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Surströmming – heaven or hell? Posted by on Oct 8, 2010 in Culture, food

As mentioned before, my life as an expat Swede has made me more Swedish then ever. I bake Swedish, I cook Swedish, I decorate our house with Sweden, I celebrate Swedish festivals like mad and most of all, I crave, eat and cherish Swedish food. Actually, I cherish it up to the point where I actually agreed to try the (in-)famous Swedish delicacy Surströmming. Fermented, awful smelling herring in a tin can. This is what happened:

1. Get to know the food

The design of the tin is amazing! But it is almost bursting of all the fermented stuff in it… Yum!

2. Open the tin (Or – let someone else open the tin!)

Because of all the squirting fish juices, the tin needs to be open in a bucket filled with water. Our lovely hostess had told us all to wear raincoats and crap clothes that we didn’t care so much about, since the smell sticks in the garment.  We actually had the whole party outside, even though it was late September…

3. Cope with the smell and meet the herrings

The smell is instant and it’s very hard to describe. Fishy, but rotten… A bit eggy… Well, let’s put it this way: The smell doesn’t exactly sell the product!

4. Gut the herring

Before digging into this delicacy, you need to gut it and remove the bones. Hard work, I tell you!

5. Investigate your options

Our lovely hostess had prepared a whole plate of salmon just in case the beginners wouldn’t enjoy it… And a lot of beer to rinse everything down with. And aquavit of course!

6. Do it the traditional way

Get a flat bread, fill it with lots of potatoes, onions, sour cream and add the herring. Roll it up and be prepared!

7. Enjoy!

 You know what? It wasn’t that bad! I doesn’t taste the way it smells, that’s for sure. And with lots of onions, sour cream and potatoes… well, it works (a.i disguise the taste?). If you ever get the chance to try, I’d say go for it! Some people love it, others can’t stand it, but it’s definetely an experience you won’t forget in the first place!

Anyone who has tried? Please share your experience!

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  1. Carla:

    You mentioned it wasn’t that bad….lol, does that mean you’d ‘want’ it again, or was experiencing it once good enough for you? Hehe, good for you that you tried it, I don’t think I could have been so brave (especially if you have to factor in gutting and taking the bones out). 😀

  2. Jan:

    Excellent! If anyone knows of a source for surströmming in the US—please post!

  3. Andy:

    I’ve never tried it but have seen the tins of surströmming in stores in Sweden. They look like they’re about to explode! I wonder if it is like Limburger cheese, which smells absolutely awful but tastes delicious . . .

  4. Terry:

    Herregud! 😛

    Surströmming is awful. Really, really awful. I did my absolute best in attempting to eat it over Christmas a couple of years ago and just could not stomach it. The schnapps that traditionally accompanies surströmming did go down a treat, though 🙂


  5. Tiffy:

    I tried it for the first time in September. The flavor is salty with a bit of a twang. The smell isn’t all that great and does leave your clothes smelling like puke(I got sprayed by the can). Also while in the can the fish and its juices look a bit like sewage. Even though all of that is true, I can honestly say that I did enjoy it and will have it again. Will you eat it again? Also did you have the one year fish or something older?

  6. J. Eric:

    Sounds a little like the way my non Swedish Mother would try to hide the taste of lutfisk at Christmas. A few more bits of potato, lots and lots of butter…..quickly wrapped in wonderful, tasty fresh lefse and swallowed quickly. :O)

  7. Luke (Sydney):

    Sounds like a good starter for fermenting Chinese stinky tofu 😉

  8. jennie:

    Carla: 🙂 I won’t crave it, that’s for sure! But it was fun, more fun than tasty i guess. But no, I would quite like to eat it again! A bit more prepared this time…

    Andy: You are damn right, they look like they will explode any minute… We had OLD as in passed it date surströmming as well (if there is such thing…)…

    Terry; You are right, snaps is a must to these things! A great invention (taste killer 🙂

    Tiffy: Sounds like we had the same experience! Although I didn’t get sprayed by the can, you poor thing… I will eat it again if there’s an oportunity, but I wont run out and buy it… What about you?? This was old fish, it was passed its best before date by two years…

    J. Eric: Exactly! My finace always laughs at us when we eat lutfisk – or a tiny piece of fish drenched in sauce, butter, pepper….

  9. Petra:

    I just came back from Sweden and bought two cans of this thing. Thanks for the directions how to eat it:)

    I only have one question – the cans travelled for a week in a car i.e. the cans were not stored in a cold place. Actually I think once it went slightly warm inside. Is if still safe to eat the fish or can it be dangerous? Thank you..

  10. Emily:

    Are you crazy! Why did you open that rotten fish can of gross :p

  11. Darren:

    I just tried Surstromming today. Anybody up for it don’t even try it. Don’t even buy the can. Or even hold the can!
    So the smell that erupted out of the tin can smelled like sewage water at first,as I opened the can to its whole top opened. The water containing the fermented herring looks like longkang water or the water in Melaka City Cruise.

    The texture : Soft mushy and smooth like marshmallows. Boney on the inside and pink juice oozing out of it.
    The pink juice is its internals that has been fermented.

    The Taste : Something like “Cincalok” and Something out of this world. If you’ve smelled rotten whale carcass;Thats the same smell. Tasted extreme salty like licking fresh raw salt from the sea.

    The Smell : Putrid decaying smell. Decaying corpse does not smell as bad as this thing. Flies were buzzing all around and my neighbours were complaining out a dead body smell.

    As I went to throw out the fish out of my neighbourhood by walking, I could hear people talking about the smell. The smell of this fish can be smelt from 2 blocks away. Luckily I read some food forums prior to opening this.

    Some people may love it and other may hate it.
    I shall now go take several showers and completely sanitise my garden.
    Plus, this can is not cheap too! 10£ for some rotten fish!