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Sweden's Smelly Culinary Classic

Sweden's Smelly Culinary Classic
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  • Sweden's Smelly Culinary Classic

    Post #1 - September 5th, 2012, 7:55 pm
    Post #1 - September 5th, 2012, 7:55 pm Post #1 - September 5th, 2012, 7:55 pm
    At summer's end, more than a thousand locals gather in Alfa, Sweden, to eat fermented fish known as Surströmming.
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444914904577617300957144354.html
    "Sandwiches are wonderful. You don't need a spoon or a plate!"
    Paul Lynde
  • Post #2 - September 5th, 2012, 9:35 pm
    Post #2 - September 5th, 2012, 9:35 pm Post #2 - September 5th, 2012, 9:35 pm
    A friend of mine had a large volume with the bland title, "Seafood (or perhaps just "Fish") of the North Atlantic. There was an entry on Surstrumming which was written in a deadpan style, one revolting detail after another, so hilarious that we would take the book out at parties and read it aloud while doubling over and gasping for breath. I even copied it once, but have long since lost the scrap of paper. ("Scrap of paper." That's how long ago this was.) Thanks for reminding me.
    "Strange how potent cheap music is."
  • Post #3 - September 5th, 2012, 11:16 pm
    Post #3 - September 5th, 2012, 11:16 pm Post #3 - September 5th, 2012, 11:16 pm
    mrbarolo wrote:A friend of mine had a large volume with the bland title, "Seafood (or perhaps just "Fish") of the North Atlantic. There was an entry on Surstrumming which was written in a deadpan style, one revolting detail after another, so hilarious that we would take the book out at parties and read it aloud while doubling over and gasping for breath. I even copied it once, but have long since lost the scrap of paper. ("Scrap of paper." That's how long ago this was.) Thanks for reminding me.

    Sounds like Alan Davidson's North Atlantic Seafood, one of the classic works by the great culinary historian, and one of my very favorite food books. Here's the page on surströmming, written in typically understated but hilarious Davidsonian style.

    Image

    The book has been reprinted several times so it shouldn't be too hard to find. Don't forget the other two parts of Davidson's great seafood trilogy, Mediterranean Seafood and Seafood of South-East Asia. Food writing doesn't get much better.
  • Post #4 - September 6th, 2012, 6:31 am
    Post #4 - September 6th, 2012, 6:31 am Post #4 - September 6th, 2012, 6:31 am
    Cans of surströmming do buldge and have a considerable amount of pressure inside.

    The rookie mistake is to open these cans as any other tinned food. This invariably results in a shower of fermented herring mist. Hot tip: tilt the can away from you before opening. Anal retentive chef tip: open the can in a bucket of water.

    I personally don't indulge too often but will never forget my first whiff of surströmming. I smelled what I honestly thought was sewage that had backed up at a neighbor's house as I walked to the door of the home where the dinner was. Turns out, it was the host opening tins of surströmming in the back yard. In the end, it doesn't taste too bad when eaten as most do (small bits mixed with onions, cheese, sour cream, etc) and wrapped in tortilla-like soft flatbread - very salty and slightly funky, cheesy.
  • Post #5 - September 6th, 2012, 9:03 am
    Post #5 - September 6th, 2012, 9:03 am Post #5 - September 6th, 2012, 9:03 am
    Rene G wrote:birds began to drop dead from the sky


    One of my grandmothers was half Swedish and used to amuse us with tales of lutefisk preparation.

    This delicacy seems to up the ante considerably.
  • Post #6 - September 6th, 2012, 9:28 am
    Post #6 - September 6th, 2012, 9:28 am Post #6 - September 6th, 2012, 9:28 am
    I was in Stockholm a couple months ago with a group of friends. I had read about surstromming and desperately wanted to try it. I had to ask around a little bit, but eventually we found some at a fish counter in a supermarket. Before the clerk went to get it, he asked us a couple times if we were sure we wanted it. Hell yeah we do!

    As we were walking back to our hostel, the can warmed up a little bit and started to bulge in my hands. The can itself smelled pretty bad too. To go along with the surstromming we picked up some tunnbrod and onions. Once all the food was prepped, we opened the can in the hostel's sink and it squirted pretty vigorously. The room immediately filled with the pungent smell of rotting fish. When I got the first intense whiff I had to fight back my gag reflex. This stuff is serious! Once we got a couple herring fillets out of the can, we washed them off and cleaned out the guts. I'm not sure if you're supposed to leave the guts in or not, but I was happy to remove them and once again I had to fight back a powerful gag reflex.

    Eventually the smell dissipated enough so a couple of us were able to cut up the fillets and prepare a small sandwich with onions and tunnbrod. The taste is much less offensive than the smell, but it's hard not to smell the rotting flesh of the fish when you're bringing it up to your mouth. I could only stomach a couple bites and I thought it really had a lot of promise. If I was in a better ventilated room, with the time to really clean the fish off and clean out the insides, I could see really enjoying this delicacy. As a lover of funky foods and fatty fish, I could imagine growing to genuinely like this dish. But on this particular day, without the time to build up my courage or let the intense smell subside, I couldn't bring myself to take more than a couple bites.

