“El Hormiguero” (The Anthill) has been a stalwart of Spanish screens since 2006, forging a reputation for its experimental and scientific segments. This week, things took a Scandinavian twist as a group of lucky contestants were given the chance to taste surströmming: herring plucked out of the Baltic Sea then subjected to an ancient preservation method where it's stored for months to stew in its own bacteria.
“To carry out the filming, the production staff wore masks to eliminate the smell,” the narrator advises rather dramatically at the start of the video, setting the tone.
“Do you like fish?” he asks. “Yes, yes! Always, more than meat,” a participant replies enthusiastically.
El surströmming es un pescado típico de Suecia considerado allí una auténtica delicia pero, ya sabéis, para gustos los colores, olores… y lugares ? pic.twitter.com/sXO51HjhQD
— El Hormiguero (@El_Hormiguero) February 21, 2018
His enthusiasm soon wanes however: as the cans are opened and the liquid inside sprays out it is met with cries of “It smells so bad!”, “Uff… what is this?!” and “Awful. You're sure this isn't out of date? Absolutely certain?”
And when the juices spray the face of the woman sitting next to him, another participant says something we absolutely can't translate into English (in Spain they're a bit more liberal when it comes to swearing). Keep in mind the Spaniards haven't even tasted the stuff yet.
One contestant, Diego, puts a brave face on it, taking a bite as a woman watches on in horror then deliberates for several minutes over whether she will do the same.
“I can't, I'm really sorry…”
“Yes I can.”
“I can't get close to it, I'm sorry.”
“A tiny bit, I'm going to try… Come on then! Give it some balls!”
After waving the fish back and forth in front of her mouth pitifully, the woman then finally takes a bite, only for her body to reject it, to say the least. Cue montage.
“Of the eight contestants, six were sick,” a caption card explains. “Along with part of the production team,” it adds, noting that even the office dog turned the fish down.
When El Hormiguero asked a Swede to do it, his reaction was quite different.
“Lucky! There's caviar in here!” the Swede beams in delight while putting the smelly fish in his mouth before chewing it and adding “brilliant”.
Ruben Madsen, the foremost expert on the food and self-proclaimed 'Surströmming king' was not impressed with Spanish TV's take on the local treasure.
“I watched the video and they're doing everything wrong: the cultural illiteracy is evident! Unfortunately,” Madsen told The Local.
“Surströmming should be served like the delicacy it is. The can should be cold and not stored in the heat, it should be opened correctly and with the right tools. It shouldn't be eaten whole, but filleted. It should be eaten with various accompaniments like potato, onion, crème fraîche, tomato, and also bread, cheese and dill,” he explained.
“I've served surströmming thousands of times in Sweden, Finland, Norway, England, Denmark, Japan, Russia, Greenland and Iceland, and it has always been praised or received positively,” Madsen concluded.
The surströmming proponent would likely be just as unimpressed with The Local Sweden team, who ate the fish straight from the can last summer, filming the experience for posterity.