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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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FOOD & DRINK

Five sweet treats you should be able to identify if you live in Sweden

Do you know your biskvi from your bakelse? Your chokladboll from your kanelbulle? Here's a guide guaranteed to get your mouth watering.

Five sweet treats you should be able to identify if you live in Sweden

Kanelbulle

The most famous of all Swedish cakes outside Sweden, the classic kanelbulle (cinnamon bun) is the symbol of Sweden abroad, no doubt helped by the fact that Swedish furniture giants IKEA stock frozen buns in their food stores for customers to bake off at home.

Forget American tear-apart cinnamon rolls baked in a pan and slathered with cream cheese frosting: a classic Swedish cinnamon bun is baked individually using a yeasted dough spread with cinnamon sugar and butter. The dough is then rolled up, sliced into strips which are then stretched out and knotted into buns, baked, glazed with sugar syrup and sprinkled with pearl sugar.

Home-made varieties skip the stretching and knotting step, rolling the cinnamon-sprinkled dough into a spiral instead which, although less traditional, tastes just as good.

Kanelbullar in Sweden often include a small amount of Sweden’s favourite spice: cardamom. If you’re a fan of cardamom, try ordering the kanelbulle‘s even more Swedish cousin, the kardemummabulle or cardamom bun, which skips the cinnamon entirely and goes all-out on cardamom instead.

Sweden celebrates cinnamon bun day (kanelbullens dag) on October 4th.

Photo: Lieselotte van der Meijs/imagebank.sweden.se

Chokladboll

A great option if you want a smaller cake for your fika, the chokladboll or ‘chocolate ball’ is a perfect accompaniment to coffee – some recipes even call for mixing cold coffee into the batter.

They aren’t baked and are relatively easy to make, meaning they are a popular choice for parents (or grandparents) wanting to involve children in the cake-making process.

Chokladbollar are a simple mix of sugar, oats, melted butter and cocoa powder, with the optional addition of vanilla or coffee, or occasionally rum extract. They are rolled into balls which are then rolled in desiccated coconut (or occasionally pearl sugar), and placed in the fridge to become more solid.

Some bakeries or cafés also offer dadelbollar or rawbollar/råbollar (date or raw balls), a vegan alternative made from dried dates and nuts blended together with cocoa powder.

Chocolate ball day (chokladbollens dag) falls on May 11th.

Photo: Magnus Carlsson/imagebank.sweden.se

Prinsesstårta

The lime-green prinsesstårta or ‘princess cake’ may look like a modern invention with it’s brightly-coloured marzipan covering, but it has been around since the beginning of the 1900s, and is named after three Swedish princesses, Margareta, Märta and Astrid, who were supposedly especially fond of the cake.

The cake consists of a sponge bottom spread with jam, crème pâtissière and a dome of whipped cream, covered in green marzipan and some sort of decoration, often a marzipan rose.

Prinsesstårtor can also be served in individual portions, small slices of a log which are then referred to as a prinsessbakelse.

Although the cakes are popular all year round, in the Swedish region of Småland, prinsesstårta is eaten on the first Thursday in March, due to this being the unofficial national day of the Småland region (as the phrase första torsdagen i mars is pronounced fössta tossdan i mass in the Småland dialect).

Since 2004, the Association of Swedish Bakers and Confectioners has designated the last week of September as prinsesstårtans vecka (Princess cake day).

Photo: Sinikka Halme, Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0.

Budapestbakelse

Belonging to the more traditional cakes, a Budapestbakelse or “Budapest slice” is a type of rulltårta or “roll cake” similar to a Swiss roll, consisting of a light and crispy cake made from whipped egg whites, sugar and hazelnut, filled with whipped cream and fruit, often chopped conserved peaches, nectarines or mandarines, and rolled into a log.

The log is then sliced into individual portions and drizzled with chocolate, then often topped with whipped cream and a slice of fruit. 

Despite its name, the Budapest slice has nothing to do with the city of Budapest – it was supposedly invented by baker Ingvar Strid in 1926 and received the name due to Strid’s love for the Hungarian capital.

Of course, the Budapestbakelse also has its own day – May 1st.

Kanelbullar (left), chokladbollar (centre) and biskvier (right). Photo: Tuukka Ervasti/imagebank.sweden.se

Biskvi

Another smaller cake, a biskvi (pronounced like the French biscuit), consists of an almond biscuit base, covered in buttercream (usually chocolate flavoured), and dark chocolate.

Different variants of biskvier exist, such as a Sarah Bernhardt, named after the French actress of the same name, which has chocolate truffle instead of buttercream.

You might also spot biskvier with white chocolate, often with a hallon (raspberry) or citron (lemon) filling, or even saffransbiskvier around Christmastime.

Chokladbiskviens dag is celebrated on November 11th.

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