In this journal:
a nose from a dead astronomer; a cheese wheel with maggots; a block of gingerbread as signage.
The biggest challenge when eating surströmming is to vomit only after the first bite, as opposed to before.— German food critic Wolfgang Fassbender
Malmö, we meet again
Ah, the good old place, a symbolic start to my journeys. Remember EuroHop 15/16? The very first stop for me, was this little city at the edge between Denmark and Sweden, as I took the wrong train heading the wrong direction to a different country. Life was easier then, and happier, as I only had in mind to see Anna and every bad thing would be forgotten, and look how far we have come. Anna has not changed a bit, even wearing the exact same coat, but I changed, way too much to my liking. Time is a ruthless killer, only to those who wish to fight it.
As usual, I met up with Anna at Triangln Station, where memories from 2013, 2015 and many other times came flooding back. I shed a little drop of tear from the corner of my eye as the familiar yellow scarf appeared in the hazy snow. Anna, oh my dear friend, how much have I missed you! We went for a little stroll in Lund as the weather was not gonna get any better, so it was time for a strange little village called Jakriborg.
Founded by two brothers named Jan and Krister, Jakriborg takes both brothers’ names and formed a nice charming medieval town in the year of…1999. Yeah, they had a weird theory that if they start a town with all the modern standards but with 1500s style it would be successful. Unfortunately, their decision to let the town grow organically failed miserably, even though the place is literally 20 steps from the commuter train station. Oh yeah, the houses leak water, also are very poorly built, that may contributed quite a bit to the lack of residents too.
The only saving grace for the town is that it makes a very nice scenic backdrop for a Christmas market, so every year during the festive season, large flocks of people from all around the area congregate in the little village with horse-drawn carriages and all kinds of unrealistically medieval things. But hey, it makes the shopping experience great, right?
Onto the next stop, Lund, where Anna went to university during her younger years. She showed me around the most impressive parts of the city, as well as the university where she used to go on baths naked in the sauna room, study till her head drop into the shelves at 3 am, as well as acting in theatrical departments which she coincidentally does not have any footage… hmmmm…
One of the most interesting hidden details I found online about Lund is its Nose Academy. Hidden on the cafeteria walls of one of the halls in Lund University, was a large display full of casts of famous Scandinavians’ noses. Yes, only the noses though. Anna, during her years living on campus, never even realized they exist! I guess she is not nosy enough. (seriously why am I not hosting the Daily Show by now?)
Among the noses is the silver one of the famous astronomer Tycho Brahe, and many others who definitely are not famous enough to deserve the nasal immortality. However, do not fret, there is one for everyone too. The corner of the wall housed an “Unknown Nose” which is dedicated to all the common man who cannot smell the fragrance of success.
Inside Lund Cathedral, one could find a strange-looking clock sitting at the corner. Twice a day, it ticks away into a specific point when a large mechanical procession would proceed. It included pious priests, Mary and Jesus, as well as warriors mechanically waving their swords. It was originally built in 1387 but was dismantled in the later part of 19th century and put in storage. Revived in 1923, it has been updated with a new backing card so it can predict all the religious holidays until the year of 2123, but likely nobody would be religious by that time.
It would not be a lazy afternoon at a student town without some coffee and a nice slice of cake. We went to Anna’s favourite shop and sat beside the warm fire, holding a large mug of hot coffee. With my Swedish sister and a large smile, suddenly, the snow falling outside felt not a tiny bit cold. It was all just good food and good memories… I hope we never change, never.
For what is up next, you might need to hold your breath. In Malmö, recently, opened a new museum named Disgusting Food Museum. Exactly as the name suggests, the little exhibition shows you stomach-churning food from around the world, with a lot of hands-on approach included in admission. The ticket, of course, was a functional vomit bag, and base on the foul smell of the entire neighbourhood, they must had been used quite frequently.
Remember piura I tried in Northern Chile? No? It made onto the exhibition, and it is so hard to find that they could not even have a dried one so they only had pictures. That thing looks much more disgusting than it tastes, especially given the fact that it does not look that radioactive!
In Guam, people consume fruit bats in the form of soups as a delicacy, yet they do not know the toxins from local cycad trees that accumulate in the bodies of these flying rats cause a degenerative disease beautifully named ALS-PDC, with paralysis of ALS and shaking of Parkinson’s, yum! Thankfully I only tried bats once in Seychelles and gladly will I say never again!
And here we have the bequeath of satan himself: vegemite. I still remember seeing it appearing near the toast section in the breakfast spread in hostels while I was in Australia as Pauline just randomly perused the whole cabinet without betting an eye, and oh boy do I NOT miss it! You can take a little lick of this black goo in the museum, and Anna described it better than I could ever have:”yeast in a paste”.
