Monday, June 09, 2008

Swedish Food that Americans Fear

For years I thought I was halfway normal. I never lied to myself and thought that I was completely normal. But halfway normal at least.

Until I went to college. Because suddenly I was thrown into a large group of people who weren’t used to the things I ate. Because it turns out that most of my friends back home had kind of just accepted me. Or at least the things I ate. My new friends weren’t nearly as accepting. Judgmental really. And they say Eugene is so open-minded. Hippiecriticals.

Anyway, it turns out that it is somewhat strange to eat toast with butter, cheese, and ham in the mornings. I had no idea. Why would something so delicious be weird I ask you? No one could give me a straight answer. But if that’s weird I just don’t want to be normal.

Ketchup on spaghetti. Delicious. And very Swedish. Even makes its way into commercials. But try to put ketchup on spaghetti in the US and people will look at you like you’re slaughtering puppies at the dinner table. Because American dinner habits are so refined. And despite the fact that ketchup and spaghetti sauce aren’t that different really. When it comes down to it they are both smushed tomatoes.

And finally, Kalles Kaviar. Caviar in a tube. A toothpaste tube. It’s glorious. And delicious. Like bringing the fanciness of caviar to the masses. When you think about it that is really quite Swedish. I suppose I knew this one was weird. And it is kind of weird. I’m not going to argue about this one. In fact, since being here I’ve realized that Swedes love all kinds of things in tubes. Cheese. Mustard. Caviar. Basically anything you might want to put on some sort of grain based product, bread for example, can be found in a tube.

The thing that always blew my mind is that for years I had no idea this was thought to be strange. Just one of those little things that I got from being stuck somewhere between American and Swedish. I just went about my business, eating my foods, and enjoying my life. I suppose that’s the way to do it though. Living in a little bubble where everything I do is seen as normal. The key is obviously to never go to college. Or at least to Eugene.

By the way, Romania and France just played to a 0-0 tie. Over 90 minutes of thrilling goal-less soccer that ended without a winner. They were the first two teams from the group of death. Luckily, the game lived up to its billing and I nearly died of boredom.

54 comments:

  1. Every culture/group have their culinary peccadilloes, but it is just not OK to eat spaghetti with ketchup I'm sorry, but I've know Italians (My mom for one) that would stab you with their twirling spoons for even suggesting such a travesty. I mean. Really? Geez. What's next? mayonnaise on your Surströmming?

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  2. Did you see the match with holland vs Italy? This was actually a very exciting match with lots of goals. 3 of them, all made by Holland. At last I though this was a very exciting game.

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  3. @john-just give it a shot. its glorious. trust me. or if you feel like that's just too sacrilegious maybe fry the spaghetti a bit then smother it in ketchup. its delicious.

    @anonymous - unfortunately I only caught the first 15 or 20 minutes of the holland italy game and then bailed. then when I returned it was 3-0. so clearly I watched the wrong game... Ill try again tomorrow night.

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  4. I have had the unfortunate experience of the Kalles Caviar in a tube--very late one night at with the Big Swede and a Kiwi--couldn't remember much of the night and it took me until after lunch to figure out what the disgusting taste in my mouth was!!

    My Mom always put ketchup on her scrambled eggs, which seems very odd to me, but the toast, butter, cheese and ham aren't too far from a very healthy egg mcmuffin!

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  5. I'm a little suprised you did not include sillström (sp?)... the crown jewel of vile swedish foods. It developed quite the reputation among the american students in my international class.

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  6. A sandwhich with cheese and ham? Really? Is that so weird? I honestly don't get why... Thought the whole world did that.

    Well, at least you didn't eat surströmming. Then you really could have been bullied...;)

    Too bad about missing all the goals. Better luck with your next football matches.

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  7. I think Kalles kaviar isn't real caviar. But I have liked since I was a kid.

    Just cooked spaghetti with minced meat AND KETCHUP! I was suddenly out of my tomato sauce cans, but I survived. And it tasted just as good :)

    In the group of death, the teams may be pretty nervous about not doing any mistakes. So they end up doing basically nothing. Remember to watch Sweden-Greece today, should be fun to watch. The Greeks play it dull and defensive, so Sweden has to take an initiative role.

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  8. @john - for those not initiated in the ways of Kalles it is best eaten while drunk. all kinds of exchange students got into it that way over in Uppsala (and by got into it I mean they didn't vomit when eating it). Its gotta be the salt.

    @ jay - well there's plenty more that would make many a man vomit, surströmming for example has a smell that will literally turn your stomach from 5 floors down... I know from experience, but I only stuck to the things I ate on a regular basis in my unsuspecting youth.

