Saturday, December 6, 2014

YFU: Cody in Sweden > Food, Family, and Friends

Throughout the world, we brand our countries with food. Cultures are known by what they eat. Americans are famous for hamburgers and fries; Italians are known for pasta and the French excel at making pastries. The list goes on. Our food options include Chinese fried rice, Indian paneer, and Thai curry. My favorite is black beans and rice, Cuban style.

International Food
None of these dishes are exactly the same when prepared outside of the country of origin, but we experiment, enjoy, and come closer to our neighbors through food. How does the world view Sweden? With meatballs, cinnamon buns, and lingonberries, of course! The country is also known for herring and often times people want to know about the extreme version of that fish, surströmming.

Hi Cody, what can you tell us about surströmming?

Cody Hangs with Celebrities
Cody: Surströmming is a special type of fish. From what I've heard, you put herring in a can, wait for it to go bad, wait a month after that for it to turn to liquid, and then wait just a little longer before you eat it. We went to Ulvön when I first came here. Ulvön is famous for surströmming and we met the "King of Surströmming" (pictured left) who showed us around and told how everything was made.

Leslie: That sounds like fun! I read an article online that Ruben Madsen was called in to disarm a 24-year old tin of herring last February. There was some concern that it might explode but all went well and the only result was a bad odor. The fish had completely dissolved and was impossible to eat.

Cody: Yeah, surströmming is something like Brussels sprouts. Most people don't like it. Magnus says he doesn't hate eating it but it's not something he would choose to eat. Maybe some people just eat it to show off that they can.

Leslie: I saw Magnus put a call out on Facebook for moose meat. Have you eaten any moose meat?

Cody: No moose meat yet, but I hear that many people do eat it here, along with reindeer jerky.

Real Food
Exotic foods are interesting but when time is limited, or tastes are more subdued, our diets on a daily basis are quite different from what we eat when out and about.

Leslie: What kinds of food have you been eating?

Cody: We've been eating "tonnes" of sausage at school and home, and we have fish once a week at school. With sausage we usually have noodles similar to the ones we use when eating macaroni. We also have Swedish pancakes quite frequently. I actually just had them today! They are very thin pancakes that you put jam on and roll into a sort of cylindrical shape. That's the best I can explain it.

Leslie: Are there any foods that remind you of America?

Cody: I've had tacos a few times, maybe three times in school and three times outside of school. They are very similar to American tacos, but they can also put them together with chips like we do nachos.

Traditional Food
Leslie: Thanks, Cody, let's take our conversation back a few generations and interview your grandfather Bob who lived in Sweden during the late 1940s and your dad Eric who was there in the early 1970s.

Hi Bob, what kind of food did you eat when you lived in Sweden?

Bob: When I lived in Sweden, breakfast on the farm consisted of hard black bread spread with salted lard (butter was expensive), small amounts of cheese, herring, sausage, hard-boiled eggand jams prepared from the family garden plot. It was said that some city folks actually ate corn flakes for breakfast, but corn, an import from the US, was at that time still considered animal fodder. A coffee break with sweet rolls, both morning and afternoon, was obligatory and we still adhered to the old traditional menus of pea soup, potato soup, and brown beans on specific days.

Leslie: Do you remember which days you ate which foods?

Bob: I seem to recall that the boarding house where I ate in Osby served mashed potatoes with milk and a very small piece of pork for Tuesday dinner, Wednesday was brown beans with again a small piece of pork, and on Thursday it was pea soup with a small amount of ham for flavoring. Friday we had pytt i panna which consisted of potatoes chopped in small cubes and anything left over during the week - then fried with onions. Black rye bread was served with all meals but without butter or even lard. This was the cheapest boarding house in town for good reason. But I'm not sure the memory of a kid in his mid teens is completely reliable.

Leslie: Thanks, Bob. Cody tells me he doesn't eat specific foods on specific days, either in school or at home, but I've read that yellow pea soup served with pork, mustard, and pancakes on the side continues to be a common meal in restaurants and households on Thursdays.

