IKEA: The food warehouse


Photo by Jerry Xia

Jerry Xia and Erik Feng

Arriving at IKEA

When people think of IKEA, they think of sleek, modern furniture, and warehouse shelves stacked with crates. Yet, when we arrived at the well-lit lobby with the one-way escalator, we strode past the lengthy return line and eager shoppers perusing interior designs for a grander prize — the even longer line at the food court. IKEA’s Swedish dining experience starts with, in a traditional consumerist fashion, picking up a shopping cart, but for your food: three stacked metal tray holders provide a unique solution for holding food from the buffet. Widescreen TVs surround the buffet bar, wrapping around three walls and displaying the best deals for desserts, salads and entrées. The clink of pans and buzz of chatter fill the warehouse-like room.

Conspiracy for dessert

First, we waited in line for 10 minutes before arriving at the self-serve dessert bar. At IKEA, ordering dessert comes first and starts with the deal of the century: a gooey chocolate cake for only 99 cents. The cake offered a rich chocolate flavor with a thin, crunchy crust. The value makes it good for people concerned about their spending, earning the cake a gooey 4.5/5.

If gooey chocolate is too cheap for your refined taste, IKEA also offers a slice of “conspiracy” chocolate cake for $3 (apparently, it costs more to have a conspiracy). The suspicious-looking cake turned out to be the most generic-tasting sponge cake in existence. With layers of spongy and gooey chocolate, the conspiracy cake’s taste unravels like the logic of a real conspiracy.

The meatballs

For our entrée, a smiling yet probably poorly paid chef offered us the most authentic (and definitely not culturally appropriated) Swedish Meatballs dish with gravy, mashed potatoes and peas. The eight delicious meatballs on the plate were seared with a crisp skin, covered in savory gravy and paired with cranberry jam on the side. A couple meatballs might have been a little too saturated with sodium chloride (in simple words, salty), but the tart jam complemented the saltiness well. The side of flaky, powdery mashed potatoes was somehow cooked with even less flavor than the mushy peas (0/0; how do you rate peas?), even when drenched in the gravy. Of course, for the inexpensive price of $8 with an option to get four extra meatballs for only $1 more, IKEA’s classic Swedish meatballs did not disappoint.

Veggie cake with salmon

The salmon filet presented an initially appealing alternative to the meatballs. Regretfully, like the mashed potatoes, it was just as disappointing, even when drowned in the gravy (seriously, who puts gravy on fish?). And surprisingly, the gravy added a new, needed flavor to the fish. Believe us.

The (likely poorly paid) chef really wanted to make sure the fish was cooked all the way through, out the other side and back again. Luckily, the side of vegetable cake stole the show, with its cheesy, yet vegetable-forward interior melting in your mouth (as the fish should have). Thankfully, the gravy stayed away from this side, leaving it unharmed. Not to mention, we didn’t receive that much food for the expensive $10 price. IKEA should consider renaming the salmon dish to vegetable cake with a side of salmon.


And finally, just before the checkout line, we arrived at the soup and fruit station that indeed served soup and fruit, a most interesting IKEA combo. Unfortunately, there was no employee to operate the ladle, so we had to learn how to work the enlarged spoon. The tomato and feta soup was lukewarm and suspiciously lacked feta cheese. The orange liquid was acidic, as though it were red vinegar — too acidic for two basic food connoisseurs.


IKEA does not feature any live performances or music; instead, it opts for a more economical, self-entertainment pamphlet that requires the customer to operate it. The pamphlet proved to be quite amusing, allegedly containing photos of “Sweden” and a description of the country’s Christmas, mid-summer and Halloween traditions. We were not able to verify the purported location of the photos, leaving the authenticity of the pamphlet up for interpretation.

The pamphlet states that the photos were indeed from the Nordic country. However, while the photos were colorful and the text educational, IKEA demanded that we download their app and join their rewards program, IKEA Family, with numerous ad breaks in the booklet featuring the IKEA app. They even offered a free coffee every time you visit the restaurant with IKEA Family, which is a quite generous offer if you can stomach the wait every morning.

Closing Thoughts

While IKEA’s cafeteria is not a gourmet restaurant, it does offer great deals on a variety of traditional Swedish dishes that lead to an enjoyable experience, even though it may lack service fit for the bourgeoisie. But, after all, IKEA was not built for the bourgeoisie — in our capitalist society, IKEA champions the cause of the proletariat, reminding us that, quoting the highly esteemed IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad, “Wasting resources is a mortal sin,” and a fulfilling life/meal doesn’t always have to be expensive.