How to survive a Swedish crayfish party

August is in full swing, and in Sweden that means it's crayfish party time. Whether you're new to the country or just haven't yet mastered crayfish etiquette, an invite can be an anxiety-inducing moment. Fortunately, The Local has prepared this handy guide to help you survive the ordeal.

How to survive a Swedish crayfish party
A crayfish party can be a bigger ordeal than it first seems. Photo: Carolina Romare/

1. Hope for a demonstration

The good news is that crayfish are tasty little creatures. The bad news is that figuring out how to eat them can be challenging.

Most of the meat and good stuff is locked away behind a pesky (and if broken the wrong way, painful) shell, and different people have different methods of getting into it.

A simple way to start is by twisting each of the claws clockwise at the base of the arms so they break off, before sucking the juices out from them and removing the small pieces of meat inside.

Then it's time for the body itself, and that's where the methods tend to differ. The overall goal is to separate the tail from the head in some way, after which point you must decide whether you enjoy eating brains.

Feel free to suck them out from the head section if you do, otherwise, put that to one side and peel the shell from the tail by breaking and pulling it away, starting close to the legs. When finished, the biggest piece of meat will be exposed.

Sound complicated? If you haven’t done it several times it can be, and unless you’re practising at home as you read, it's easy to forget. The best advice is to cross your fingers and hope that a kind host will take pity and produce a quick run-through before everyone starts eating. If so, pay attention!

Recommended reading:

For anyone who needs additional practice.

2. Don't take yourself too seriously

There's no avoiding the fact that crayfish parties are messy affairs, and to help add to your apprehension, Swedes also like to make them as silly as possible.

That means tacky decorations, moderately embarrassing but admittedly practical bibs and, to top it off, strange cone-shaped hats which are often decorated with amusing (or depending on your perspective, sadistic) depictions of the very animal you are eating.

Think you’re too cool to put on some rubbish-looking cardboard hats? You may as well not bother turning up in the first place. Whether it’s because they’re conformists at heart, or because they actually know how to let go and have a good time once in a while, the Swedes around you will all have something on their heads, and so should you.

Failing to join in will only draw more attention your way, which when, you’re already the least skilful crayfish eater at the table, may not be a good thing. So stop taking yourself so seriously, stick that hat on, hope your head isn’t so oversized the cheap elastic breaks (trust me, it happens) and enjoy yourself. This is fun. Organized fun. Remember?

Those hats are not optional. Photo: Carolina Romare/

3. Get ready to sing (or rather, hum)

You’re prepared to wear a stupid hat, you're ready to make slurping noises that humans aren't supposed to emit, and you're almost starting to relax over the whole crayfish party concept, thinking at least you've survived the hard part. You’re wrong.

Why? Swedes add a whole new layer of pain to the occasion by introducing singing. On the bright side, being a good singer isn’t of any great importance. On the other hand, all of the Swedish guests know the traditional songs like the back of their hands, and it’s going to be fairly apparent that you don't.

If you really, really want to try and learn the lyrics then The Local has already rounded up eight of the most common numbers, while Oscar winner Alicia Vikander even provided a demonstration of one here

For most people however, the only feasible option is to hum along with visible gusto, picking up the melody as you go. It may feel odd, but doing so is far better than trying to freestyle it with actual words, and most definitely better than not singing at all. Rumour has it that not singing at a crayfish party is a crime punishable by law in Sweden – do you really want to find out first-hand if that’s true or not? We thought not.

Forget the words, but learning the melody to this number is a good start. 

4. Stare intensely into the eyes of your host… and toast

Perhaps Swedes really do love shellfish more than anything else, but it is tempting to speculate that part of the longevity of the crayfish party as an event may just be linked to the copious amounts of alcohol (particularly snaps) consumed.

In Sweden, even drinking comes with rules. When a toast is proposed at a Swedish party – and it will be – everyone is expected to raise their glass in response and (here comes the scary part) look one another in the eye.

If you don’t like too much direct eye contact it can be an unnerving experience, but that’s just the way it is. It gets less unsettling the more you drink, we've heard.

Toasting at your crayfish party may be marginally less intense than this one. 

5. Be a good sport

The hats have been worn out, the singing has grown old, the food is gone and the bulk of the alcohol consumed, but the party may not be over. Party games are popular in Sweden, so don’t be surprised if at some point in a post-dinner haze you’re separated into teams with other guests for something competitive.

If the weather is good there’s a decent chance you could end up playing Kubb, a lawn-based game that involves throwing wooden batons to knock over blocks from a distance. If it’s not so sunny outside, cards may be the order of the day, and if you’re really, really unlucky, someone may even propose a quiz on crayfish as this website suggests.

Whatever the choice of game, approach it with enthusiasm, as it’s taking part that counts. Unless you’re stuck in a team with that one person who thinks this is the World Cup final. In which case: good luck. 

Kubb: better than it looks. Photo: Anna Mateffy/AP/TT

Article first written in August 2016 and updated in August 2018

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


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.