Hi Eric, what kind of food did you eat when you visited Sweden?

Esther as
a young woman
Eric: In 1973 my grandmother Esther lived in a typical red cottage on a small plot of land near her childhood home in Marklunde. She grew an assortment of vegetables in her modest garden. My favorite of all of her veggie dishes was rhubarb pudding. She had some chickens running around and each morning I would search in hopes of finding some eggs for breakfast. My favorite breakfast was a thick gob of butter slathered on bread, cold fish, and cheese, with a glass of milk. Yum! It's still my favorite.

I foraged for berries in the countryside and would bring home a pail or two. It was the first time I'd ever seen a gooseberry. Grandma had a pot with coils that went from one pot to another which she used to distill the crushed berries down to a highly concentrated juice. She canned them in jars and stored them in the root cellar next to her other preserved foods. Instead of Coke, or other store-bought drinks, we would just pour a little concentrated juice into a cup, add water, and voila! a delicious nutritious soft drink!

Leslie: Do you have any food memories with your grandmother?

Eric: Yes, I was invited to have a meal at a relative's house. I'm sure there were a variety of foods but I can only remember there being fish, cheese, butter, and bread. What I remember quite vividly, however, was my grandmother handing me a plate containing one lonely piece of bread with some food piled on it. I thought she had forgotten to put the second piece of bread on top, so I requested another piece. She explained that it was an open-faced sandwich and that this is how it was done in Sweden. Second slice denied.

Well, one piece of bread just didn't seem right to me and how was one supposed to eat this open-faced sandwich without getting their fingers all over the food anyway? I figured that no one must have shown them the right way to make a sandwich, so I made plans to do so. Alas, my request for a second piece of bread was met with quick withering glances from the relatives, some guttural throat noises, and a quiet … no. It's been forty years since then and I still think two pieces of bread are better than one.

Leslie: Thanks, Eric. I hope all of your sandwiches come complete with two slices of bread. Now back to the modern day.

Foreign Food
One of the benefits of becoming or hosting a YFU student is that the experience is a cultural exchange. So, in the spirit of sharing, Cody and his host family invited 19 people to a traditional American Thanksgiving Dinner last weekend.

The menu was extensive. Teresia, with the help of her friends and family, prepared two big turkeys, mashed potatoes and gravy, a green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, potatoes au gratin, macaroni and cheese, glazed carrotsasparagus, corn pudding, corn bread, cranberry bread, cranberry sauce, spinach/artichoke dip, pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie, pecan pie, ambrosia salad, and ice cream (plus whipping cream for all of the deserts).

Leslie: How did you preface the Thanksgiving Dinner to your guests?

Cody: I told everyone that Thanksgiving was originally a feast that the native Americans had and they invited the European Colonists to eat with them. But then they stopped inviting the Colonists (for some reason) and Thanksgiving stopped until Abraham Lincoln brought it back to unify the country during the Civil War. I also told them that Thanksgiving is now mainly about giving thanks for the things that we have and being able to see relatives we don't usually see every day.

Teresia: I thanked Cody for being with us.

Leslie: I hear you downloaded a football game?

Cody: Yes, we did, the Bears vs. the Lions. I can't remember the score because, much like a real Thanksgiving football game, we used it as background noise.

Leslie: What did everyone have to say about the celebration?

Cody: My friends, Mert, Olivia, and Leo, said there was so much food they didn't know what to do!

Teresia: Everything tasted soooo good. The most unusual food I think was the sweet potato casserole with marshmallows. We have never tasted anything like it.

Magnus: It was a very good party! A lot of new tastes for all of us Swedes. I think everybody was satisfied.

Cody: Yep, it was a perfectly accurate Thanksgiving Dinner.

Food, Football, Family, and Friends, American Style, in Sweden.
Mert, Cody, Olivia, and Leo
With Special Thanks to Teresia for putting so much heart into such a wonderful party. This blog series and Cody's YFU experience would not be possible without her love and willingness to share.

1 comment:

Jack McCallum said...

Great interview! It's always interesting to read about what people from around the world think about the U.S.