Can hipsters save Sweden's fermented herring?

TT/The Local
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Can hipsters save Sweden's fermented herring?
The world's biggest indoor fermented herring party. Photo: Private/TT

What do you get if you take 300 kilos of potatoes, 30 kilos of onion, a pallet of flat bread, 25 kilos of whey cheese, 300 cans of fermented herring and invite 1,200 people for dinner?


The world's biggest indoor surströmming party.

There's already a waiting list for tickets for the dinner on August 17th, which is being organized for the 42nd year in a row in the ice-skating hall at the village of Alfta in the southern Hälsingland region.

Only ten years ago, its survival was in doubt with fewer and fewer tickets sold. But things changed and today younger people have gained a new appreciation for the smelly fish.

"I think it's the combination of it being a fun party and that fermented herring has been given a boost. I think any other party theme would fall flat," Karin Boström Wiklund, a member of Lions Club, which is one of the co-organizers, told Swedish news agency TT.

Fermented herring was long a staple food in parts of Sweden, bought in barrels and eaten in autumn and winter. It was particularly common in the Norrland region, but also around Lake Mälaren and the Stockholm area.

READ ALSO: What you need to know before eating surströmming

Fermented herring rolled up in Swedish flat bread. Photo: Vilhelm Stokstad/TT

In the early 20th century producers started storing it in cans, which made it easier to transport and sell in smaller quantities, and that's when the concept of having dedicated fermented herring parties (surströmmingsskiva) took off.

Its pungent smell makes it less than appealing to many, however, and the peculiar tradition has grabbed international headlines in recent years. But ethnologist and food researcher Richard Tellström thinks there may be a future market for the fish among hipsters.

"Hipsters are interested in food that's a little bit different, fermented food and food that comes from nature. Fermented herring has all of this, so there should be a bigger interest in it. Fermented herring is the number one hipster food. It's the hipster fish," he told TT.

"What speaks in favour of the fermented herring is that it is a regional product that has an advanced taste, and today's consumers are much more advanced when it comes to food choices than they were 30-40 years ago."

The Local suggests you eat it with onion, sour cream, bread, potatoes and an optional glass of Swedish aquavit. But make sure you are still able to taste the herring itself. Or, in Tellström's words: "Eat the fermented herring the way it is and deeply reflect on it as were it a glass of Amarone wine."


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