And here is another culturally-divisive item on the list: good’ol haggis. Honestly, as the same comment as I tried it while in Scotland, it was not that bad, as good as a bag full of intestines could possibly be. Very interestingly, I learned that it is actually illegal to import haggis to USA. Sorry, my Scottish brothers and sisters struggling in the land of the free, which does not even allow free flowing of sheep stomachs! What kind of freedom even is it?
For a lot of people, French cuisine might as well be what is served on UFOs cruising under the sea in Bermuda Triangle, to intergalactic Prisoners of War. Steak tartare, as I tried in Paris a few years back, was just another dangerous dish that highlights the Frenchmen’s love for food. If infested with beef tapeworm, the parasite could grow to 3 adult human’s length in your intestines and suck nutrients out of your guts for 5 years before releasing millions of eggs inside ya! The snails are also a popular treat as long as it is covered in garlic butter, just like everything else. Escargot’s claim to fame is due to its nature: it is not considered meat so it is the closest thing during the Catholic fast. You can see me trying it in the immediate next section of this trip, in Lyon.
It is not proper disgusting food museum without cheese. As I grew up in China, my dad would force-feed me cheese so that I could grow taller. Let me just tell you that cheese is not exactly a thing in China, even nowadays, because who in the sick fucking mind would look at a cow and go:”Ya know what? I wanna suck its tits.” And another sick fuck continues:”And make the milk spoil in special containers so they form into solid chunks of rotten milk, nice.” Thousands of years down the line, you have a large variety of solid chunks that smell like the end of the world, or a pair of socks reused inside-out thrice over and stuffed in my roommate’s humid cupboard to ferment with unwashed dishes that he secretly hid under broken underwear. French cheeses push the limits to a new height, however, as I could try to smell each one of them. I can tell you, this was the closest I was pushed to using my admission ticket during the whole visit, not the fruit bat soup or the thousands of needles injected into pork could even move my mind a bit, but smelling these cheese truly made me reconsider every decision I had ever made that led me to this point, standing at an altar of horrible pictures smelling the worst thing that had happen to me since being rejected by girls 15 times in a row. One of them smelled like an oxydizing agent that is mixed with a rotting human carcass, as its guts and internal organs explodes, slowly oozing out its half-digested food in a colour somewhere between dark green and light brown. And that was the only one gentle enough that I could describe with words. The others are wonders of humanity, and probably the reason why the world decided to go on a self-destroying heat death. Some of them smelled so horrific that it spilled into unused sensory neurons in my nasal cavity and triggered a massive brain activity similar to epilepsy, and I am 100% sure if we have more sensitive smell like dogs we would completely be overwhelmed by the absolute affront to everything holy that is French cheese.
And this bad boy is casu fràzigu, a special kind of pecorino cheese gone through a further step of processing: fly larvae. Yes, the cheese is intentionally laid out for cheese fly to lay eggs inside, and the maggots slowly chew through the whole thing, pooping out the desired gooey mixture after the special enzymes in their bodies digested the cheese. What made this cheese even more special is that the aficionados point out that the best way to consume it is when the maggots are still alive. So one has to protect his or her eyes while eating the cheese spread on a slice of Sardinian bread, as the worms can launch themselves into one’s eyes with ease. After ingesting it, there can be a risk of pseudomyiasis, so it has been outlawed in the European Union. Using laymen’s terms, the worms can survive inside your intestines and chew through it and burrowing deeper into your guts in accidental parasitism. Now that is gourmet meals I tell ya! Seriously, as I always get near-racist criticism about how disgusting Asian food is, has any European looked back to cheese and thought:”You know what, THAT chunk of rotten milk with worms is much better than stewed snakes. MUCH BETTER.”
Needless to say, there were also a bunch of stuffs that I have gotten used to that could easily make Anna kneel down and vomit last year’s Easter chocolate out. Such as the lovely fruit durian that according to her “smelled like rotten eggs”, or the 3-penis wine popular in southern China described by Anna as “what the actual fuck”, the notorious century egg that Anna actually liked, etc. However, nothing beats the original Swedish food that sparked the very idea of this museum: surströmming. Be prepared as we go on a WILD ride.
This, is why the gods left us.
