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SURSTRÖMMING

A Brit tries Swedish fermented fish for the first time. And it’s… fine? 

He didn’t cry, he didn’t scream, he didn’t even vomit. But in a nondescript hotel room somewhere on the Swedish High Coast, Gregg Harfleet ate two whole bits of surströmming. 

A Brit tries Swedish fermented fish for the first time. And it’s… fine? 
Gregg Harfleet drove eight hours north to try surströmming the traditional way. Photo: Gregg Harfleet

He says that it tastes a bit like camembert. 

“It wasn’t very fishy at all, which is quite surprising for the smelliest fish in the world,” he told The Local. 

Fermented herring is Sweden’s answer to a question no one asks: what’s the smelliest fish in the world? 

Everyone has heard a surströmming story; like the family who would put it in a field and shoot it in order to open it without having to endure the smell, or how it’s banned on several airlines because it could be a security risk.  

Now, YouTube is filled with videos of people enduring the stinky foodstuff. 

Harfleet, however, goes the extra mile – or rather, the extra 650 kilometres – to a place called Sollefteå on Höga Kusten, the High Coast, near the birthplace of the infamous fermented fish. 

He said that he was trying to offer people a different take by eating it as locals do, rather than straight out of a can from his local supermarket. 

“I felt obliged to give the tradition its fair shot, rather than go the clickbait route,” he said.

Harfleet moved to Sweden as so many of us do, for love. Originally from Kent in the UK, he now lives in Linköping and works in business development. The YouTube videos are just a passion project for him, started during the pandemic, but he’s really proud of the supportive little network he’s built up of native Swedes and international people alike. 

“The reaction from Swedes has been really heartwarming to see,” he said. Some commenters have even invited him to join them for a real surströmming party when the (not so) fresh summer batches are opened next year in late August. 

In the video he takes a bite of a fancy tapas-sized morsel, one laced with pickled onion and another with a dollop of blackberry jam. Hotell Hallstaberget is one of the only hotels in the world where they serve surströmming á la carte. 

“It tasted really good!” he told The Local a day after the video was posted. “Maybe that’s not the reaction that some people would have expected.”

The video generated several thousand views overnight and nearly 200 comments from Swedes pleased with his efforts to do justice to the tradition of surströmming.

“Next time, maybe I’ll get a tin and cook it in my innergården [the courtyard of an apartment block],” he says. 

Perhaps a follow-up video is in order.

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DISCOVER SWEDEN

The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager’s dream

Although parts of Sweden are still under snow at this time of year, spring is in full swing here in Skåne in the south of Sweden. Here are The Local's top tips for what you can forage in the great outdoors this season.

The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager's dream

You might already have your go-to svampställe where you forage mushrooms in autumn, but mushrooms aren’t the only thing you can forage in Sweden. The season for fruits and berries hasn’t quite started yet, but there is a wide range of produce on offer if you know where to look.

Obviously, all of these plants grow in the wild, meaning it’s a good idea to wash them thoroughly before you use them. You should also be respectful of nature and of other would-be foragers when you’re out foraging, and make sure not to take more than your fair share to ensure there’s enough for everyone.

As with all foraged foods, only pick and eat what you know. The plants in this guide do not look similar to any poisonous plants, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry – or ask someone who knows for help.

Additionally, avoid foraging plants close to the roadside or in other areas which could be more polluted. If you haven’t tried any of these plants before, start in small doses to make sure you don’t react negatively to them.

Wild garlic plants in a park in Alnarpsparken, Skåne. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Wild garlic

These pungent green leaves are just starting to pop up in shady wooded areas, and may even hang around as late as June in some areas. Wild garlic or ramsons, known as ramslök in Swedish, smell strongly of garlic and have wide, flat, pointed leaves which grow low to the ground.

The whole plant is edible: leaves, flowers and the bulbs underground – although try not to harvest too many bulbs or the plants won’t grow back next year.

The leaves have a very strong garlic taste which gets weaker once cooked. Common recipes for wild garlic include pesto and herb butter or herbed oil, but it can generally be used instead of traditional garlic in most recipes. If you’re cooking wild garlic, add it to the dish at the last possible moment so it still retains some flavour.

You can also preserve the flower buds and seed capsules as wild garlic capers, known as ramslökskapris in Swedish, which will then keep for up to a year.

Stinging nettles. Wear gloves when harvesting these to protect yourself from their needles. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Stinging nettles

Brännässlor or stinging nettles need to be cooked before eating to remove their sting, although blanching them for a couple of seconds in boiling water should do the trick. For the same reason, make sure you wear good gardening gloves when you pick them so you don’t get stung.

Nettles often grow in the same conditions as wild garlic – shady woodlands, and are often regarded as weeds.

The younger leaves are best – they can get stringy and tough as they get older.

A very traditional use for brännässlor in Sweden is nässelsoppa, a bright green soup made from blanched nettles, often topped with a boiled or poached egg.

Some Swedes may also remember eating stuvade nässlor with salmon around Easter, where the nettles are cooked with cream, butter and milk. If you can’t get hold of nettles, they can be replaced with spinach for a similar result.

You can also dry nettles and use them to make tea, or use blanched nettles to make nettle pesto.

Kirskål or ground elder, another popular foraged green for this time of year.
Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Ground elder

Ground elder is known as kirskål in Swedish, and can be used much in the same way as spinach. It also grows in shady areas, and is an invasive species, meaning that you shouldn’t be too worried about foraging too much of it (you might even find some in your garden!).

It is quite common in parks and old gardens, but can also be found in wooded areas. The stems and older leaves can be bitter, so try to focus on foraging the tender, younger leaves.

Ground elder has been cultivated in Sweden since at least 500BC, and has been historically used as a medicinal herb and as a vegetable. This is one of the reasons it can be found in old gardens near Swedish castles or country homes, as it was grown for use in cooking.

Kirskål is available from March to September, although it is best eaten earlier in the season.

As mentioned, ground elder can replace spinach in many recipes – you could also use it for pesto, in a quiche or salad, or to make ground elder soup.

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