Sunday, July 12, 2009

Surströmming - a wedding guest I'd rather forget!

(A friend recently asked me about surströmming. She had encountered it at my wedding 16 years ago. Here’s the story.)

My Swedish husband and I decided to get married in the U.S. I had heard about surströmming (literal translation - sour herring) and thought it would be fun to bring a couple cans of it to the U.S. as a joke to eat during at a post-wedding picnic at my sister's house. It's actually fermented herring.

Although my husband and I had never eaten it, he thought it was a bad idea to bring it to a wedding(!), but since it was an informal, outdoor picnic, I wasn't too concerned. I bought two cans to bring with us. Since I had heard that the cans can "explode," I put them in a plastic bag just in case they leaked. I took them with us on the plane. Luckily, no problems.

When we got to the U.S., we were curious if you could buy surströmming there and went to the Swedish specialty store in Minneapolis and asked if they sold it. They said they were not allowed to either import and or sell it because it was classified by the U.S. government as "rotten" food, and it's against the law to import rotten food.

Since we had heard that the cans can explode, no one wanted to open it at the picnic. A friend was brave enough to try. When he punctured the can, a small stream of juice shot out, nothing too amazing, but, oh, the smell.....!!! If those cans had leaked on the airplane, I swear the other passengers would have thrown me off in mid-air, and what a demand there would have been for sick bags!

(A few years later, I was working at a high school in Sweden. It was mid-August, prime surströmming season, and the students hadn’t returned yet. We were temporarily located in an old school building while the regular building was being remodeled. One day, I smelled a very foul odor in the halls. I thought there must be sewer problems. I later found out that someone had been eating surströmming! The odor is that foul and that strong!)

Surströmming is supposed to be eaten with onions and potatoes. Only a couple people at the wedding dared taste it. It's slimy going down and best swallowed quickly! My husband and I both tried it. Hours later, you could still feel the sensation of it in your throat and the aftertaste, kind of a continual mild burping. It is truly revolting stuff.

My sister took what was left of the surströmming and threw it in the trash can in her hot, mid-July garage. She said when she went out the next day, the garage reeked and there were flies buzzing everywhere. She said it was awful. So she retrieved the surströmming and buried it in her backyard!

I have had nothing to do with surströmming ever since!

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