I was fortunate to be invited to join Van on a business trip to Sweden. Sweden is a beautiful country and should be added to any travel wish list. The people were very gracious everywhere on our trip. Everyone that I encountered, understood my Southern. This was important because my Swedish is so good. Nej! (no)
In the land of the midnight sun, it was a challenge to adapt at first. The natives advised us to simply give in to the light. Stay awake and enjoy. Sleeping was for the plane ride home. It was clear that the Swedes were enjoying the beginning of their sunny weather and taking full advantage of the continuous daylight.
On the first part of the trip, Van and I were alone to wander throughout the region. We were given the keys for a 4 speed Jeep and off we went. I don’t think Van was terribly happy about having to be the navigator. He had realized only a day before that his drivers license had expired. I was amused, although driving a manual transmission, in a foreign country, with Swedish road signs was different. Roundabouts are very popular in Sweden. It helps going through the roundabout if you know where your going. It also helps if your navigator speaks or reads Swedish.
Our hosts had instructed us to head through the country to Storforsen. Storforsen is a rapid in the Pite River. We drove to the designated area and parked. It was a hike to the waterfall, but it was worth it. In the south, we lay like lizards on the nice white sandy beach and enjoy the sun. Near Storforsen, the natives were laying like lizards on large boulders and loving it.
Our hosts were fabulous. We were invited to dine in 4 different homes during our stay. If this is ever an option on your journeys, please do not hesitate. Go native! Each host prepared meals that were special to the region. The Swedes loved introducing us to their part of the world and we loved sharing all of it with them.
Our first trip to a Summer home was going to be by boat. This home was located close to our hotel. Our instructions were to go to the small marina and wait for our boat. The host picked us up by the newest restaurant located by the marina. Van and I were amused to find out that it served genuine BBQ .The boat led us to our hosts spot on the island. He had a beautiful home on the water with a 300 degree stunning view. We shared a lovely meal with their family on the deck, sharing wine, food and stories.
Our second home was an afternoon party with new friends and new stories. We were all so different but yet so similiar. We shared a great day learning about each other. The foods were a treat to try as well.
In our third Summer house, we also dined overlooking the water. It was all very peaceful and sunny. Also, very hard to imagine the ice that had been there only months ago. Our hosts introduced us to their family, cultures and loves of Sweden. In this lovely location, Pitepalt was featured. Pitepalt is a Swedish meat-filled dumpling, served with Lingonberry Jam and a glass of cold milk. We were privileged to share a meal with our friends and learn a part of their story.
On the last part of our trip, we moved from our hotel to the home of one of our hosts. We spend several days touring industrial mills. We were surrounded by all aspects of scandinavian influence. When traveling, I always enjoy sharing in the meals and flavors of the region.
Our host announced that he would prepare a special meal for us. It was Surstromming served with special Swedish potatoes and fabulous crispbread. All of that sounds perfectly fine, right? Well, while our hosts started plying us with exceptional beer and wine, he shared the details of the meal.
As I listened to the description of surstromming, which is only fermented Baltic Sea Herring or sour herring. I wondered how Van would enjoy or handle his sour herring. Since I originated from New Orleans, it is not uncommon for me to try all sorts of odd food items. However, my Alabama raised husband was going to be a different matter.
To prepare the herring they add just enough salt to prevent the raw fish from rotting. The fermentation process lasts a minimum of six months. This gives the salted fish its “one of a kind” smell. Once the can is opened, it releases a putrid smell. I have to giggle when I think about Van’s facial expressions when the odor hit. I am pretty sure by now, that you can not wait to order a case or two.
I was a curious observer while our host prepared the special dining experience. After the special potatoes were cooked and set aside. He gathered the other ingredients, crisp bread, creme fraiche, diced red onions, chives and chopped dill. Everything looked perfectly normal to me up until this point. If we were in a movie, now I would add , the sound sequence from the movie Jaws as the shark moves in.
Our host grabbed a can of Surstromming and placed in the plastic bag. He went to the sink, turned on the water, placed bag in the sink and then proceeded to open the most foul smelling thing that I never imagined I would eat. This is probably when I needed a refill on my adult beverage. I think on the inside I giggled wondering how my husband, who I might add was on a sales trip, was going to handle all of this.
At this point, more Swedes arrived to join our dinner party or witness the Americans unraveling. I helped the host set the table outside. This dish is mostly served outdoors. After smelling the sour herring, I did not need to ask why. We all joined as friends sharing a special meal. Van and I were nervous about the ungodly smell before us. Our hosts said a special toast for our visit and meal. I said a silent special prayer. We shared a shot of Aquavit to celebrate and to provide courage.
The Swedes walked us through how to prepare our own Crispbread covered in the potatoes with creme fraiche, chopped onions and dill. The preparing of the crisp bread is very important. It gives you time to prepare yourself for the first bite. Time to try and ignore the smell that was not so long ago. The thoughts rambling about were, “And you want me to eat that?” The Swedes do and so do I. I am now a convert, Surstromming and Aquavit. Yum!