Day 94: Finland
Recovering from last night’s glögg party, which involved drinking mulled wine and eating Swedish meatballs and beet salad until four in the morning, took some effort. Somehow, I managed to get up at nine and write about the previous day’s festivities, emerge from my desk, then find GirlfriendBites with our friends Dave and O’Ryan sitting on the couch with food delivered. Thanks to them, I now know that wonton soup and Thai iced tea are great things to have following a gathering of that magnitude. But it’s another day, which means another cuisine, and today that means leaving GFB and O’Ryan alone to clean the apartment (thank you O’Ryan and GFB) while MamaBites and I drive down to San Diego for December Nights in Balboa Park. I’m not totally sure what that is, but I’ve been assured that there is Finnish food available. Good enough for me.
Mom and I have a nice time catching up in the car on the way down, and around two hours later, we arrive at Balboa park and discover that December Nights is actually a pretty big event, based entirely on how much freaking traffic there appears is. But we do park, then walk onto what has essentially turned into a giant fair. There are rides, arts, crafts and most importantly— food. I ask someone about where I might find the Finnish food, and they say, “Oh, at the House of Finland!” as if I knew there was a House of Finland, but figured the food was probably somewhere else. But soon, I look like a huge idiot as I realize what December Nights really entails. There are about twenty countries taken care of here, which range from “House of China” to “House of Peru” to “House of Norway”. There’s even a “House of USA” serving apple pie and chili dogs. There are bands playing, food is being served and a lot of San Diegans are wandering around trying these new and exciting cuisines. Unfortunately, it is a fair, and if there’s anything I’ve learned about fairs over the years, it’s that the food sucks. So unless you really like funnel cake and kettle corn, prepare to be annoyed. But the whole event is, hilariously, like a miniature version of my entire Personal Food Project in Blog Form. Were I a wealthier and more self destructive man, I may have decided to eat something from every country here, performing a live, performance art piece on microcosms. But I’m not, and I didn’t. I try to see if there are any countries represented here that I haven’t eaten yet, but other than Finland, I find none. So then, after passing by “House of Mexico” and noticing that their nachos are made by squeezing out liquid goo onto yellow chips made in perfect machine-cut circles and topped with canned jalapeños, I shudder, then swim my way through the crowds as we make our way over to “House of Finland”.
So after a Swedish meal of meatballs and beet salad last night, what am I being offered today? Meatballs and beet salad. They also have some baked goods, pea soup and rice pudding, so we load up on all of it, with the help of some extremely friendly Finnish women, then sit at a table and see what it all tastes like. Ready? Kind of like what you’d expect. The meatballs had a thicker gravy, which was nice, but the quality of the meatballs were far inferior to last night’s. The beet salad, like last night’s, had apples. But this one also had some kind of chilled white sauce with the look and consistency of yogurt, but a taste almost exactly like cottage cheese. The pea soup, meanwhile, is fairly standard, though very underseasoned, and the rice pudding, topped with cinnamon and sugar (“It’s supposed to have dried fruit,” says the Finnish woman behind the counter) is oddly bitter and otherwise flavorless. The apricot and plum pastries are nice and flaky, the doughnut was probably good a couple of hours ago, and now that those are consumed, our Finnish food adventure is over. But really, what did I expect? We decide to head over to the 21-and-over section of the fair, in a gated section called “House of International Spirits”, inside of which I find multiple tents selling cups of glögg, with their salespeople trying their best to explain to me what it is. I resist the urge to reply with “You don’t need to tell me about glögg. Right now, my pee is probably warm, red and smells like cinnamon.”
The Finnish booth offers up some flavored vodkas, we knock them back happily, then decide to wander the rest of the fair looking for something that looks good. But it is a fair after all, and the closest I can come to finding something appetizing is a Mexican food tent that’s grilling bacon wrapped hot dogs. “I don’t want a bacon wrapped hot dog right now”, says mom, before adding, “Is that even Mexican?” To which I respond, “Does anyone else ever make them?” So after twiddling our thumbs for a few minutes more, we decide to get back in the car and drive back to Los Angeles. So that’s four hours of driving (thanks mom, and thanks for having a hybrid vehicle) and one hour of actually being in San Diego. But just like I’m told it ought to, this too had a silver lining. I can cross Finland off my list, but also, I got to spend a really nice time talking to my mom for a few solid hours with no interruptions. We got to catch up and in the end, despite the so-so food, had a pretty good time— and right now, that’ll do just fine for me.
Balboa Park: December Nights
San Diego, CA
Food Breakdown: 2 alcoholic beverages, 3 pastries, 3 savory food items, 1 dessert
Distance From My House: 129 miles