Fun_People Archive
13 Oct
Swedish Food - Letter from Uppland #3

Content-Type: text/plain
Mime-Version: 1.0 (NeXT Mail 3.3 v118.2)
From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Tue, 13 Oct 98 20:17:31 -0700
To: Fun_People
Precedence: bulk
Subject: Swedish Food - Letter from Uppland #3

X-Lib-of-Cong-ISSN: 1098-7649
Forwarded-by: Daniel Lockshon <>

                      Letter from Uppland #3

    I have before me the week's menu of specials at the Sven Duva Restaurant,
near my location at the BMC.  For an experienced world-traveller like
myself, with a smattering of several foreign languages and a sharp eye for
English cognates, these exotic Swedish dishes hold no terrors.  For example,
<I>"Tonsfisksallad med Sardeller och Oliver"</i> is obviously tunafish salad
with sardines and olives, unless reference is being made to someone named
Oliver.  <i> "Spansk Bondomelett"</i> is obviously Spanish omelette with
Bondo.  And <i>"Pelotas en Salsa Roja"</i> is without a doubt baseballs in
red sauce, although I am at a loss to explain what it is doing on a Swedish

    A few cases present graver difficulties.  What, for example, does one
make of <i> "Faersfylld R@djursbog med Sky och Hoestpytt"</i>?  Rendering
it as Farfelled Roger's Bog with Sky and Hot Spit may be just a teeny bit
off the mark.  Then we have <i>"Ugnsstekt Afrikansk Mal, Tomat- och
Spiskummin"</i>, which could mean unstuck African badness (as in mal de
mer), tomatoes and spies coming in, but that doesn't really help either.
Ultimately, one must have recourse to the dictionary.  In the present case,
unfortunately, one discovers that <i>mal</i> in Swedish means "moth", which
does not make the Afrikansk dish sound a lot more tempting, to tell the
truth.  Then there is <i>"Helstekt Kalkonbroest med R@tgraedd@ss"</i>.  The
hell with it.

    Trying to decode Swedish from English cognates works in many cases (my
favorite being <i<hackad biff</i>, which is hamburger)  but there are hidden
pitfalls. For example, <i>gris</i> means not grease but pig, while
<i>pigg</i> means not pig but the adjective brisk, and <i>piggvar</i> is a
type of fish.

    Cognate words sometimes reflect a twisted historical path.  "Svamp"
means mushroom in Swedish, reflecting, perhaps, the kind of ground you can
find mushrooms in.  The Swedish word for the Autumn season is "hoest", and
that has its English cognate too, but it is not immediately obvious.  In
Scots dialect, the word for the same season is "hairst", which makes the
relationship a little clearer: HARVEST, what the farmer does at that time
of year.  Which brings us back to that dish above with <i>hoestpytt</i>.
Whatever it is, it includes some seasonal Autumn creature.

    Probably potatoes, even if <i>potatis</i> is not named explicitly.
Every second Swedish dish involves potatoes.  And onions.  And herring.
There are dozens of dishes based on this mighty trio, differing only in the
order in which they are assembled, and the time of day that one does it.
These various dishes are all exactly alike, although my personal favorite
is <i>Janssons frestelse</i>, because of its delicious name.

    One cannot discuss Swedish cuisine without some mention of herring,
which is the national bird.  There is a particularly refined type in the
Baltic called <i>stroemming</i>, which swim in <i>gymnasia</i> rather than
ordinary schools, and speak French among themselves.  The more common form
of the noble creature is called <i>sill</i> in Swedish.  It comes in six
species called <loek sill, inlagd sill, maatjes sill, sill med senaps@s</i>,
and so on.  Each one is better than the last.  When I leave this country,
I am going to make a profound, existentialist movie about a hitherto unknown
species of herring and the meaning of life.  It will be called "The Seventh

Jon Gallant
Genetics Department
University of Washington

prev [=] prev © 1998 Peter Langston []