Thirty years ago, I tasted Sweden. And I didn’t like it.
It was a day off in Jonkoping. And instead of eating ham sandwiches as part of the group meal, we had a day with our host families. My host family decided they would make us a traditional Swedish meal. It would include a whole roasted salmon. And potatoes as the side dish.
Growing up in Kansas – fish was much less common than steak. if you ordered a fish – it was either as fish sticks. Or perhaps, in the fancy restaurant, you might get a trout. But the head was removed. The bones were removed. The skin was removed. And it certainly didn’t taste fishy.
My Jonkoping host family presented the whole salmon. Head. Skin. And decorated with dill. I took a little. But there were potatoes. And so I knew I would be ok. We had lots of potatoes in Kansas.
I took a bit of the salmon. It wasn’t bad. I dug my fork into the potatoes, and took a big bite. My mouth froze. My face froze.
I went from a subtle taste of fish to a bomb blast.
I had been served a big helping of something my host family called “Jansson’s Temptation.” This was a gratin or a scalloped potato dish. But the key “umami” ingredient was either anchovies or herring.
My mouth didn’t like it. But if this was one of the most famous dishes of Sweden, I was bound and determined to like it.
Fast forward thirty years, and it is a dish that I year for. I yearn for many things I would not have put my tongue to thirty years ago. But now, I love oysters and fish roe and whole anchovies on my Caesar salad.
Tonight – I celebrate that memory with an IKEA version of that dish. It tasted a salty and strong as I remembered it. But this time, much more delicious!