Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Kalles Kaviar in Swedish America

I’m in my third year of teaching Swedish at the university level. And every year I bring Kalles Kaviar in for my students to taste. (I had initially written that I make my students taste it, but that suggests an authoritarian regime that belies the 50 minutes of chaos that my classes tend to devolve into.) For those of you who don’t know, Kalles Kaviar is the orange fish roe that can be found in the blue tubes that are ubiquitous in Swedish grocery stores. It’s a glorious food. Salty, delicious, and great on knäckebröd. Knäckebröd tends to be translated as hard tack. It’s the Wasa crackers you can buy in grocery stores throughout the US. These are two Swedish products that were meant to be. No matter what country you find yourself in.

This is essentially what I tell my students. You know, university level indoctrination and all that. And so it was that last week I packed some Kalles and knäckebröd into my backpack and headed off to school. It’s always an exciting day, I love the reactions. Some people love it. Some don’t. And those who don’t, fail life. Not my class, just life.  

This year, I got quite a reaction. In fact, it was a reaction I had never received before. A squeal of sorts. A look of disgust. A hand flying in the air. And then finally, it was verbalized. There’s a maggot on my knäckebröd. Really? A maggot? Yup. A maggot. And it’s moving. Really? It’s moving? Yup. Look. It’s moving. Awesome.

At this point, the knäckebröd in question was in my hand. There was, in fact, a maggot. It didn’t look to be moving, but I wasn’t about to argue that point. I once had a boss in Sweden, who, in broken English, liked to say: You can’t make shit shine. And you can’t make a maggot look better, just because it’s dead.

But as I stared at it, two thoughts flew through my head. One. Gross. How did this happen? Two. I should just eat it. I mentioned that my class was essentially 50 minutes of chaos right? Luckily, my better senses prevailed as I realized that 50 minutes of chaos would quickly turn to 50 minutes of shit show if I ingested a maggot in front of my students. I chose instead to empty the knäckebröd and pick out the pieces that looked clean.

I passed the remainder of the knäckebröd and Kalles around. To my pleasant surprise, and to the credit of 19 first year university students, the vast majority of students took a bit of knäckebröd and a bit of Kalles. Some people loved it. Some didn’t. Even a maggot couldn’t change that.

Welcome to Swedish America. And a little extra protein in your Kalles and knäckebröd.

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  1. I hope the students that acutally tasted it after that got some extra credit points???

  2. Maggots? In Knäckebröd? It's almost as dry as the Sahara, and there were maggots in it? Weird.

  3. "Some people love it. Some don’t. And those who don’t, fail life."

    Haha, bästa på länge!

  4. I am so so glad that you are back and now double the fun with a brother too! I have also tried to bring the Swedish culinary culture to different parts of the world. I most enjoy feeding "djungelvrål" and "turkisk peppar" to foreign friends...

  5. As a poster above noted, Turkisk Peppar is particularly fun to share. Our friend thought he was violently ill after eating one.

  6. Awesome blog on teaching Swedish. It is a hard language to grasp if you are American. I know several words from my Swedish mother and her favorite described my hair - skrut!

    Keep up the good work.

  7. Hello!! I'm Junie and your blog is on my list of blogs that are dead but should'nt be:

    I don't really know how much swedish you speak or understand, but I just wanted to say that I like your blog very much :)

  8. Hey, nice story. Long time since I was last in Sweden, over 20 years ago. Spent a bit of time in and around Kalmar, loved it there. Time to go back I think.

  9. It's interesting how every country seems to have it's own 'native delicacies' that no-one outside of the country knows much about. Scotland for example is known for it's haggis, here in Ireland we have our black pudding and in Sweden I guess you have Kalles Klavier. Well done to you students for eating the bread after the maggot making an appearance - that could have gone badly wrong for you!

  10. Great blog, there aren't too many like it. I have a trip to Stockholm lined up in a couple of months, hopefully I'll make it up to Kiruna and Gallivare for some midnight sun!

  11. The only place I can get Swedish food where I live is at the nearest Ikea!

  12. Ikea food - Swedish meatballs and berries...mmmm. I used to go there specially just to eat, never mind looking at the furniture!

  13. Is this the last that we will hear from Harry Swede???

  14. Don't worry, I'm back. And after teaching for four years, none of my student became violently ill from me feeding them, so I've got that going for me on my teaching reviews.

  15. Kalles creamed caviar, I bought some today. Tasted it. Threw it out. I have been traumitized because the MERE THOUGHT of the disgusting gritty sweet fishy salty incongruous concoction turns my stomach. VIVIL mints helped banish this abomination.

    1. Nooooooo!!!! Poor little tube of Kalles.

      A friend of mine actually got used to eating it while drunk. The saltiness was just what he wanted. Now he loves the stuff. So apparently Kalles Kaviar is an acquired taste, either through birth or alcohol. Pretty sure science will back me up on that.