We survived surströmming

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Tin can with surströmming

Local time: 2016-08-28 10:28
Position: 86° 26.18’N 134° 51.40’W
Heading: 235°
Speed: 6 knots
Water depth: 2440 m
Wind speed: 14.1 m/s
Air temperature: -0.1°C
Feels like (wind chill): -7.32°C
Sea temperature: -1.5°C

On Friday night, the whole ship was invited to surströmming evening after dinner. Many people, me included, had never had surströmming before, but many had heard about the infamous northern Swedish dish. Surströmming is fermented herring, and according to the rumours, it is very, very smelly. The fact that the feast was to take place not in the mess where we usually eat, but in the large storage room beneath the helideck, also gave a hint to it involving a strong odour. However, I was told, the taste is better than its smell. Anxiously, I signed up. You have to try everything once, right?

When we arrived in the storage room, the smell was the first thing that met us as we walked through the door. It is not easy to describe it, but let us just say that it is intense and not very pleasant. The setup, however, was so much more than what I had expected. Where there are usually storage crates and a ping pong table (there is a tournament ongoing – more on that later), there was a long table with tablecloths, set for at least 20-30 people.

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Long table set in the storage room below the helideck

I located the source of the strong smell; a side table with opened tin cans of surströmming and everything that belongs with it; boiled potatoes, cut red onions, crispbread, sour cream and mayonnaise mix, and shrimps. I put a little bit of everything on my plate, before fishing up a headless fermented herring from one of the tin cans.

Except for the missing head, the small fish was still whole, and needed to be prepared before eating. Luckily, seated nearby the northern Swedes Nicke (meteorologist) and Patrick (2nd officer), I got a demonstration of how to do it: First, you cut off the back and belly fins, and cut open its gut to take out the intestines. Flip it with its back up, fold it out and smash it with your fork (more than you think you need) to loosen the bones on the inside. When you think you are done smashing, smash a bit more. With the fish flat as a pancake, flip it around again. Using your fork, lift out the whole spine with bones attached. Scrape the meat from the skin; now you have the meat of the fish! Mix and mash the fish with potatoes, onions and sour cream mix into a batter, put it on the crispbread and eat. Easy!

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Mashed surströmming with all the extras on crispbread

I took the first bite anxiously, not knowing what to expect. All the focus on preparing the fish had made me forgot about the smell, which was still very much overhanging. I chewed and was ready to decide whether I liked it or not. My brain was expecting signals from the tongue that this is not edible, and was ready to protest. But hold on. My tongue did not protest, and actually, it felt okay. It was in fact pretty good! I really had not expected that! The one small fish did not make up much food, and if I had not had dinner before I would definitely have had more. Probably.

There were various reactions to the fish among the other guests. Some could not distinguish the smell from the taste, and had a hard time finishing the plate. Others could not get enough, and, I am pretty sure, I counted some eating at least ten or so fish in several servings. Others stuck to the shrimp and tried to ignore the smell by washing down with beer, aquavit and other schnapps.

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Jon ready to taste (schnapps ready)

After the feast, Friday night proceeded in the bar with salsa dancing to Columbian sweaty beats. Just because it is cold outside, does not mean that it cannot be hot inside! The party continued; the blog post, however, stops here. What happens in the Arctic, stays in the Arctic!



3 thoughts on “We survived surströmming

  1. Pingback: Kreftskiva: Crayfish and homemade hats | Runa Skarbø

  2. Unfortunatley this old Swedish august tradition became more and more rare onboard the vessels due to the 0,0% alcohol tolerance (in fact surströmming require a dram or two to become really delicious 😉
    An old ships engineer joke is to make a small hole in a can of surströmming, and place the can in the accomodation fan duct (for sure the guys onboard have experience from this.. 🙂 )


    • No surströmming in the ventilation so far, Mårten! Fortunately, we were able to enjoy the surströmming with some drams 🙂 Thanks for your comments!



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