    @robban- I don't get it either. something about it usually being open faced and that its eaten in the morning. and I think the butter throws some people off. but those people suck obviously.

    yeah we'll see how the games go tonight. sweden greece...

    @smek - agreed... I'm not sure anything that comes in a tube and is orange should be considered real kaviar. but its delicious.

    I think you might be right about the group of death. I suppose that sort of thing happens in every sport where teams start worrying too much about making a mistake and forget to attack. I heard that frances goalie didn't have a single shot put on him. soccer... it's fantastic.

    we'll see about the sweden game tonight. everyone has been saying the same thing as you that greece plays very defensively. that doesn't bode well for those of us who aren't really into it. but who knows.

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  9. wow i didn't think i "sucked" just because eating a ham/cheese sandwich with BUTTER seemed weird to me.

    but hey, i trust you. i guess i totally suck. sadface.

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  10. I know what you mean, I had no idea ketchup on spaghetti was a crime until I moved in with my British partner. I love it! Besides what do Brits know about food. :)

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  11. i think it is the eating the ham sandwich for breakfast that throws some americans off a bit, (used to pancakes and cereal i guess) although as someone mentioned there is ham on egg mcmuffin!?
    Butter on a ham sandwich is kind of gross.

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  12. @anni - indeed. brits are in the same boat as americans. they just dont understand the delicacy that is spaghetti with ketchup.

    @anonymous - that could be. but come on. when I say butter I mean you toast the bread, slather a bit of butter on, let it melt, and follow that with some cheese and ham. its not like Im putting the same amount of butter on the bread as I would peanut butter. give it a shot. I think you'll find that adding a little fat to your food will make it that much more delicious.

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  13. Hairy--trust me, we had been through the wine, schnapps, scotch and even that digusting stuff--dammelgansk (sp?)--no way am I eating caviar in a tube without being in an alcoholic fugue! Pretty sure the Kiwi worked something in there about ABBA (top of the tube)and the youngest Swede had to get us home and he was only 14!

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  14. I want to say first of all that I thoroughly enjoy your blog! I have been dating a Swedish guy for almost a year and it has been a great education for both of us to read your blog. You do a great job of connecting the two cultures. When I went to visit A the first time he made me a dinner of ketchup and pasta and Swedish meatballs. I thought it was the strangest thing. Swedish ketchup tastes different too. Its much sweeter. Don't get me started on the fish babies and chicken baby sandwiches. I almost threw up. LOL However, I grew up on the butter on the sandwich thing. I think its a European thing. My grandfather from Germany used to do that. Thanks for sharing!!!

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  15. @john - good times indeed. I seem to remember that story actually.

    @joy - glad you're enjoying the blog. Obviously you found yourself a good one if he's cooking such amazing delicacies for you. The question is though... did you like it?

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  16. I must admit, the first time I went to Sweden (I'm an american, but my fiance is a Swedish citizen) I was appalled by those very things you mentioned.

    I still can't wrap my head around the ketchup on spaghetti thing.

    I got used to the sandwhiches for breakfast, but I certainly missed my eggs and bacon.

    and the tubed stuff, well, the tubed cheese was kind of good, but I never liked anything with fish, so I avoided that caviar at all costs.

    however the only Swedish food I miss since I've been back home in the USA, has been the Kabob from the little pizzarias and that's not necessarily swedish I don't think?

    but then I guess I'm just a stuffy american haha

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  17. it is an interesting array of culinary choices isn't it?

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  18. Hey! I found your post so funny I decided to quote you on my own blog. Check it out! kinchfamily.blogspot.com - I'm moving to Lund next week.

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  19. The ketchup with spaghetti came into play when you couldn't buy any Italian tomato sauce to save your life,ie the 80s. So, you'd make a meat and cream sauce and add ketchup to get the tomato thing going. Not very odd when you don't have much variety in the supermarket.

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  20. @stephanie - I love it! good luck in lund.

    @anonymous - good work on the historical stuff. amazing how something like that can stick around.

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  21. Americans don't have butter on sandwhiches? What do they have on them then? Nothing?! Just ham? That's weird... Taht's just dry and boring.

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  22. mustard, mayo, that sort of thing. but no butter. personally I think its a travesty. butter is delicious.

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  23. It's weird to put ketchup on your pasta? really? why? I thought everyone did that, and the cheese and ham sandwich? how is that weird :S?

    um, mustard/mayo on a sandwhich? THAT is weird though, eww.

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  24. I dont know. I just cant answer that. I do it too. its delicious.

