With the wide open arms of summer beckoning me, a tax return in my bank account and the promise of welcoming international friends, I hopped a plane to the north of Sweden last month for a two-week stay. In addition to attending a large summer market, swimming in a frigid 55-degree river and dealing with the ever mysterious metric system, I was introduced to a new and exciting friend on my trip: traditional Swedish food. Although certain Swedish food trends are delicious — such as the ever-present crème fraîche on the table at every meal and cheese-laden potatoes — others are a little more, well, challenging.
My first introduction to a classic dish tested both my bravery and my gag reflex. It was only my second Saturday in the country, and as I sat down at the table with my hosts and their family I reeled backward, nostrils filled with a scent so strong it can only be described as a cross between garbage and baby poop. Behold, dinner was served.
Its name? Surströmming.
Translated, the Swedish word means sour herring. The small fish is kept in a medium-sized can in the fridge all year long, fermenting, and is served when the family comes together to celebrate the coming of midsummer. The fish is enjoyed (and I use this term loosely) outside because the smell is so pungent, and accompanied by boiled potatoes, sour cream, chopped red onion, and cheese atop knäckebröd, a crisp rectangular bread similar to a giant Triscuit. I was brave and took a bite of the surströmming, but opted instead for grilled hamburgers, along with the other wimp at the table. The scent lingered in the air throughout the meal, however.
The next day, I was tricked. The steak I thought I was eating? Grilled moose. An expensive meat to buy, moose is actually quite healthy and is typically low-fat, containing about 1 gram of fat per 100 grams of meat. The knowing guests at the table enjoyed the moose in a mushroom sauce, and of course no typical meal in Sweden is lacking in potatoes.
A favorite in Sweden is the lingonberry, similar to a cranberry; it’s used to make jams, juices and desserts. I drank lingonberry juice, sampled whiskey lingonberry jam at the market and also had some jam for dinner spread on warm potato buns, which are similar to hash browns and sprinkled with crisped bacon. Although I didn’t bring home the bacon, I did grab some lingonberry products before flying home.
An important part of the Swedish culture is fika. It's similar to an American coffee break, but it is much more social and more of an event. Compare it to a date at a local Starbucks and you’re on the right track, but fika can be enjoyed with anyone; friends, family, a partner, or even someone you are just meeting. The fare includes sandwiches on knäckebröd, cookies, coffee and cinnamon buns acoompanied by jokes. discussions and laughter. Fika is a great way to take a pause during the day, although I did get a surprise during one gathering.
Shopping a cafe’s pastry display, I chose a delicious-looking delicacy, green and covered with fondant. I sat down with it, ready to eat, but one bite in I threw it down. The filling was a cake-like mess that tasted of straight alcohol and bitter chocolate. I passed the pastry to my friend, who ate the dammsugare, which translated means vacuuum cleaner. Ironic, because i thought it sucked. Get it, sucked… anyway.
Eating my way through my vacation was quite the adventure. My advice for those who travel to Sweden: Try everything at least once, and have an open mind. If you don’t enjoy what you’ve tested, pass it to your Swedish friend next to you. Chances are, he or she will say “Tack” (thank you) and happily devour it.
Angelina Bruno is a senior at USF St. Petersburg majoring in Mass Communications.