ANY HOME need – like this stubbornly unyielding thought of a clothes rack I could get on the cheap or haunting images of pristine white clothes hangers that sell at four for S$ 1.00 – is good enough reason to hop on the 27 that stops behind my block, taking me to IKEA Tampines in no time at all.
And once within the hallowed walls of the world’s largest furniture retailer’s imposing structure off on Tampines North Drive 2, I have to make the requisite stop at the Swedish Food Market and at the Restaurant & Café. Any efforts at home improvement would prove futile when done on an empty stomach. Take my word for it.
Besides, how could you resist Swedish Meatballs? Well, honestly you could. Because before this trip, I have always shunned speckling the top of my Organic Pasta with Tomato Sauce with these coveted rounded tender morsels of beef and pork, prompting one of my best friends to SMS in horror, “What?! You went to IKEA and didn’t have the Swedish Meatballs?”
So on yesterday’s trip, I made good on this resolution to finally give it a try.
The first thing that strikes you about the IKEA restaurant is that it could get crazy in there. With the sheer number of people alone waiting for tables to free up, you would feel thankful that while it could take all the time up to when the cup of coffee you got for 50 cents freezes over, it is, like some of the other drinks, refillable.
I took the store’s signature three-tier food cart, walked at a leisurely pace unperturbed at the thought that I was flying solo and didn’t have anybody to save me a seat, and walked up to the end of the queue under which the sign says, “Line 1.” The queue is formed right beside where I would always get the cup for my refillable coffee, just right before the row of refrigerated counters that dole out, among other sumptuous treats, one which has proven to be impossible to forget – the Cardamom muffin.
This time, I didn’t fancy any of the lovely packed salads they had on display – Smoked Chicken or a Gravad Lax plate – as I could hear the meatballs calling my name from the adjacent counter where the hot meals are dished out. So I got the Organic Pasta with Tomato Sauce & Swedish Meatballs, and its mini-me called Kid’s Meal Pasta with Tomato Sauce. The invisible human conveyor I was on makes a turn to the right where the soup station is. But before ladling in to a shallow bowl the Cream of Mushroom Soup chockful with chunks of wild mushrooms – I espied oyster, cremini, and shiitake – I got a couple of the rolls and three 10-gram packs of LURPAK unsalted butter. Everything is better with lots of butter!
I moved on to the cashier and for everything in my cart, paid S$ 14.30. I couldn’t wait to dig in.
The sauce for the organic pasta was very resonant with the strong flavors of dried herbs. I picked that out clearly and easily from the mishmash of flavors and textures since I have recently re-acquainted my palate with the subtle nuances of fresh sweet basil leaves, quite a delicate whiff the moment they hit the heat from a bubbling sauce. But while I did find the dried herbs in the sauce to be a bit strong, it didn’t take away from the culinary pleasure I was deriving from piercing the al dente penne with the tines of my fork, alternating it with the diced tomatoes and carrots that were swimming in the sauce. The meatballs, I gobbled up on their own, or a couple of times, stained with the robust and hearty sauce. Yum. I cleaned the second plate, the “Kid’s Meal” version, in no time, shameless that I was like eating for more than one person. Crazy.
Yes, didn’t I say it could get crazy in there at the IKEA restaurant? It took me quite some time to lay claim on free dining space. And when I did, I had to move away from my captive table and chairs to ask for assistance from the staff to bus the table. From time to time, I had to glance back to ensure that no one else could think even for a second that they had dibs on what I had already found. But someone did approach. But when he saw I had already found it first, he moved away, back to his also searching girlfriend.
Whoever said, “Share a table and win a friend” made a believer in me. So I politely asked the couple if they wouldn’t mind sharing the table with me. They smiled and took the free seats. I told them that I shall refer to them as the cute couple with whom I shared a table at IKEA. (Later, they were joined by the girl’s mom. I assume she was the girl’s.)
I went to IKEA to get stuff, but had to eat, and made nice acquaintances. And I finally made good on a promise to try something new. Ain’t life sweet?
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