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  25. OK, I have been visiting my boyfriend in Sweden and I could NOT believe he put butter and cheese. Its just weird. Butter in the US goes alone on a roll with dinner. And I will not even kiss my boyfreind if he eats the dreaded "fish paste." I make him brush his teeth, use mouthwash, and, if I'm really feeling bitchy, I barely let him get into bed. Its a war between me and the fish paste. Yeah, its that bad.

    Also, you don't have hot cider for drinking in the winter. Need it.

    Sweden has grotrisemeal? No idea how to write that. But the cooked rice with milk and vanilla. WOW!

    And sandwiches for breakfast is just weird. That's lunch.

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  26. its so good though. butter and cheese on bread. sandwiches for breakfast. delicious.

    instead of hot cider the Swedes go with glögg. which is much better. mostly because I dont like hot cider.

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  27. Yeah, glogg rocks. My fav. thing about Sweden. It actually has been the number one thing to make me feel confident in my decision to move to Sweden. I mean, people who have this glogg stuff have to be pretty cool, right? It has like .005% alcohol but kids can still drink it. Wouldn't be allowed in the US. Rock on little drunk Swedes.

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  28. usually glögg is packed full of alcohol. but you can buy the almost non-alcholic stuff in the grocery stores. the real stuff though will get ya. and it is glorious.

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  29. Ok, first, a bit late, but: re...
    your ham and cheese and bread and butter breakfast and your reply about why it was perceived as odd: "something about it usually being open faced"
    Man, fold it in half, and you'll become a gourmand celebrity.

    2nd: glogg. ah... one of the few annual constants in my life... always at Xmas, and always involving a huge flourish of setting things on fire... usually including a dishcloth by my Father while he ceremoniously "deglazed" (yeah, I know, not accurate, but so he called it) a pyramid of sugar cubes soaked in grain alcohol over a vat of well, pretty much more pure alcohol... oh, and spices. I miss him. (though not his version of glogg so much...)

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  30. you're never too late to share stories of glögg.

    my old man is also a fan of adding extra alcohol to the already copious amounts of alcohol in the glögg. He says its for flavor. I think its because he likes wathing everyone get drunk at the annual glögg party.

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  31. Not a Swede ThoughJune 5, 2009 at 6:21 AM

    I'm a Finn (as well as hugely late to comment) but I can symphatize with each and every one of those points.

    You can probably imagine the shocked and disgusted faces I encountered while living in the States whenever I insisted on putting ketchup on my Mac-n-Cheese.
    But it's such a perfect (and obvious!) combination. And, I might add, I did manage to convert TWO Americans into trying and liking it!

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  32. @not a swede - Im incredibly impressed that you converted two Americans. That's just good work. Ketchup on pasta needs to be spread throughout the world.

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  33. It's a ham and cheese sandwich, albeit open but still.. sandwich! =P

    The same thing happened to me growing up in a small town..ish hole in northern Sweden, I've always eaten roasted seaweed as chips and ramen instant noodles or mac&cheese instead of makaroner och köttbullar.. never got why my classmates would always wanna taste and touch my lunch on field trip days.

    Nice blog btw.^^

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  34. exactly, its still a sandwich. just open faced. it makes so much sense to me.

    good example with the mac and cheese also. that might be one of those American foods that Swedes fear.

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  35. I know I'm quite late, but I came across this blog just a few days ago.
    I must admit I was quite shocked when I read about ketchup on spaghetti. I can grant you that ketchup is not even merely comparable to a decent sauce one should use for pasta, as much as I can grant you I'm Italian.
    indeed, ketchup is a kind of taste made to be liked, as many other fast-food-related aliments.
    so I can't argue about the fact that someone might like it on pasta, but...please, don't consider it as a normal habit.
    italian food has already been outraged (let's just say "interpreted") in quite many different ways but, honestly, I would defend the need to discern. in particular, I think ketchup on spaghetti is just another step towards a "universal standard taste": ketchup always tastes (almost) the same, whereas a good, properly prepared pasta shouldn't have a standardized taste.
    just an opinion.

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  36. aah, but normal is all relative. and ketchup on spaghetti in sweden is very much normal. and delicious.

    I usually do have pasta sauce on my spaghetti but every now and again I'll indulge in some ketchup.

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  37. oh my Gah please hairy tell me you have NOT tried Blood Pudding here?!?!?!

    i knew Swedish food was weird, and "things being in tubes or plastic squishy bags" was one of the first observations i made, but i love Swedish food. the only thing that really shocked me is that they eat BLOOD.

    dear god man, say it isnt so.

