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Which One’s the Baddest? Eccentric Food Challenge: Hongeo vs. Surströmming

Which One’s the Baddest? Eccentric Food Challenge: Hongeo vs. Surströmming

Calling all gastronomic thrill-seekers and adventurous taste buds! If you're in pursuit of a culinary escapade that challenges your senses and leaves you with unforgettable stories, welcome to the Hongeo and Surströmming Tasting Challenge. Strap in as we delve into the exhilarating world of Hongeo from Korea and Surströmming from Sweden – two of the world's most eccentric and aromatic delights.

 

1. Hongeo (홍어): A Kick to Your Nose

Immerse yourself in the gastronomic saga of Hongeo, the fermented skate that has intrigued taste buds for centuries. Originating from the coastal regions of South Korea, Hongeo boasts a bold flavor profile and an arresting aroma, making it the ultimate challenge for young, adventurous palates. Hongeo is challenging food even for Koreans. Only die-hard fans love it. Still, it’s considered a delicacy among many, and the highest quality of fermented Hongeo from Heuksan island(흑산도) is priced at about $1000 per fish, elevating it to a luxury experience for those seeking the pinnacle of Korean culinary craftsmanship. People started fermenting Hongeo to bring into the mainland, but the taste of fermented Hongeo captured their interest and flavor. The meticulous fermentation and aging process of Hongeo span several months, resulting in a texture and flavor profile that push the boundaries of culinary exploration. Ammonia, produced during fermentation, contributes to the characteristic strong aroma and nose-stinging flavor, akin to the boldness of wasabi.

fermented hongeo dipped in gochujang 홍어 초고추장

[Hongeo dipped in cho-gochujang]

Flavor Profile

  • Pungent: The most prominent characteristic of Hongeo is its strong and pungent odor. Some liken it to ammonia or rotten cheese. This intense smell is a result of the fermentation process and can be off-putting to those not accustomed to it.
  • Salty: Hongeo is typically quite salty due to the brining process used in its preparation. The saltiness can further enhance the pungent flavor.
  • Umami: Despite its strong smell and taste, Hongeo also offers a rich umami flavor. This savory taste comes from the fermentation of the skate, which creates complex compounds that contribute to the overall taste experience.
  • Sourness: Depending on the fermentation process and duration, Hongeo can have hints of sourness. This sourness adds another layer of complexity to its taste profile.
  • Fishiness: As expected from a fermented fish dish, Hongeo has a distinct fishy taste. However, this fishiness is often intensified due to the fermentation process, making it more pronounced compared to fresh seafood.
  • Firm Chewiness: Hongeo boasts firm flesh, which imparts a chewy texture. As it lingers in the mouth, its flavors gradually unfold, offering a richer tasting experience over time.
  • A Spicy Kick to the Nose: This is actually what the die-hard Hongeo fans are after.  Some would even eat with wasabi to feel the intense kick

홍어전 fermented hongeo on frying pan as jeon

[Hongeo Jeon being fried on pan]

How to Enjoy/Challege

  • Straight-Up Hongeo with Cho-Gochujang Dip: Dive into the basics by consuming Hongeo straight from the packaging and dipping it into "cho-gochujang," a simple blend of Gochujang, sugar, and vinegar in equal parts.
  • Hongeo Jeon - The Brave Fry-Up: Embark on an adventurous culinary journey with Hongeo Jeon. Coat fermented Hongeo in an egg and flour batter, then fry it in a pan. Cooking intensifies its aroma and flavor for a bold tasting experience.
  • Hongeo Samhap - A Trio of Flavor Harmony: Explore the fusion of flavors with Hongeo Samhap, a dish that combines Hongeo, pork belly, and kimchi. The intense umami of fermented skate meets the succulence of pork belly, harmonized by the spicy kick of kimchi, providing a well-balanced and satisfying culinary experience.

Hongeo samhap 홍어삼합

[Hongeo Samhap]



2. Surströmming: A Scandinavian Thrill Ride

From the land of Vikings and majestic fjords emerges Surströmming, the wild ride of fermented fish renowned for its intense pungent odor. This Swedish sensation is not for the faint of heart but promises an adrenaline rush for culinary thrill-seekers. Surströmming's roots trace back to the 16th century, evolving from a preservation necessity to a revered delicacy embedded in Swedish traditions. Particularly associated with midsummer celebrations, Surströmming symbolizes the resilience of Swedish gastronomy.

Surströmming being served at a fancy traditional restaurant

[Surströmming being served in a restaurant]

Flavor Profile

  • Strong, Pungent Odor: Surströmming is infamous for its extremely strong and pungent odor, which some describe as a combination of rotten eggs, ammonia, and vinegar. The fermentation process produces volatile compounds such as butyric acid, which contribute to this intense smell. The smell is so potent that it's often recommended to open the can outdoors or submerged in water to contain the odor.
  • Salty: Surströmming is typically very salty due to the brine in which the herring is fermented. This saltiness is an integral part of its flavor profile.
  • Umami: Despite its challenging aroma, Surströmming offers a rich umami flavor derived from the fermentation process. This savory taste is often described as complex and intense.
  • Sourness: Surströmming can have a slightly sour or tangy taste, which adds another layer of complexity to its flavor profile. This sourness comes from the fermentation process.
  • Fishiness: As expected from a fermented fish product, Surströmming has a strong fishy flavor. However, this flavor is often more pronounced and intense compared to fresh seafood due to the fermentation process.
  • Creaminess: Some enthusiasts describe a creamy texture or mouthfeel associated with Surströmming, which adds to its unique sensory experience.

a plate with Surströmming and baked potato, tomato, and onions

[Surströmming with baked potato, tomato, cabbage, and thin bread]

How to Enjoy/Challege

  • With Traditional Thin Bread (Tunnbröd): One of the most traditional and popular ways to enjoy Surströmming is by serving it with thin bread, known as tunnbröd. Spread a layer of butter on the bread, add slices of Surströmming fillets, and top with chopped onions and boiled potatoes. This method allows you to experience the full intensity of Surströmming's flavor while balancing it with the mildness of the bread and potatoes.
  • Make Sandwich: Another popular way to enjoy Surströmming is by making it into a sandwich. Spread butter or mayonnaise on slices of bread and add pieces of Surströmming fillets. Top with sliced tomatoes, lettuce, and perhaps a squeeze of lemon juice to cut through the richness. This method provides a more familiar and approachable way to consume Surströmming, particularly for those who may find its aroma too strong.
  • Fresh Salad: Surströmming can also be incorporated into salads for a unique twist. Mix chopped Surströmming fillets with fresh greens, such as lettuce or arugula, along with diced tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions. Drizzle with a tangy vinaigrette dressing and toss to combine. The combination of Surströmming with crisp vegetables and acidic dressing creates a refreshing and flavorful salad that can help balance out the strong taste of the fermented fish.

Surströmming dinner prepared with potato and thin bread

[Surströmming home dinner table]

Adventurous foodies, the Hongeo and Surströmming Tasting Challenge awaits! These aren't merely trendy products created for viral sensation; they represent centuries-old culinary traditions with deep cultural significance. This isn't just a culinary journey; it's an exploration tailored for the Instagram generation. Gather your crew, capture your bold odyssey, and let's reimagine culinary adventures. Will you join the taste revolution? Your taste buds are in for an unforgettable ride!

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