How did I find Ikea's vegan meatballs, you ask?

Ikea's vegan meatballs are accompanied by steamed vegetables and a sweet-potato sauce, with the plate including 10 meatballs priced at $4.49.

When Ikea announced a forthcoming line of "veggie" meatballs, a groundswell of feedback (obviously polite and well-reasoned) convinced the company to go the logical route and make them 100% vegan. So right off the bat, Ikea should be commended for that. Question is, of course, are these things any good?

Your intrepid vegan columnist, blogger and vegan-Philly trendmonger set out to answer this question, making a beeline for the Conshohocken store and bustling in the front door, already salivating.

Then... let's see. Um. I'm not the world's most frequent Ikea shopper, so I couldn't remember a) if the hot-food counter was on the upper or lower level in this store, or b) which shortcuts went to where I wanted to be. So after getting on the escalator to go to the second floor I wound up following the Maze of Commerce all around the building until finally reaching the Cafe.

The constant disorientation didn't impel me to buy any extra merchandise, but it did make me a little woozy: I could swear that once I looked through the shortcut door into the distant Ikea section to see if I could see the exit through there, and saw a similar-looking guy in there peering past me for the same thing.

Well, if hunger is the best seasoning, Ikea had in its store layout a great scheme to make their food taste fantastic, because by the time I got to ordering my meatballs I had indeed become seriously hungry.

Now, you must understand that Ikea didn't arrive in Philly until after I went vegetarian, and I had last had Swedish meatballs when I was maybe 9, when I relate to you that my first question upon seeing the hot tray of meatballs was "So... is there pasta to go with it?" And here I was feeling cosmopolitan for saying "pasta" instead of "spaghetti."

Well, it turns out there isn't, and I just managed to not blurt "so where's the red sauce?" as I remembered oh yeah, "Swedish" meatballs, right. The veggie balls they like to call GRÖNSAKSBULLAR are made with "chick peas, green peas, carrots, corn, kale, and red bell peppers" and Ikea reminds us that they're "vegan, gluten-free and soy-free!" They're served in a sauce that's like a mild dahl in an Indian dish.

The first time I visited to try these, the accompanying veggies were somewhat varied but all way overcooked. The second time I tried the dish, there were more freshly steamed, not-really-all-that-overcooked veggies, but it was mainly just broccoli and carrots. So we'll call that a wash - we're not here for the vegetable sider. What of the main attraction?

Well, I have to say I thought the "veggie balls" were really good, better than I would expect from a department store. The sauce - which turned out to be made from sweet potatoes rather than my first guess, yellow split peas - did not blow my socks off but did quite a creditable job of supporting the meatballs, in terms of flavor and texture. And most important, to me the sauce did not taste like sweet potatoes. Winning!

This option is now available at Ikeas nationwide and is rumored to be hitting take-home sections in U.S. stores this summer. For the in-store version, you get 10 meatballs plus the sauce and the veggies for $4.49, a good lunch deal, though maybe a bit slim as a supper.

Either way, it is a real meal, hot, tasty and hearty, even if there is no spaghetti involved. It's fun and fortifying - which turns out to be important as you prepare for the expedition to try to find your way back out of the store. Good luck!

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