This product is normally eaten in the outdoors, and in the Autumn. Sales
start in late August. The manufacturers recommend a method of handling the
stench. They say all partakers (and anyone else who expects to hang around)
cluster around the can as it is opened (cover with a cloth - the can is under
high pressure). Once it is open, take a deep breath. This is reported to
stun the olfactory senses to the point the stench is no longer noticed.
The flavor is rather mild.
That said, here we have a first party testimonial from Christian Conrad
(published here by permission), now residing in Finland, who has had direct
exposure to the product. These comments were first published on UseNet but
are now on
Google Groups in the (formerly) DejaNews archive. For the non-technical,
^H represents a backspace. Also be sure to read CRCs more recent comments
Ah well. You asked for it. Repeatedly.
Surströmming is the most noxious substance known to Mankind,
luckily known only to a small, isolated and isolationist sub-arctic
subset of it so far, but since you ask, I'm in the process
of proving the dangers of too well-developed communications systems.
Like this "disinformation supertrackway" we're ab^H^Husing now.
You see, I strongly suspect even the knowledge of this wonder of
putrefaction will form one of those "meme" brain-virus thingies in
your sub-conscious and leave you, Dear Reader, a gibbering psycho,
an empty husk of a person, twitching, slobbering, and spreading the
contagion ever onwards through your maniacal rantings.
Then again, maybe that wouldn't make such a big difference at all.
And since you, Malka, asked so nicely and persistently, and I'm such
a swell guy I just can't say no, prepare to be ass^H^H^Henlightened.
Surströmming is fish too, just like lutfisk. It is, or rather was
when it was alive, an ordinary strömming, which is a kind of small
herring, too small to be a sill. I'm not sure, though, whether it is
a separate species / variant /race, or just too young to be fully
grown. As it even has scales (and many other traits) to distinguish
it from the really much less harmful common or garden variety shrimp,
it would AFAIK be perfectly kosher. Now if there ever was a motive
of protecting the public health behind the formulation of the kashrut
rules, it must be stated openly: They've failed sadly, in this case.
And like lutfisk, surströmming gets its name from the method of
preservation and preparation (and preparation for preservation etc,
of course). In direct opposite to its caustic cousin, though, the
dreaded surströmming is acidic -- no, Malka, not "C/Hassidic"!.
Acidic as in acid, LSD, HappyHappyJoyJo -- Oops, I mean, acidic as
in acid, sourness, vinegar and lemon juice and so forth.
The first bit, "sur", means "sour" in Swedish. Like other sour foods,
notably sauerkraut (now there's a delicacy!) it is sealed up airtight
for a rather long while, and the microbes do their thing. Some of you
might think that this is in effect rotten herring, but the Swedes
(some of them) claim that it's not. I guess one would have to say they
are right, technically. Otherwise they'd counter-claim that really
good fermented stuff is bad: Sauerkraut is "rotten cabbage", beer is
"rotten barley water", wine is "rotten grape juice", etc...
Surströmming is mainly enjoyed in the northern parts of Sweden, but
unfortunately for me, they had a pretty generous definition of "north"
where I grew up in the middle of Sweden. It is a seasonal "delicacy",
unless the law's been changed recently. As for crayfish, which could
only be sold after the second thursday in August, this was set free
some years ago, since the market consisted mainly of frozen American
and Turkish products anyway. (Catching is still restricted AFAIK.)
But I haven't heard of the official sale start for surströmming being
rescinded, so for all I know it's still the third Friday in August.
Possibly stipulated so no vendor would be tempted to put not-yet-ready
merchandise up for sale just to beat the competition. The fish in
question is last year's catch, of course. Takes time to
You think there seem to be a lot of excuses for partying in August?
Yes, as the bright but oh-so-short summer comes to an end, the Swedes
go into ever more of a party frenzy, and the atmosphere turns more or
less orgiastic. It's probably an effect of their being at heart a rural
people, with massive-scale urbanization having taken place only in the
last couple of generations or so. And when they sit in their summer
cabins, watching the verdant lushness wilt, I think they are all, men
and women alike, acutely reminded of that biological clock that, albeit
on a somewhat longer time-scale, is commonly associated with women only.
The "correct" way to enjoy this ultimate dethronization of rotten eggs
(commonly believed to be the most potent source of H2S. Ha! What a
misconception!), is like most of traditional Swedish "haute cuisine":
with boiled potatoes, and no sauce. Except of course, to you Merkins,
the "sauce" could mean another liquid, which indeed does flow freely:
Alcohol, clear distilled spirits, AKA schnapps (Sw. "snaps") or vodka.
The favorite make is "skogsstjaernan", "Forest Star", a little flower
that grows mainly in remote and peaceful parts of Swedish forests.
But you won't find that in any of the state monopoly liquor stores.
It's a code - or nickname, it's just that in Swedish,
the light of the moon has nothing to do with it...
The menu does of course have some items besides surströmming
and potatoes. There's the thin bread of northern Sweden, preferably in
both of its (totally taste-free) varieties, soft (Swedish chapatti)
and crunchy (edible Plexi-glass). The potatoes should, for purists
anyway, be of the "almond potato" kind. This is a kind of small and
oblong potato, that actually does have an aroma (and shape) that
is slightly reminiscent of almonds. The surströmming is most often
eaten on bread, or even wrapped in it if it's the soft kind, with
sliced potatoes, chopped red onions, and sour cream.
I tried to eat a bite once, at age 13 or so, and I just
couldn't. I think my dear little mother summed it up best, at the
"It tastes just like shit!"
When confronted with the logical implications of this statement
(Wouldn't you have, at 13?), she did of course amend it to be
"Tastes just like one would assume from the smell that shit does.",
but that just doesn't have the same ring to it, now does it?!?
I have actually had pieces in my mouth later, for a part of my
"initiation" at university was like apple-bobbing, only we were
supposed to catch pieces of surströmming out of a basin full of
flour. The main purpose was of course to get us all silly-looking
and full of flour. Points were awarded for how many pieces you
found, and bonus points for actually swallowing them. Needless to
say, I didn't even try for the latter, but almost vomited anyway.
Now depending on vintage, KJ's armory could actually be about
to self-destruct. If you don't eat a can of surströmming the year
after it's made, it just goes on fermenting away, and becomes
aneven worse stink-bomb (inconceivable as that may seem...). These
are normal, or perhaps even on the sturdy side of normal, tin cans.
But mere metal cannot withstand the forces at play here. Old
surströmming cans swell. At first, the top and bottom just
bulge slightly, but after a few years the enormous pressure that
builds up in there forces the whole vessel into spherical shape.
That is, blows the can up like a ball! (Not kidding.)
I have no idea where most of these cans go, unless Sweden exports
them to some country with a facility for dismantling nuclear weapons.
But some few get carelessly thrown away in the forest etc, and these
can be near-mortal traps for curious youngsters who find them.
Happened to a friend of mine when I was little. "Wow, what's this?!?
Dad, can I borrow hammer and chisel?". Being naturally cautious I
stood well back, which is how I happened to survive the resulting
explosion with only mental scars. Not something I
© Christian R. Conrad - sole owner of all opinions
(except quotes) expressed above.