Saturday, February 18, 2006

Saturday, February 18th, 2006:
Some culinary quirks in Sweden
Part One: Ketchup

What I think:

I like to cook. When I first moved here, I tried to get acquainted with what foodstuffs are available, and how they should be used. This was not very easy at first; partly because most of the stuff I couldn't identify was labelled in Swedish, of course.

But the variety and selection in Helsingborg, especially of dry foods, sauces, and meats are quite limited in comparison with what you can find in, say, the UK. For example, lamb is not readily available, nor is turkey. You need to go to butchers and specialist shops for these. There does seem, however, to be more in the way of dairy products than I'm used to. And there are quite a few things that I'd not encountered before as well. I've just been informed that some other larger Swedish cities have more of a selection, by the way.

With today's entry, I hope to start a little series on some of the differences I've found between cooking/eating habits here in Sweden, and those that I've known in England and Canada. And I'd like to start with ketchup.

I've always felt that an obsession with ketchup was very much an American thing; they smother their chips (US/CAN: fries) with it, they usually have it with hotdogs & burgers, and many even put some in their "Kraft Dinner" (cheap macaroni and "cheese"). But it appears that the Swedes share the ketchup obsession, and in certain cases to an unacceptable level, in my humble opinion.

Soon after my arrival here, I managed to find a good selection of ingredients for a nice spaghetti bolognaise sauce. I prepared it lovingly; chopping all the veggies to perfection, stirring in some carefully blended herbs, even adding a generous splash of a deliciously robust red wine. The point here is that I made quite an effort to create something to be proud of, something really tasty with a focus on a richness of both flavour and texture. And I was indeed proud of the result.

So, the scene was set; the table laid, the candles lit, the soft music playing, and the wine poured. A very nice atmosphere, with an enticing aroma permeating the entire setting. Perfect. Dinner is served.

What happened next came as an absolute shock. The person for whom I had so painstakingly prepared this culinary delight, went straight to the fridge, grabbed a big plastic bottle of ketchup, unceremoniously pooped a huge blob of ketchup onto my precious sauce, and started mixing it in.

I just sat there, open-mouthed and totally aghast. She hadn't even tried it before deciding that the taste needed to be "improved". My mention that it actually tasted quite nice without ketchup, and that others might have been slightly offended by such an act, was greeted with a shrug.

I was talking to my friend Johnny down the Charles Dickens pub last night, and we were talking about cooking. Not very macho, I know, but we know each other well enough to know that we're both extremely macho anyway, and we don't have to prove anything to each other, even when we're discussing the art of flower arranging or hairdressing. So anyway, this ketchup thing came up, and it turned out that exactly the same thing had happened to him. He'd cooked a lovely sauce, only to have it drowned in bloody ketchup.

Johnny pointed out that many Swedes will make some plain pasta to go with their meals (as an alternative source of carbohydates, instead of potatoes), and will often just add ketchup to give it some flavour.

Fair enough, but on a carefully and lovingly prepared sauce? Puh-lease!

Ketchup belongs on fast food. People should not be allowed to contaminate others' culinary efforts with it, and it's time that the Swedish government did something about it. That's what I think.

The news today (oh, boy)
From the world outside:

Libya: Worldwide Cartoon Protests: Protests against cartoons satirising the Prophet Mohammed are continuing worldwide after 10 people died in a demonstration in Libya. Around 1,000 demonstrators set fire to the Italian consulate in Benghazi and hurled rocks and bottles. Police with Kalashnikov rifles fired live ammunition and tear gas at the angry mob but could not get them to disperse for six hours. The riot was sparked by Italian cabinet minister Roberto Calderoli who wore a T-shirt featuring the cartoons.
Sky News

US: Four killed, thousands without power in winter storm: Thousands of people remained without power Saturday after a winter storm packing wind gusts of up to 77 mph rolled across the Northeast, downing trees and power lines. Four people were killed. In New York, officials said it could take two days for utility crews to fully restore service to as many as 300,000 customers. Shelters were opened in hard-hit areas as temperatures plummeted.
From CNN

Sweden: Second bronze for Pärson: Sweden's Anja Pärson won her second bronze medal of the 2006 Winter Olympics in the women's combined alpine event in San Sicario Fraiteve on Saturday afternoon.But the day belonged to Croatian favourite Janica Kostelic, who battled a bout of flu to win gold, adding to her three Olympic golds from Salt Lake City.
From The Local - Sweden's news in English


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Posted this on The Local too...

My husband does it (although not quite so much anymore unless it's just a simple meat sauce). His whole family does too. When my in-laws were visiting last time I made a nice Bolognese sauce with meatballs and we sat down to eat. My MIL asked "where's the ketchup"? My FIL must have seen the aghast look on my face because he quickly said "the sauce is made with tomatoes."

I can understand the plain pasta with some ketchup (although it's still not my cup of tea) but ketchup on sauce already made with tomatoes is beyond me. Especially when my husband already puts ketchup IN the meat sauce when he makes it.

12:01 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

YUK! Catsup on pasta? I don't think I could handle that.

BTW - I'm an American who just found your blog via reading The Local. You've done a good job, in my humble opinion. The only thing I would take exception to is that I've never seen anyone here (in the US) put catsup on their mac and cheese. LOL

8:24 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So - when is the next part? Waiting.....keep up the good job!

7:45 pm  
Blogger Jaymie said...

Ugh, I cannot even forgive ketchup on plain pasta. You want to spruce it up then add a teaspoon of butter and some parmesan or something. Ok, I do like ketchup with my fries and a few other things (not Kraft Dinner)...but some things should just be left alone.

11:56 am  
Blogger Cooth said...

MMMMMM - I love ketchup on Mac and Cheese! My whole family likes that, been doing it all our lives. I live in the US - oh and my last name ends with "S-O-N". (grandma was all swedish; grandpa, half swede, half norwegian)

Love your blog!

9:35 pm  
Blogger Christa said... son used to have ketchup on everything...and I mean everything. Even pancakes. Personally I haven't had ketchup in a long time. I moved away from Sweden a long time ago and after passing through France, US and now England, I've lost touch with a lot of the old habits from back "home".
Ketchup have become on of those things that I have whenever I go back to Sweden.

12:26 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

NOW, after 59 years of marriage to a man whose parents were born in Sweden, cooking(well)authentic Swedish foods for nearly all our meals all these years, I learn the reason for his unexplainable outrageous use of ketchup on so many foods (never on Italian foods, however, which I also make, bake but not shake.) We have never had Kraft "macaroni, whatever....." so that excapes me but he never uses it on Swedish brown beans. My ancestors are British and I do not understand the ketchup obsession. I thought he learned this ketchup thing in the US Navy.

11:48 pm  

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