Shots, hats, singing and unlimited little crustaceans to eat – what's not to love? Welcome to Sweden's season of kräftskiva
And there was us thinking Sweden had peaked by giving us ABBA.
But, as we happily found out this week, our Scandi chums have triumphed again with an entire month-long festival in August dedicated to eating crayfish – those little red crustaceans usually found in their natural habitat of Pret’s crayfish and avocado sandwich.
During August, it’s the season of kräftskiva – the crayfish party – which involves getting stuck into loads of seafood, doing shots and wearing silly hats. And Sadaf Malik, who owns Swedish cafe Fika on Brick Lane, London, is throwing a three-week crayfish festival to celebrate the important summer date.
It’s like any other party but with a deeply Swedish twist. Malik says, “The crayfish festival is a huge, fun occasion for friends and families to get together where you eat lots of crayfish, drink lots of alcohol – mainly snaps [a shot taken during the course of the meal] – and sing drinking songs.”
She adds, “The history behind it is there used to be a ban on crayfish fishing in the country because of a shortage and it was usually lifted in the month of August. That’s why it's a popular month for eating them, and the tradition has remained”.
The little beasts are marinated and cooked in the traditional recipe of dill, salt, sugar and stout beer, then left to soak up the fragrant juices for two days. In Sweden crayfish are served cold, unlike in the US’s crawfish boils where they're served hot.
The crayfish will have a little twist at Fika’s party as Malik explains: “We mix up the marinade – and we add garlic, onion, bay leaves and peppercorns. Juniper berries also add more of a spice to it. Swedish people really like the combination of sweet and salty – it’s a traditional combination that you’ll find in every Scandinavian country, like meat with berries, and lots of things are cured with both salt and sugar. It’s about getting the balance right.”
Speaking of balance – what booze are we meant to drink with it? Well, you need Sweden's favourite spirit, akvavit. And lots of it – enough to get you singing. “There are dedicated songs to drinking and one is called Helan Går," says Malik. "It sort of translates as 'bottoms up'. That’s the one most people know.”
Come on, join in!
… or maybe not.
Malik adds: “There are some naughty songs out there, so by the end of the night it’s a bit of a competition to see who can sing the worst one.”
That doesn’t sound too different from a night at our local, actually.
Alongside the boozy sing-along (including numbers dedicated to our little clawed friends), there’s also another tradition that has to be observed – wearing a paper cone hat with a crayfish on it. Maybe that’s what the shots of snaps are building up to.
But, because it's Sweden, even their silly hats look stylish.
Malik adds: "The whole party is really bonding as everyone digs in, everyone shares and the food comes out in abundance and it goes on until everyone says stop."
Or "stoppa!" because they're Swedish.
They probably have a song for that, too.
Fika's kräftskiva celebration, held at Fika Bar & Kitchen on Brick Lane, London, is happening from now until Sunday 16 August with tickets from £35 per person. Visit the website to book.