamy/savory dish like köttbullar. The closest precedent that came to mind was turkey + gravy + cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving, American-style, the one part of the meal that I’ve never appreciated. And yet, somehow, the combination does work. The jam itself is not simply sweet but quite tangy, punchy, almost like it’s fermented. That kick provided a cutting counterpoint to the soft succulent meatballs and the rich creaminess of the sauce. I’m wondering now if the cranberry sauce tradition was perhaps a contribution from the wave of Swedish immigrants to the American heartland during the late 1800s – I mean, were the Pilgrims at Plymouth eating cranberry sauce back in the day? Anyway, I really enjoyed it.
The 4.0 here reflects the overall context, not necessarily the dish itself.
In Korean drinking culture, the term “cha (차)” refers to a “phase” in a drawn-out night of libation. For example, il-cha (일차) (phase 1) would usually comprise dinner, i-cha (이차) (phase 2) drinks at a bar/pub, sam-cha (삼차) (phase 3) karaoke, sa-cha (사차) (phase 4) street-side tent bar, and o-cha (오차) (phase 5), if it ever got that far, for men, probably involving certain professional women (this might occur earlier at phase 3).
This night, maybe for the first time ever, certainly for the first time in recent memory, I made it to Phase 6. I got home at 0530. I remember being at each of the venues, but I can’t anything that we talked about, from Phase 4 onwards, retroactive blackout. And no, professional women weren’t involved at any point (unless, unbeknownst to me, GK went solo to Phase 7). I’m definitely too old for this kinda thing (GK is still in his 20s).
(For more details re foods, see THINGS TO EAT : WORLD.)
(For more details re venues, see PLACES TO EAT : KOREA.)