    In short order we dumped the juice down the sink and wrapped up the remaining fish in a couple layers of plastic bags and threw them in the garbage can. We needed something to cleanse our overwhelmed senses, so we trekked up to Xoko to sample some of their famous pastries. We picked up a large box of pastries and coffee and returned to the hostel to chow down. We had been gone close to an hour when we returned. As we were walking down the street to the hostel we noticed the front door was open. It was surprising since usually it's locked and you need to be buzzed in, also it was raining and the front area was getting wet. As soon as we stepped in, we picked up the unmistakable stench of surstromming. The front door was probably 200 feet away from the kitchen where we opened the can. We walked into the kitchen and the garbage bag had been taken out. Incredible! A small can of fermented fish the size of a soup can could release a stench that filled an entire hostel for over an hour even after the contents had been removed.

    We were checking out that morning so we didn't get to stick around to see how long the smell lasted. We figure there will be signs in the future outlawing surstromming in the hostel. This is some memorable stuff and I'd definitely recommend trying it, particularly since so much of the cuisine in Sweden is pretty safe. Though you should probably open the can outdoors, far away from anything you plan to be near again.
  • Post #7 - September 6th, 2012, 9:52 am
    Post #7 - September 6th, 2012, 9:52 am Post #7 - September 6th, 2012, 9:52 am
    turkob-

    Great story! Thanks for sharing.
    -Mary
  • Post #8 - September 6th, 2012, 10:52 am
    Post #8 - September 6th, 2012, 10:52 am Post #8 - September 6th, 2012, 10:52 am
    That is a good story, turkob...

    At the Oxford Symposium a couple of years ago, when the theme was preserved foods (fermented, smoked, etc.), there was a number of very funky fermented items that people brought along in connexion with their presentations, among which was surströmming, which in my estimation won hands down the gold medal for stench... nothing came close...

    The enzymes in the guts of the fish help along the fermentation process... always included in the making of high quality fish sauces, from classical times on in the West... also in Asia...

    Antonius
    Alle Nerven exzitiert von dem gewürzten Wein -- Anwandlung von Todesahndungen -- Doppeltgänger --
    - aus dem Tagebuch E.T.A. Hoffmanns, 6. Januar 1804.
    ________
    Na sir is na seachain an cath.
  • Post #9 - September 6th, 2012, 12:52 pm
    Post #9 - September 6th, 2012, 12:52 pm Post #9 - September 6th, 2012, 12:52 pm
    Whoa! What a tale!

    In Bangkok hotels typically have signs reading "Durian not allowed in rooms." I can't imagine the hostel allowed your rotten fish!! Ouf!

    Amazing...

    Geo
    Sooo, you like wine and are looking for something good to read? Maybe *this* will do the trick! :)
  • Post #10 - September 6th, 2012, 9:09 pm
    Post #10 - September 6th, 2012, 9:09 pm Post #10 - September 6th, 2012, 9:09 pm
    Rene G: Oh my goodness, yes. You made my day. I just couldn't remember Davidson's name. (Or rather, I never really knew it.) But there it all is: the "guileless forest people of Finnish stock," "as the smell billowed upwards, birds began to drop dead from the sky," "...barges and tugs from which the crews leapt in a frenzy of desire to secure...the delicacy," "...tunnbrod, which the northerners carry about in their wellington boots."
    Fantastic.
    "Strange how potent cheap music is."
  • Post #11 - September 8th, 2012, 9:07 pm
    Post #11 - September 8th, 2012, 9:07 pm Post #11 - September 8th, 2012, 9:07 pm
    I've had this stuff mail ordered to me about six years ago from northerner.com. They do not appear to sell it on that website anymore. They still have a "food" section, but it's empty. I used to buy a variety of salt licorice here, as well, in addition to getting my snus fix.

    Anyhow, it was every bit as potent as described. Here is my description to a Swedish friend when I tried it (looks like it was in August of 2005):

    "Let me tell you this. I like disgusting foods. The more wacky and wild it is, the more I'm willing to try it. I like herring. I like strong flavors. I like oddball ethnic foods. So I just had to try this stuff.

    I cannot believe Swedes eat anything this bad.

    I opened the can (outside) and was impressed by the pungency of this delicacy. It was exactly as bad as described. Usually, I'm disappointed at what people deem "disgusting" and "inedible." Surstromming does not disappoint.

    I was too impatient to make some boiled potatoes and onions to go with it, so instead I found a slice of bread to go with it. Plus some beer to help drain it down. I had once filet of surstromming, and, unlike my normal nature, I threw in the towel. This stuff is bloody awful. I did finish my one piece, but I tossed everything else in the rubbish. My brother--not an adventurous eater--was on hand just to get a whiff of the legendary aroma.

