Cost: 27 KR
Found at: Coop
Pickled herring sounds like one of those classic traditional foods that are still around only for old people and tourists. The kind of thing your friend might order for you at a restaurant just to watch you squirm. And though I love me some raw fish – possibly more than the average person – the idea of pickled fish was still quite alien to me. It was a Scandinavian novelty that I felt quite comfortable skipping.
At least, until it appeared at the buffet. In my defense, it is very difficult to tell if a fish is pickled when it is laid out attractively in a buffet format. And, being a bit of a buffet slut, I had to fill up my plate with everything on offer.
Now, I have very little connection to my Scandinavian roots. I have the hair and the pasty whiteness of a typical Swede, but even my most recent Swedish ancestor had left the country by the 1840s. My cousin Derek (the family historian) gave me the full run-down of our common ancestry, which involved some Oles, a Linda, and a family farm just north of Oslo. But for my part, I don’t speak Swedish, I don’t eat meatballs, and my parents never had maternity or paternity leave. I am still not even 100% sure which Scandinavian country is which if shown an unlabeled map. But there must be some dormant traces of Swinishness still left in my genetic make-up, because from the moment this mustard herring touched my lips, I knew that this was the food of my people.
It tastes like the result of mixing together the contents of a pickle jar, a sushi platter, and a bottle of South Carolina honey mustard barbeque sauce. It’s vinegary and mustardy and sweet and tangy – exactly the kind of thing you would turn to after a long day working in the meatball fields and IKEA mines of Northern Europe. It helps me understand the long-faced, dower expressions of the early Hanson portraiture. I too would be morose if I’d left this fishy treat behind in the old country.