What is the Surströmming challenge?
Dare we say that the Surströmming challenge is if not the most, then definitely one of the most difficult food challenges that are out there. While it is a whole different ball game compared to, for example, spicy food challenges, there are a few reasons why the words Surströmming challenge is followed by a curious skepticism.
For one, the smell. While Surströmming is, at first glance, a simple dish as it is literally sour herring, as translated from Swedish, it is far from simple. Even the process of opening it can get complicated from the moment your opener touches the can.
This is where the challenge begins. Due to the way that the Surströmming is prepared, a unique environment manifests itself in the can. Firstly, the bacteria that would rot the food are prevented from spawning up. At the same time, bacteria that help the herring ferment do not stop doing so until you open your Surströmming. As a result, gasses build up inside the can and it inflates the can itself. Thus, as you open the can you can immediately feel the smell that even a mother would not love, take over the air around you. Furthermore, due to the built-up pressure, the moment you penetrate the can, the liquid inside squirts out – if it gets on a piece of clothing or furniture, the item will remind you of the challenge for quite some time.
The second part of the challenge is tasting the Surströmming. Once again, the smell comes back to bite your nose as you try to bite the fish, making things a bit more complicated. While the fish can be eaten as is, the recommended and traditional way of eating Surströmming makes the challenge a little bit easier. Typically, Swedes consume the fish with boiled potatoes, chives, onions, crème fraîche laid out on Tunnbröd, the Swedish equivalent of a flatbread. Akvavit, a strong distilled liquor traditionally found in Scandinavia, is also catered to drink after taking a bite of the roll.
Nevertheless, many do not make it past the first stage of the Surströmming Challenge – being able to accept the wretched smell of the fermented herring, making it one of the most difficult, yet memorable food challenges.