Friday, August 16, 2013

Food Fridays: Two Styles of Proper Swedish Food

Food is both one of the most universal human experiences and also one of the most varied. The intersection of culture and food is one of the richest and most interesting areas for people interested in culture. What is popular is constantly evolving as history, culture, technology, and transculturation all combine to change what we eat, how, and what is representative of a place. In that spirit, today I am going to highlight a couple of "proper" Swedish dishes. Starting with the dish above: Fyra små rätter.

Fyra små rätter, translated as "four small dishes", is a dish that you can get in almost every Chinese restaurant in Sweden. The dish is made up of small portions of four different entrees, generally with sweet and sour pork, sweet and sour shrimp, curry chicken, and beef with bamboo shoots. What makes this a "proper" Swedish dish is that it is only an echo of the food that is served in China. It is actually an Swedish invention from 1973 commonly attributed to Erland Yang Colliander of the restaurant Shanghai in Stockholm. It's as Chinese as fortune cookies (which originated in San Francisco). The dish is an example of ethnic cuisine being adapted to local expectations and preferences in taste.

The second "proper" Swedish dish is called stekt strömming. This is a dish that Swedes have been eating since forever. The dish is made up of fried Baltic herring, usually served as above with potatoes and lingon berries. This is probably also what you imagine Swedish food is like, but today these types of traditional dishes are not as widely consumed as they once were.

However, even in this meal, we can't say that this is purely Swedish. The effects of the links that Sweden has had over the course of its history can be seen in this dish and the salad bar beside it. The potato, a staple of Swedish cuisine, didn't exist in the country at all before the 1700s (it was popularized by Jonas Alströmer). Corn is native to Cuba, not Europe. The olives and hummus come from the Mediterranean and even the pickled herring is "french onion" flavored (fransk löksill). It just goes to show that what is "proper" food for any place is always evolving.

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