An Etymological Meditation on the Great Almond Cake at IKEA

“What do you think is better–breakfast or dinner at IKEA,” my chica asked while she scarfed down pasta and vegetables with marinara sauce and I enjoyed a slightly-better-than-so-so chicken alfredo.

“Breakfast,” I replied.

“Why,” my best friend, Art, asked.

“Because it's cheaper,” I said, before adding, “Besides, it's better food.”

He cast me a mocking look. Yes, gentle readers: I'm a cheapskate. But IKEA is better for breakfast–99 cents for a so-so breakfast as opposed to $4 for the cheapest combo platter? No contest. This discussion quickly stopped, however, as I began forking through the mandeltarta, otherwise known as almond cake.

I've always been puzzled about the etymological origins of the nut, wondering why the English almond and Spanish almendra were so far apart from the Northern European mandel. I always thought that the Spanish word came first, derived from Arabic due to the Moors, then sailed across the English Channel allah other words like algebra, and that mandel derived from Old German or some other proto-tongue. But according to this entry (much more reliable than Wikipedia for etymological purposes, I tell you what), the two share the same root: amendla, from the Vulgar Latin.The al- in Spanish and English doesn't come from Arabic but Old French.

Strange…as is the flavor of IKEA's mandeltarta. It's almond overload: shaved almonds on top of an almond-spiked cream and almond bread. Don't expect a sugary, frosty concoction with the mandeltarta; it's just like its nutty in flavor, naturally creamy, not too sweet, underrated and quite the dessert. At a buck and change, it's a great dessert–and pared with lingonberry juice, perfect to fuel the IKEA homestretch with a chick that wants to buy every damn item.

IKEA, 1475 South Coast Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 444-4532.

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