July 12, 2014

Flavours that don't marry well. Or do they?

When my friend's now husband moved to Sweden from Turkey he found it weird  - and pretty disgusting - how Swedish food was always very sweet. Even the herring he found sweet. We all stared at him and wondered what on earth he was going on about, and then I slowly started to realise how right he was.

No, it is not sweet as in "American style cakes and cookies-sweet", that's a whole different level of sweetness, but there is definitely a lot of truth in what he said; Even in the pickled herring, so common in Sweden, we have sugar;

  • Cooking vinegar
  • Salt
  • Sugar


Mix, bring to a boil, add the spices you want, pour over the cleaned and rinsed salted herring, let it sit for at least two days before you eat it.

Sauces, pickled gherkins, and of course, the one condiment they say only one other country uses more of; Ketchup. Ketchup that only the Americans eat more of than we do.  All is with sugar. Even much of the bread you buy is with sugar. Turkey is a land of crazy sweet sweet - hello Baklava - but the sweet is generally served in smaller portions. I can understand why a Turkish man feels that Swedish food sweet, because it is, I just never really realised until I left Sweden. 

As you may have gathered by now, food is my passion and of course that means I am also a member of discussion/inspiration group where we discuss food online, and recently we started to talk about different flavours and what they mean to us, and that also helped trigger this blog post. Some are repulsed by cumin, a spice I love to use, others can't stand cilantro, a spice I used to have problems with myself, but now adore. But not in everything, definitely not in everything. 

It fascinates me how different cultures uses different types of spices and condiments completely different, and how one combination can be considered disgusting in one culture can be considered to marry really well in another; One of the girls in my food discussion group said to me how "dill can really only be used with fish".  In my world, dill works well with either crayfish/craw fish or lobsters as well as with fresh potatoes but I can't think of many other areas where I would use it. 

We also serve the same type of food but for the time of day when we would serve it is different. Omelet or pancakes is a typical lunch or perhaps a supper in Sweden, pancakes even more a dessert - in North America this is typical breakfast food, at least for a weekend breakfast. No Swede would ever dream about having pancakes for breakfast, unless there are some over from the Thursday traditional dinner - pea soup and pancakes, you can read more about the tradition here - it's a tradition that dates back hundreds of years. 


In Sweden and Germany we like our bread and butter for breakfast, but the Swedes like a plate of yogurt before starting with the bread. In Germany the yogurt almost always comes after the bread, if there is still space.

Billy Connolly, the Scottish comedian (link to his website here) and actor that has been around since the beginning of the world, or at least since the 70-ies, did a little stand-up joke where he talks about ginger in chocolate; Something that to him is utterly disgusting, as ginger to him is something that belongs in curries - hear it on Youtube.
But I really think ginger and chocolate works well together!

And for me, born in Sweden that's where ginger belongs! In chocolate and in cakes. That's how I first got to know ginger, dry, powdered, in cakes and biscuits. We wouldn't dream of having it in food, at least not in my family, even though ginger has been used in Scandinavia since, as far as I recall, mid 1500. Ginger was for baking. Can't remember when I started using it in food but nowadays I only use fresh ginger, and in all kinds of food, but it was something that was a bit odd when I first came across it. Not bad, I always liked it, just odd. 

Nowadays I have travelled so much and seen so much in the world that few things surprise me and while there are flavours that I wouldn't naturally pair together myself, there are very few things that I don't eat, as long as they are prepared by someone who knows what they are doing.

I know there are a lot of flavours that take people by surprise though. What looks like a good match may not be it - and what doesn't look like it may on the other hand be... 

What is the weirdest match you tried, and why?

2 comments :

Rachel Morris said...

I'm glad to know that you liked cilantro now.. it's one thing that must not be missed in cooking.. as for ginger,.. try it on fish, and/or on chicken.. it adds taste and aroma. :)

TravellingAK said...

Hi Rachel, thanks for the comment! Yes, nowadays there isn't a single type of food where I don't have ginger, but I still remember when I first discovered the fresh one. Such a different experience to the dry powder we used to use in baking when I was a child (and still do). I think ginger and garlic are the top two spices I use, actually, perhaps even more than plain salt and pepper... Well, at least the ginger, since I love it in teas as well.