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Annals of Funk

September 16, 1993|LAURIE OCHOA

A strong wind was blowing through the hills of Los Angeles' Echo Park last month as the curious and the Swedish came together for the opening of a can of fish. Not just any old tuna or sardine--but year-old surstromming ; that's Swedish for really stinky fish, or to be more precise, fermented herring.

Traditionally eaten on the third Thursday of every August, many Northern Swedes consider the sour- (some say foul-) tasting fish a delicacy. Southern Swedes are skeptical--many Stockholm apartment buildings have rules against eating the stuff indoors. The Danes are even more suspicious: Earlier this year, in a dispute over a Swedish nuclear reactor close to the Danish border, the Swedish defense minister half-joked that Sweden would mount a surstromming invasion. A group of Danish reporters retaliated by placing a ring of stinky cheese around the nuclear plant. Something rotten near the state of Denmark.

At the big stink fest in Echo Park, the odor took over with the first turn of the can opener. Noses twitched, eyes watered, cats appeared. The herring was rolled in the so-called "thin bread" of Sweden (a bit like pita) with chopped onions, and served with potatoes and aquavit. One non-Swede even had third helpings--seeing the bright side, she said the texture was "a little like caviar."

Don't expect surstromming parties to catch on here in the United States anytime soon, however. A few years back, Reuters reported that a shipment of the pungent fish was stopped from entering the country by U.S. customs agents because, as one producer admitted, "They didn't recognize the product as food."

Let Them Eat Peanut Butter

Russia sends us vodka and caviar--we're sending . . . peanut butter. Newsday reports that the National Peanut Council of America shipped 30 tons of the stuff the Moscow Children's Fund, helped get peanut butter on the menu of the Moscow school lunch program and sent free samples to two grocery stores. Muscovites lined up for the exotic treat, spread with jam on black bread, and the peanut butter ran out by lunch time.

Pistol on Rye

At the Carnegie Delis in Beverly Hills and New York, if you hear someone calling for a pistol, don't duck, it's just your waiter putting in your order for a pastrami sandwich. "A pistol with a shot," gets you coleslaw with your sandwich. "A pistol, whiskey down," means toast the rye--though why anyone would want to ruin a pastrami sandwich that way is beyond us.

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