Sunday, December 4, 2011

En dag for gløgg og julemarkeder: Or, A Jewish Boy's Most Christmassy Shabbos Adventures

Yes, I know the title is in real Scandinavian  Norwegian and not Swedish. Hush. It means "a day for mulled wine and Christmas markets."

Andersonville is awesome. 

For those of you non-Chicagoans, or Chicagoans who don't leave the Hyde Park/Lincoln Park/Evanston bubbles, Andersonville is a neighborhood on Chicago's north side, by the lake. It's a tidy neighborhood of nice, old houses, low-rise buildings, and little businesses. Also, it's the center of the big Swedish-American population here in Chicago.

Anyway, holiday season in Chicago is a big thing. Most of you will probably be familiar with Christkindlmarket, the giant kitschy but awesome German Christmas market that takes over Daley Plaza for most of December. There's also trees and tinsel everywhere, and so many more carols than New York. Even we Jews get totally crazy: last year, we had an enormous chanukiah/menorah  on the quads on campus, and people go insane for latkes here.

The Swedish community in Andersonville is not divorced from the whee holidays spirit either. Every year, the Swedish-American museum up in Andersonville runs Julmarknad, a tiny little Christmas festival that sells Scandinavian goods, arts and crafts, and various flavors of kitsch. And glögg (gløgg i norsk ), a type of mulled wine made either with various juices and spices, or various wines, brandy and spices. Nom.

As a crazy Scandophile, Norsknerd, and general fan of kitsch and mulled wine, I decided to make a trip of it. So my friends and I trekked up to Andersonville yesterday.

We arrived in Andersonville midday, and proceeded to eat brunch at Ann Sather's, a Swedish-American restaurant that seems to be a cross between a diner, a ye olde Scandinavian-American gathering house, and a sea of red. Then, a face-stuffing followed.

Firstly: lingonberry jam is amazing. Lingonberries are berries, native to the Nordic region, that have a tart taste and a royal, deep purple color. I had Swedish-style pancakes (doughy, crepe-like and not overly sweet) with this jam, and they were amazing.

Secondly: the restaurant gave us ENORMOUS cinnamon buns with our meal. Sticky, sweet and cakey, I downed mine quite quickly. They're so sticky and rich that you need to eat them with a fork. Kinda epic.

Thirdly: their bottomless coffee is amazing. I want to know what beans they use.

Finally: David had a sampler plate that included Swedish meatballs. I have never been so tempted to break kashrut. (Although I was eating in a very non-hechshered establishment on Saturday, so....)

Then we proceeded to Julmarknad. It's a small affair - honestly, it doesn't take long to work the stalls - but they sold a lot of really good things. I got a pretty card and a jar of lingonberry jam as birthday presents for people. Also, I had some delicious, delicious gløgg and cookies made with glø very tasty.

They also had Finnish licorice sweets. I must admit, they are an acquired taste. They are also completely, completely, completely delicious.

I also limited myself from buying a Norwegian flag decal for my room. I do need to limit myself. Sometimes.

Finally, there's a target for my next visit to Andersonville. Erickson's is a Swedish delicatessen that's across from the Museum, and they sell everything from Scandinavia ever, including SWEDISH. PICKLED. HERRING. and NORWEGIAN JAM and NORWEGIAN CHEESE. I'm going up sometime next quarter to spend all my money there.

Then we proceeded to Christkindlmarket downtown. It was crowded as all hell. The product variety is wider there - I got beeswax soap and candles for my cousin's goodbye present - but it's also really, really crowded on the weekend. I'm going to go back later this week. 

On the other hand, Christkindl is very much a classic Chicago experience. It's almost a Chicagoan rite of passage to get crushed in the gluhwein line, to get an overpriced cider, and to look at kitschy-but-baller German cuckoo clocks at some point in December. It's quite an experience.

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