The Surströmming Experience

It was inevitable. Six pairs of eyes stared back at me in anticipation. My giddy laughter turned to whimpering of fear before a few tears fell as I bit into the foulest smelling dish I’d ever tried.

I introduce you to Surströmming, fermented Baltic herring. Its smell is so pungently horrid even the flies circling around us were initially confused and disoriented.

What the….? They probably buzzed to each other.

Last weekend found us at the summer house way up north in Swedish Lapland. The setting was serene with classic red and white Scandinavian cabin houses dotting the landscape. Small, colorful rowboats are docked alongside wooden piers that run into the little bay just off the Gulf of Bothnia of the Baltic Sea. The sun hovers over the horizon, but never truly disappears.

Though your stereotypical summer getaway, it is still nothing short of idyllic.

Within minutes of opening the can, the overwhelming smell of rot had permeated the fresh evening summer air, rendering it toxic. I watched, mouth agape, as the liquid within the can bubbled slightly.

If maggots had surfaced, I would have passed out.

Pieces of surströmming are spread over buttered, crispy thin bread and then layered with slices of almond potatoes, chopped onions, and fresh dill sprigs. The taste of rotten herring isn’t so bad at first, but the smell disarms you each time you try to take a bite.

The verdict – It definitely does not taste like chicken. It doesn’t look like, taste like, or smell like anything you’ve ever tried before, and I probably won’t be suggesting a surströmming encore in the future.

Unless of course invited once again to experience authentic Swedish culture.


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  • Michelle

    If I ever came across this stuff I would probably eat it alone without all the starches (bread, potatoes). I do not like the taste of fish much so this one would be quite a struggle. I don’t think I would vomit but the taste of fish irritates me. If I had to eat it, there would have to be bacon, Godiva, and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream next to me! Or a healthy option such as raspberries and dark chocolate. Maybe some raw cranberries, lemon, and mint for dessert to rid of the rotten fish breath!

  • http://www.roadtrippers.com Catherin Dornfeld

    your blog is really amazing.

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  • http://www.colorfulplaces.com Bluegreen Kirk

    You are a brave soul! I don’t think I could (would) have eaten that, from the smells to the flies I would have to pass on this meal. The presentation of the food doesn’t even look bad but from how you say its smells geez!

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  • swede

    a swede here …. but, you are lacking a important detail, the schnapps!

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  • Katrin

    I am a sweed and it took 4 years to learn how to eat Surströmming. Now I love it. Smells verry bad yeas, but whit the right things to eat with it, it tastes quite nice.

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  • Ben

    Kool! I’d like to try some.

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  • http://lolaakinmade.com Lola

    Pat Marie – You can buy it online at http://www.buy-surstromming.com/

  • Pat Marie Giguiere

    I
    am int4rested in ordering Surstroming rotted herring in a can.

  • Pat Marie Giguiere

    I am int4rested in ordering Surstroming rotted herring.

  • http://lifecruiser.com Lifecruiser

    Yuk. Even though I’m a Swede, I do not eat it…. I’ve tried a small bite once many years ago, but that’s it. Though it’s a common dish for the north of Sweden and not all of Sweden. Luckily. You do understand that in Stockholm where I live, it’s considering as a disturbing thing to opening a can of surströmming… AS you say, the smell… It sure was brave of you to taste it!

  • http://livesofwander.com Theresa

    I don’t think I could have done it. If it smells bad, I can’t even get it close to my mouth. Good for you for giving it a try!

  • http://www.lolaakinmade.com geotraveler

    I wish I could bottle up the smell for you guys!. It was unbelievable!

  • christinegilbert

    Yum! Ok that was the closed I could get to being a good sport. Just the pics made me a little queasy. Very brave!!

  • sdg1844

    OMG! Hysterical! When you attract flies and have to hold your nose to eat, it’s scary. LOL.

  • http://www.soultravelers3.com Soultravelers3

    Love it! Your pictures and words are great. We are on a world tour and happen to be in an idyllic part of Sweden right now and happened to have herring with all the fixing today. Thank God it was delicious and not surstroming! :) Thanks for the giggle brave girl.

  • http://www.collazoprojects.com Julie

    These are fantastic! The can alone looks horrible. The entrails have my own stomach turning. The fact that the herring is hidden under all the other goodies is the only saving grace. Good thing photos don’t smell! ;)