Baltic herrings are caught and sealed straight into the can so it can slowly rot inside the container. A bit of salt prevents it from completely spoiling, but that was about it. When you open it, be careful as the gasses built up inside the airtight seal could mount to incredible pressure, so a little bit of explosion would be customary. What came oozing out of the can, however, is the real danger. I cannot describe to you how badly this shit smells, like, it is worse than shit, thousands of times worse. Imagine a piece of meat, and you let it out to rot on a slightly warm day so it turns into a gooey paste of dark red decomposed flesh with flies buzzing around it. And then, imagine opening your mouth, take a full slurp of such abomination, and hold it in your mouth cavity, run outside, find an open manhole for sewage, and dive straight into it head first. As you meander between life and death as you slowly drown in a cesspool, as literal piss started filling your lungs and ears, a dead body bumps into you, and threw up a dozen rotten eggs into your nose, and then you suffocate on my old roommate’s socks covered in wet cat feces, and that describes one-hundredth of how it feels to smell surströmming.
I took a bite out of the can only after dry vomiting 20 minutes. I had so much strength to take a bite out of this god-forsaken “food” I am just amazed why am I not even like the 4th most attractive man in the world. It was just, bad. I actually think it is the definition of regret. It tasted like jellied fish bites with the texture of an overcooked tendons in a tripe stew, not to mention its slightly sour taste. I swear to god if this kind of sacrifice does not get me a girlfriend then the world is truly the cruelest it can be. I bid Anna farewell as I hopped back onto the train to Denmark, still mouth full of filth that is Sweden’s signature dish. It was so bad that I decided to run away from this hellhole after learning her grandpa used to eat this. That was the last straw for me, as Anna’s whole family image established during EuroHop 15/16 was ruined for me forever. Robin’s sweet smile turned into a large chunk of rotten fish, and there is no coming back from that.
I met up with Kate, who I met during the days of good ol’Finland, the far north version. She and her boyfriend had made a life in the city of green domes, yet this time, unfortunately, weather was not on my side as last time. But worry not! I am here to explore the more hidden parts of the city. If you want to see a more visible side of Copenhagen, I recommend checking that portion out first.
Right next to Kate’s home, a strange statue sits ominously over the calm winter waters. This is the Genetically Modified Little Mermaid. The abomination is a clear satirical counterpart of the famous Little Mermaid, whose romanticism as charming as the eeriness of this disfigured monstrosity. Created in 2006 by art professor Bjørn Nørgaard, this statue is a part of a larger set used to criticize genetic alterations in the post modern world.
I borrowed one of Kate’s many bikes, and cycled around town with her, like a real Danish citizen just like last time: seriously there are way too many bikes in this city someone should do something about it. We ended up in Christiania, and just as I remembered, the hippie town is just filled with all kinds of food and fun, some rather illegal. However, the bustling Christmas markets were filled with random goods from all around the world, from Indian incense to Australian wood carvings. As someone who personally ventures to Japan just for a bowl of ramen, I was only interested in one thing, however: food.
What can a day in Denmark be without smørrebrød? Seriously what are you even thinking? Some super crispy pork chops, a large slice of pickles and the inevitable
death of universe rad radish garnish, you have got yourself breakfast, lunch and dinner. This is how a proper Danish roll, ya hear?
I didn’t really do much other than hanging out with my friends since the weather was blisteringly cold, if I do not count in the fact that this was my 3rd time in Copenhagen. Thus, I enjoyed some nice tea and other stronger beverages with Kate and her boyfriend, especially so after losing horribly at a bar’s game night. (I did not grow up with the same set of Christmas carols as you guys did okay? also we didn’t even have Christmas until the western capitalism broke through the cultural barrier.) However, the soothing rides on Kate’s bike during my down times were actually pretty nice: given that I could not feel any of my fingers after just a few minutes, the feeling of gliding through the old streets was actually motivating in strange ways.
After a short meetup with Markus, who I met a long long time ago back in Nepal, and also for my last time in Denmark in Odense, I finally had to move on to my big destination in mind: France. Christmas was approaching, and I gotta find myself a proper nice place to celebrate!
Avance, à France!
I hopped onto a Eurowings flight towards Düsseldorf, where I connected towards Lyon, France. It had been a rather messy journey so far, as I hopped back and forth looking for nice food to eat to combat against the cold. However, why not just run away from the cold altogether? All the way south, a French family was waiting for me with open arms, and who am I to say no? I tried such horrible food from France in this leg of the trip, so it was only reasonable for me to go and pay a pilgrimage to the origin of stinky cheese and garlic buttered snails. I could say I was sickened, but intrigued. Here I come, France!
I slowly approached the land of liberté, cautiously of course, because on the other side of the road, waited a headstrong but ever so charming girl with her proper French zests. I was intimidated, but highly curious. I gulped down a bit of saliva, and stepped over the ladders of my tiny turboprop plane. What kind of land would produce such fiery spirits? Only one way to know.