    He was not disappointed either.

    Nor were the flies. The instant I opened the can, a swarm of flies apparently spontaneously formed and engulfed me. I accidentally spilled some herring brine onto the steps, and now I have about 100 flies feasting on surstromming juice.

    I am happy, though--I have finally found one food that I legitimately do not like on any level. I won't say I'll never try it again (who knows? When in Sweden do as the Swedes...), but I won't exactly go out of my way to look for it.

    God, my burps are making me want to vomit. "
  • Post #12 - September 9th, 2012, 12:54 am
    Post #12 - September 9th, 2012, 12:54 am Post #12 - September 9th, 2012, 12:54 am
    I can't believe they are allowed to send this stuff through the mail!!!! Can you imagine if it somehow punctured or opened :twisted: ??
    "Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad." Miles Kington
  • Post #13 - September 9th, 2012, 7:07 pm
    Post #13 - September 9th, 2012, 7:07 pm Post #13 - September 9th, 2012, 7:07 pm
    Maybe they caught on, and that's why it's not offered for sale on that website anymore. ;)

    Surstromming is perfect for evil practical jokes or for revenge. Just leave it hidden in a heating vent and it will drive a person mad.
  • Post #14 - September 18th, 2012, 2:01 am
    Post #14 - September 18th, 2012, 2:01 am Post #14 - September 18th, 2012, 2:01 am
    Actually I love Swedish cuisine, even surstomming wasn't that bad, but sometimes these guys mix components that appear to be incompatible to me...
  • Post #15 - September 18th, 2012, 3:46 am
    Post #15 - September 18th, 2012, 3:46 am Post #15 - September 18th, 2012, 3:46 am
    The week I learn about this food, it ends up being a question on NPR's "Wait! Wait! Don't tell me!" It was a two-surstromming week for me
    http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/09/12/fermented-herring-party-prompts-gas-leak-panic/
  • Post #16 - February 6th, 2018, 11:42 pm
    Post #16 - February 6th, 2018, 11:42 pm Post #16 - February 6th, 2018, 11:42 pm
    Better Late Than Never

    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
    Facebook, Twitter, Greater Midwest Foodways, Road Food 2012: Podcast
  • Post #17 - February 11th, 2018, 10:02 am
    Post #17 - February 11th, 2018, 10:02 am Post #17 - February 11th, 2018, 10:02 am
    I've been chawing on a lot of Filipino bagoong lately, which is fermented, ground shrimp fry (or fish) in salt and perhaps other stuff mixed in. Mixed with Thai baby red chilies, chopped garlic, peanut butter, fish sauce, Filipino spiced coconut vinegar and honey, it's a umami flavor bomb. Great for dipping most anything! By itself, fermented fish/shrimp paste goes into most every southeast Asian dish as an ingredient or a condiment.

    Fermented seafood is made and consumed around the world, including Sweden- and in poor nations, often the main source of animal protein affordable to the poorest of the poor. Prahok is the #1 animal protein for the majority of folks in Cambodia. It's usually eaten three times a day. Even the relatively few wealthy there eat it often as a condiment and it goes into the wok and soup pot for virtually every dish. Same thing goes for Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Philippines, etc.

    Stinky? Yes! So is blue cheese and many other fermented foods. I love it!

    If one does not like stinky stuff, cool. Don't eat it. More for the rest of us. Even hakarl from Iceland has it's fans!

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fermented_fish
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prahok
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H%C3%A1karl
  • Post #18 - February 11th, 2018, 3:04 pm
    Post #18 - February 11th, 2018, 3:04 pm Post #18 - February 11th, 2018, 3:04 pm
    interesting topic: what i dont understand is this- bulging cans are a sign that you should never open and eat the contents, as we've all been warned that the bulge is a sign of the bacteria that can cause botulism. i wonder how this stuff manages to bulge, but not make anyone actually sick (other than gag at the smell).....
  • Post #19 - February 13th, 2018, 6:50 pm
    Post #19 - February 13th, 2018, 6:50 pm Post #19 - February 13th, 2018, 6:50 pm
    justjoan wrote:interesting topic: what i dont understand is this- bulging cans are a sign that you should never open and eat the contents, as we've all been warned that the bulge is a sign of the bacteria that can cause botulism. i wonder how this stuff manages to bulge, but not make anyone actually sick (other than gag at the smell).....

    Short answer: the salt present during fermentation inhibits the growth of Clostridium botulinum. For the long answer, have a look at this terrific article: Fermented and ripened fish products in the northern European countries.
  • Post #20 - February 16th, 2018, 5:43 pm
    Post #20 - February 16th, 2018, 5:43 pm Post #20 - February 16th, 2018, 5:43 pm
    Rene G--

    As you noted, terrific article! Passed on to the usual suspects.

    Tnx!

    Geo
    Sooo, you like wine and are looking for something good to read? Maybe *this* will do the trick! :)

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