Swedish cuisine is known all over the world for its Swedish meatballs, crayfish parties and frozen lunches, but there is a traditional delicacy that rarely does so outside the country’s border.
Herring is a food that often shares the meaning, but the fermented version is a truly acquired taste and a candidate for the world’s most fragrant food.
Surströmming is made from herring from the Baltic Sea, which is fermented in a weak brine for at least six months. It is lightly salted in the can to prevent it from rotting. Those brave enough to try often eat small pieces in a flatbread package along with waxy potatoes, sour cream, red onion, chives and dill.
Insight from the disgusting food museum
Sour herring is served at Sweden’s Disgusting food museum, which encourages visitors to explore the world of food and challenge their notions of what is edible.
“The first thing everyone notices is the smell. It is powerful, sharp and instantly fills the space, ”says museum director Andreas Ahrens. This happens because the gases formed during the fermentation process are released upon opening. For this reason, cans are usually opened outside, often with a party atmosphere.
While surströmming plays the main role at the museum, other dishes from around the world are also fighting for attention. Roasted guinea pigs from Peru known as guy, the maggot-infected Sardinian cheese March sag and Iceland’s infamous aged shark shark is among the other highlights.
But it is surströmming that is the undoubted star attraction. This is despite the fact that the delicacy is responsible for about half of the 100 people who have become physically ill at the museum. “Most people spit it out without being able to swallow it,” explains Ahrens.
The next internet craze?
A surströmming challenge has gained momentum online, promoted in part by The Swedish Surströmming supplier who send cans internationally.
The company describes the challenge as “great entertainment”, especially when the reaction from a foreigner is set against the calmer reaction from a native Swede. This BuzzFeed video has received more than 12.5 million views.
Despite many people’s reaction in the viral videos, the company claimed that many are surprised at how much they like the dish “when they get past the initial shock of how it looks and smells when taken from the can.”
A summer delicacy in northern Sweden
A lot of traditional Scandinavian food goes back to the time before refrigeration. Salting, drying and preservation techniques were essential to keep people fed through the harsh winters of agricultural communities.
Despite this, the season for eating surströmming is actually in August. Ahrens explains that the reason stems from a decree banning sales before the third Thursday in August: “The decree is long gone, but the date is still considered the beginning of the surströmming season. Surströmming parties continue throughout August and parts of September. ”
But it is unlikely that you will find too many surströmming parties, known as surströmmingsskiva, outside the far north of Sweden. If you happen to stumble across one, you can expect some strong alcohol to be served to help wash down the unique flavor. “It is commonly enjoyed with small shots of alcohol, usually a form of aquavit, bitter or vodka,” says Ahrens.