Summer is road-trip season, so we're taking a culinary tour of America. But because Portland is a city of immigrants from other states, we don't have to leave town to do it. We're traveling to 50 Portland restaurants to try one distinctive food from each state. Our 50 Plates tour continues with lefse from North Dakota, which joined the union on November 2, 1889. To vote for Oregon's state food, go here.
Home to the most churches per capita and a population that is 90 percent white, North Dakota is also known for the massive oil boom currently transforming the western part of the state, and for the funny accents forever immortalized in Fargo
, the Coen Brothers movie that had no shooting locations in or near Fargo. It is also the least visited state in the nation. (But makes it up for it by boasting the country's lowest unemployment rate.)
The food: Lefse is Norway’s answer to the tortilla, a thin flatbread made from potatoes, cream and butter. It’s hand-rolled and cooked on a griddle, then served, most commonly, with butter and sugar. It’s a pretty labor-intensive dish, and in the U.S.—such as in North Dakota, where one in three have Norwegian ancestry—it’s most popular during the holidays. Or at bazaars, according to a real-life North Dakotan who works at WW and confesses she likes her lefse with peanut butter. That’s not really so sacrilegious: Freddy’s Lefse, a long-running Fargo business, supports her choice, adding that lefse is a good wrap for hot dogs, bratwurst and deli meat, and can also be served alongside lutefisk.
Other foods considered and rejected: none. Lutefisk? More popular in Minnesota. Scotcheroos? More commonly consumed in Iowa. Buffalo meat? Eh, that’s really South Dakota's territory. Knoephla soup? OK, knoephla soup. We briefly considered knoephla soup.
Get it from: Viking Soul Food
(4262 SE Belmont St., vikingsoulfood.com), the much-loved Scandinavian cart that reopened to cheers last month. The cart uses russet potatoes for its lefse, and it makes only 300 pieces per week (in other words, get here early). We tried it in its most simple preparation, with butter and sugar ($3), as well as in two more unconventional combinations: a sort of Nordic burrito with house-smoked salmon, zingy dill-inflected sour cream, pickled shallots and spring greens ($8.50); and a sweet combo with rhubarb preserves, creamy chevre, honey and walnuts ($5.50). My North Dakotan dining buddy deemed this lefse particularly thin and stretchy: a good thing. It was a decent canvas for the more complicated fillings, but in the end, simplicity won out—with only butter and sugar, we could discern the russets’ pleasant, mild earthiness and, importantly, enjoy the lefse's chewiness to maximum effect. “Mmm,” sighed this native daughter. “Tastes like Christmas.”
Click on the map to see each state's distinctive food and where to get it in Portland.