Swedish Language Blog

Surströmmingpremiären Posted by on Aug 21, 2008 in Culture

I don’t have a Swedish calendar at home, I only have a goofy little one with a “Hello Kitty” design that is totally useless in Sweden (because what do I need Japanese public holidays for?) but it’s so darn cute that I keep it anyway.

So imagine my surprise when I go to tvättstuga in my building this morning to rebook my laundry time (note to self: prepare a blog post about tvättstuga) and look at the Swedish calendar hanging there. It’s surströmmingpremiären today. The fish is finally rotten enough to be consumed.

Surströmmingpremiären takes place traditionally on the third Thursday in August (like today), and I wasn’t joking in the sentence above. Today is really the official day when we know for sure that the fish is finally fermented enough.

What? The words “fish” and “fermented” in the same sentence make you nervous? And they should, oh yes.

Those who know what surströmming is can go now and look for some clothes pegs to clip on their noses while I tell the others about this dreadful thing.

Sur” means sour, and “strömming” is a small fish that lives in the Baltic sea, a type of herring, if I remember correctly. The fish is caught sometime in spring, and then, innards and all, fermented in big barrels for a couple of months. After this initial fermentation, the fish is packed into cans. The fermentation process happily continues in those cans, and you can see them in supermarkets, all nicely round and bulging. There are urban legends about those cans exploding, and many airlines even ban them as dangerous materials for that very reason, but seriously, I’ve never heard of it actually happening. I don’t think the airlines are worried about surströmming exploding, I think they’re more concerned about a leaking can and the smell.

Oh yes, the smell. Or rather, the stink.
Surströmming smells stinks like nothing else on the planet. The stench can slay buffalo and make flies drop dead in mid-flight. And yet some people actually eat it. Needless to say, this rotten fish is mostly eaten outdoors, and you can smell a surströmming party long before you reach one.

This vile product is normally eaten with potatoes, or wrapped in tunnbröd (thin flatbread) sandwich-style. If you manage to brave the stench and bite into it, it’s actually not that bad. Just salty. Not very sour, at least not to my taste.

Here is a typical reaction of a foreigner exposed to surströmming for the very first time.

Bravely opening the can. I even provided plastic gloves, see what a caring friend I am?

And a panicky retreat. Surströmming wins again.

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  1. Lola:

    Hej Anna! Just experienced the very same thing last weekend! – http://lolaakinmade.com/2008/08/19/the-surstromming-experience/

  2. Arsh Jami:

    Hejsan Anna!
    Learnt something new again today from your `fun-cational’ blog … 3rd Thursday of August being surströmmingpremiären!
    One thing I do not get is why do Swedes (and Scandinavians for that matter)love Surströmming and Snus! Is this something to do with Vikings customs and dietry habits? I take it that if you live in Sweden you at least try it once!

    Best Regards,

  3. Anna:

    Hej Lola!
    It sounds like you were passing through my neck of the woods on your way up North! Next time you need to stop by and we shall fika. (btw, we’re both members of Travelwriters, did you know that?)

    Oh my! Snus! I think I need to blog about it, too. Though I admit, I’ve never tried snus and have no intention of ever trying. barf!

  4. Arsh Jami:

    Hej Anna!
    Some more suggested topics for your future blogs, if you feel inclined to write about:
    — berries and mushroom (chanterelles)picking culture in Sweden
    — lagom
    — do Swedes really have separate summer and winter personalities?
    — what do Swedes think of Danes and Norwegians? (Norwegian jokes, etc…)
    — Swedes love of kaffe
    — Is there such a thing as a Swedish `redneck’?!

    Tack så mycket och ha en trevlig helg.

  5. Lola:

    Hej Anna – Had no idea you were on Travelwriters. Can you please send me the link to your TW profile?

    Where are you currently located? We will be driving back down from Lulea to Stockholm on Sunday!

    Great blog by the way. Been learning a ton!