Swedish culinary curiosities

- in Column, Krönikor, Kulturkrönika

Pickled herring, bananas on pizza and parties with "snaps" and weird singing. Lundagård's culture columnist writes about his experiences with the curiosity that is Swedish food.

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world”. A poignant insight on societies since time immemorial by Thorin Oakenshield, a character in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. In Sweden, cheer and song are abundant when the locals are within a kilometre of intoxicating liquids – but to acquire such substances, it seems that some hoarding of gold (read: money) must occur. And it seems that much of Swedish cuisine was invented in that very prime state of drunkenness. Either that or people’s senses were led astray by the pungent smell of pickled herring.

But I should give Swedish cuisine more credit. It’s not all smelly fish. There are, of course, the legendary meatballs which you can acquire at your local IKEA anywhere in the world. Not to mention lingon sylt – or lingonberry jam – which a plate of meatballs would be empty without!

My Swedish friends seemed appalled, however, when I spread lingonberry jam on some toast. ”It’s jam,” I clarified. “Not like that!”, they lamented. We have yet to settle our differences. I don’t see why jam on toast is a problem: it’s a fairly standard dish. I mean, there are quite a few bizarre experiences to be had when looking for culinary experiences in Sweden, and Swedes should not be horrified by a simple jam-on-toast.

My first meal in this country was a pizza in a small town near Malmö. I had just arrived in Sweden with my parents. We were tired from the trip, ready to tuck into a reassuringly familiar dish. It was all fun and games until the pizza that arrived included the consonance-friendly but stomach-churning combination of bananas and broccoli with a plastic pot of chopped cabbage curiously named ‘pizza salad’ on the side.

And that was not all. Over the next year-and-a-half, I discovered the joys of flygande Jakob. A dish that includes chicken, bacon, cream, bananas (?), chili sauce and peanuts (??). Of course, recipes vary from family to family, I have been told.

There are also the wonders of a Swedish kräftskiva or crayfish party, which I have yet to experience. This is where crayfish are devoured – alongside snaps of course – in a delightful atmosphere surrounded by friends and family, all donning paper hats. Having grown up in a country without coastline, I’m a bit curious to try the little lobster-like fellas.

What better way to wrap up an academic year of culture columns than writing about food? Some Swedish foods may seem bizarre to the non-Scandinavian. Some Swedish food is expensive. Every country has its quirks – and honestly, it’s a lot nicer to live in a country where the food isn’t the laughingstock of the world, unlike the UK.

But why does it matter? All we students eat are falafels and pasta pesto anyway.