Surstromming: What to Expect from Sweden’s Fermented Fish

Swedish cuisine is well-known for its Swedish meatballs and crayfish parties, as well as smorgasbord lunches. But there’s one delicacy that’s rarely found beyond Sweden’s borders.

Although heiring is a controversial food, the fermented version of the mutton is highly prized and is one of the most delicious foods in the world.

Surstromming is made of Baltic seaherring. It is fermented in weak brine for at minimum six months. To prevent it from spoiling, it is lightly salted in its can. You can eat small portions in a flatbread wrap with waxy potatoes and red onion.

The Disgusting Food Museum offers insights

The Disgusting food Museum in Sweden serves up surstromming. It invites visitors to explore the world and challenge their ideas about what is edible.

The smell is what everyone first notices. Andreas Ahrens, museum director, says the smell is strong and pungent. It fills the room immediately. This is because gases formed during fermentation are released when the cans are opened. Cans are often opened outdoors, sometimes in a party setting.

Surstromming is the main attraction at the museum. However, there are many other international dishes that compete for attention. Highlights include the cuy Peruan roasted guinea-pigs, the Maggot-infested Sardinian Cheese Cazu Marzu and Iceland’s famous aged shark dish Hakarl.

Surstromming is, however, the undisputed star attraction. This is despite the fact that the museum has seen about half the people become physically ill from the delicacy. Ahrens explains that most people just spit it out, and are unable to swallow the food.

The next internet trend?

An online surstromming challenge is gaining momentum, partly thanks to The Swedish Surstromming Supply which ships the cans internationally.

The challenge is described by the company as “great entertainment,” particularly when a foreigner’s reaction is compared to a native Swede’s calmer response. This BuzzFeed video received over 12.5 million views.

Despite the reactions of many viewers to the viral videos, the company stated that they were surprised at how much people like the dish after they have overcome the shock of the first sight and smell.

Northern Sweden’s summer delight

Many traditional Scandinavian foods date back to before refrigeration. To keep farmers nourished through harsh winters, salting, drying, and canning were vital.

Surstromming season is in August, despite this. Ahrens explained that this is due to a decree prohibiting sales prior to the third Thursday of August. “The decree has long since expired, but it is still considered the start of surstromming season.” Surstromming parties are still going on throughout August and part of September.

Surstrommingsskiva is a type of surstromming that you won’t find outside the north of Sweden. You can expect strong alcohol to be offered to wash down the unique taste if you happen to stumble across one. Ahrens says that it is often accompanied by small shots of alcohol, such as aquavit, bitters or vodka.

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