Surströmming – Buzzfeed wasn’t completely faking it

Buzzfeed uploaded a video and it kicks up a storm, goes viral and gets people talking. It’s actually more common that you think. It can’t be all that easy to make these videos for sure, and the amount of pressure that you are exposed to trying to create such a viral video is surely no fun.

The fact that both the actual video and the behind the scenes videos each commanded more than 5 million is just way too impressive.

But they certainly found a winning model in videoing reactions. The more connected we are to the internet the more we seem to desire human interaction, think of some of the most popular video genres today -mukbang, react videos, video gaming videos.

Now there was one video that blew up in a different way, it was titled Americans Try Surströmming (The Smelliest Food In The World). Like msot Buzzfeed videos trying strange exotic foods, the Americans in the video ate Surströmming the wrong way – by trying to stuff the fish into their mouth without any other condiments. Like all react and response videos, the people in the video certainly seemed to exaggerate

That video actually provoked a response video from Swedes – who are notoriously quiet and unemotional (see what you have done, you Americans! Hahah)

In fact the Buzzfeed video did not just surströmming wrong, they videoed it wrongly – in a studio. There’s a reason there are rules in apartments in Sweden that ban the opening of surströmming in the apartment, even durians don’t have that restriction in Southeast Asia.

Surströmming ‘s is so smelly you cannot take it on a plane too, just in case it explodes in the air. So what exactly is surströmming?

Surströmming is a fermented baltic herring. Herring is a fatty fish found in the Baltic Sea and has been very important for the people of the Northern parts of Sweden (Norrland) since the 16th century. Fermenting food was really important prior to the age of refrigeration when food that was obtained needed to be prepared to avoid rotting and kept for consumption on another day. In fact fermented fish is a staple of European cuisine with the oldest traces of fermented fish going back to Southern Sweden almost 9200 years ago. Garum and Worchestershire Sauce are fermented fish based items too.

The herring used for surströmming are not just any sort of fish, these are herring that are on the verge of spawning and caughted between April and May – I reckon it has to do with the larger amount of fats that a pre-spawning fish would have (not alot). These fish are put in a strong brine for 20 hours to remove all the blood and later changed, gutted with the head removed and place in a weak brine to ferment. The fish is fermented for around 5 weeks before any canning can take place. Fermentation continues in the can with all sorts of bacterial goodness producing carbon dioxide and causing the cans to bulge and its odour develops.

Then comes the eating.

Now we had all seen the Buzzfeed video, and we thought they were exaggerating too much, so since a few of us were visiting Sweden we thought, why not try it.* I’d been in Sweden and never tried it before, the opportunity just never presented itself – i.e. I never found people willing or excited enough to try it with me. I’m quite sure I wasn’t the problem (at least I hope not), most probably the fish.

That should have been our first warning.

But we decided to go for it anyway. Surströmming should be eaten in the open, and not in a confined space so we went to the beach nearby to open the can. Because of the carbon dioxide inside, when we opened the can, there was a fizz and liquid emerged from the can. We immediately smelt sickness in the air, the odour was strong.  I can’t really describe it except to say that it was strong and very unpleasant. We didn’t open it too much and my palm was soaked in surströmming juice. Lesson learnt: open the can under water :/

To be honest, the fish really did not look that attractive.

Or may it was the smell that made it seem bad to my mind.

The ‘proper’ way to eat surströmming is to have it with tunnebrod, potatoes, red onions, sour cream and dill, in a way heavy carbohydrates and strong, equally pungent flavours from the sour cream and onion to take some of the pungency away. It is washed down with snaps, a strong Scandinavian alcoholic beverage.

We didn’t eat this one obviously (its sitting on a table without any cover)

We bought everything except the snaps, not that it mattered much. Our little sandwiches did not stay in our mouths for long, I couldn’t take the sandwich and gave up after half a minute.

I know I diss Buzzfeed for exaggeration all the time, regarding Surstromming, that reaction was not completely off.


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