Published: The Independent, 3 April 2006
Surstromming, the highly pungent but much-loved Swedish dish of fermented herring, has a habit of offending the uninitiated with its peculiar taste and overpowering smell of rotten garbage.But now the national favourite, traditionally devoured in the summer months with large quantities of highly alcoholic liquor, has fallen foul of the airline industry which has asked passengers not to take it on board, saying it poses a safety risk.
Much to the chagrin of local producers, shops at Stockholm's Arlanda airport were asked to stop selling the notorious delicacy after airlines, including British Airways and Air France, became concerned the tins could explode midflight and shower customers with noxious odours that would take many days to fumigate.
Jan Lindqvist, head of corporate communications at Arlanda airport, said the decision to remove surstromming from the shelves was a purely practical one.
"It's nothing to do with terrorists," he told The Independent. "We're not saying Bin Laden is going to start using surstromming as a weapon ... but it is a practical consideration for the airlines."
Airlines are worried that the swollen tins of fermented fish are particularly vulnerable in the air because of pressure changes during take-off and landing.
To make authentic surstromming, herring from the Baltic is caught in the spring and fermented in barrels for a number of months. It is then placed in tins and left to ferment for a further year, bloating the container and creating the noxious gases for which the dish is so renowned.
"The cans swell up like a football." said Mr Lindqvist. "If it breaks inside a plane it would take two or three days to clean out the aircraft."The decision to remove the pride of Swedish cuisine from Arlanda airport has angered producers of the dish who have called the move "culturally illiterate".
Swedes are renowned for their love of pickled sea life, particularly during the long summer months where tons of crayfish and pickled herring are quaffed with equally large quantities of schnapps. But no dish is as unforgettable as the foul-smelling surstromming.
Historians believe the origins of surstromming lie somewhere in the 17th century as Sweden needed to keep its troops fed with their favourite fish far from home. Surstromming is served straight from the tin on crisp barley bread with boiled new potatoes, chopped onion and sour cream.But despite surstromming's long cultural heritage, not all Swedes are sold on the idea of the rotten-smelling fish.
Mathias Tornblzm, a self-confessed surstromming lover from Stockholm, admits many Swedes find the smell over-powering. "It does smell like hell but it's really rather tasty when you try it," he said.
He conceded Swedes were unlikely to be protesting on mass about the airport ban: "A lot of Swedes don't like it, to be honest. It's very popular in the north but the majority haven't even tasted it." A British Airways spokesman said that while it had not banned surstromming, it would be asking customers to think twice about bringing the swollen tins of fermented fish back home.