Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Grab Your Paper Hat and Party with a Crustacean

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Grab Your Paper Hat and Party with a Crustacean

Article excerpt

I've spent enough time in Ikea to know that the much-vaunted Scandinavian dream isn't all it's cracked up to be. Trapped in a Nordic noir flatpack hell, you'll find it hard not to sympathise with the region's famously gloomy inhabitants. It turns out, however, that when they're not naming storage solutions or writing gruesome crime dramas, they are quite the party animals. Only last week I found myself surrounded by a swarm of Swedes in silly hats who seemed to be enjoying themselves rather more than the crustaceans they were serenading enthusiastically.

My host for the evening, Sadaf Malik, a Stockholm native who opened a Swedish cafe bar, Fika, in east London in 2008, was in charge of the raucous "snaps songs"--and the pouring of shots to go with them--at Fika's first crayfish party of the summer.

The tradition started early in the 20th century, when concerns about the crayfish population led to the introduction of a strict fishing season--celebrated every August with an orgy of conspicuous consumption. Though the restrictions are no longer in place, the kraftskiva remains very much a part of Sweden's summertime. Indeed, Malik claims you can measure your seasonal popularity in broken shells.

I seek help from an expat friend in organising a crayfish party of my own; he puts me in touch with a biologist colleague (and proper Swede) by the name of Claes Bernes, who, to my considerable relief, tells me that--though once upon a time catching the little buggers was "the primary fun" of the whole occasion--these days, it's more common to buy them frozen. Thanks to the same crayfish plague as damaged British stocks in the 1980s, most of the crayfish consumed in Sweden now are imported from Asia or the US. Even the local population is largely of the Signal variety, a non-native species.

It's these American Signals, released into British waterways by fish farmers disappointed in their hopes of cracking the Scandinavian market, which have caused such a problem for our smaller, white-clawed crayfish. …

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