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  38. forgot to add

    i was converted to the "pasta/ketchup" following VERY quickly one day in my res, when i realized i had no sauce for the pasta i was making.


    thank you sweden for bestowing this gift upon me.

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  39. its not just the swedes that eat blood... in fact, the most recent time I ate blood pudding was in the UK.

    but the pasta and ketchup thing is just something that everyone needs to try.

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  40. Haha, kom o tänka på den här: http://lolpics.se/pics/3134.jpg

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  41. Ok so, I know a little bit about this. My mom is Swedish.

    I don't understand the reaction to butter on ham sandwiches, although it's not really something I do (a nice brown mustard imparts more flavor).

    But anyway, I ate something even worse. In my lunchbox, I would sometimes bring liver and cucumber sandwiches! Other kids did not think that sounded so tasty.

    I'm not a big fan of Kalle's caviar (although I haven't tried it in a long time) but my older brother was (is?) a fan.

    But, being half-Italian, I have to disapprove of ketchup on pasta. It's just not right. Although I'm not a huge fan of many uses of ketchup in general. In fact, in my view, ketchup is only appropriate with hamburgers, hotdogs and french fries. I don't even want it on my meatloaf.

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  42. yeah, the one that always surprises me the most is the butter on ham sandwiches. I dont know why that elicits such emotion from people. but it is delicious.

    as is ketchup, although that one, despite still being tomato based, does make a bit moe sense to me for some reason.

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  43. My favorite glögg story is when my grandpa and grandma were supposed to go out on a date one night, my grandma's father (my great-grandfather) decided that my grandfather wasn't quite man enough to take out his little girl, so while they were waiting for her to get ready, he started giving my grandpa glögg and by the time that my grandma was ready to go, my grandpa was passed out on their couch! I guess things must have gotten better from that rather rocky start, since in the end, they got married.

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  44. My son spent a year in Falun and came back talking about spaghetti and ketsup. We thought he had brain damage from the Swedish winter. A year and a half later he is still talking about it so we cooked it up last night. He said that if he was in Sweden he would add Falu or Prince korv, having neither a ball park frank was cut up, lightly grilled and added to the mix. In addition he added a little spicy swedish mustard (thnx IKEA).
    I have always encouraged my kids to at least try something before saying "no" so I had to eat my words as it were and dammed if it didn't taste pretty good! He just smiled and said "I told you so"!

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  45. I've found this thread after it's a couple of years old, and I have to say I'm a little embarassed by the closed mindedness of some of my fellow Americans... For one, butter is the condiment of choice on sandwiches all over Europe. Breakfast in most European contries consist of some of the most wonderful cold cuts, cheeses, and bread you'll ever eat. Lunch tends to be a heavier meal. And though it's not widely known anymore, butter used to be (as late as the 60's) the condiment of choice in America before other jarred varieties were widely available and affordable. Fellow Americans, just because it's not that same "as it is at home" it doesn't mean it's bad.

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  46. I'm an American and I don't think the sandwich sounds that weird. My mom likes bread with butter and sugar on top. I probably wouldn't eat the sandwich just because I don't like butter and ham is a meat I don't really like either. I used to like butter until I decided at age 5 to eat a stick of it. I don't think people should really be grossed out at food choices if they have never tried them. If some one eats it, then it could be good. I've even tried bugs that an Asian friend was eating. Americans need to learn to live a little =)

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  47. Yeah, when I went over to Sweden for the first couple of times getting used to some of the foods and habits took some getting used to. I'm glad to say I've avoided Kalles Kaviar so far - the thought doesn't really appeal.

    I love the meats and everything though. The diet over there is one of the reasons I love going back and why I'm trying to learn the language. I'm documenting my progress on my blog http://www.howtolearnswedish.co.uk

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  48. I ate open faced cheese sandwiches every morning when I was staying with my friends in Stockholm last year. They were delicious with renost. However the tube caviar was up there with the salt licorice as far as horrible flavors. It makes me sad you can buy Kalles pretty easily in the States but Ren Ost requires $15 shipping per tube since it isn't imported.
    Really enjoying reading through your blog btw.

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  49. Kalles kaviar is ordinary caviar mixed with rapsoil, salt and with some tomatosauce added to it. Really a quite a salty and nice tasted food really when spread on some hard bread. But please add butter first ;) Nothing else is needed. So good.

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  50. caviar AND butter!?. that sounds almost traumatic. and i'm not even going to try it. i'll stick to my bread/caviar, boiled egg/caviar stuff!
    i'm a swede btw.

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  51. I've tried feeding some of my students Kalles back in the US. Mixed results. Let's just put it that way.

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