So far this Alaska Herring Week, I have eaten 54 different herring dishes at 43 different establishments. Yes, I am the extreme, because, as Alaska Herring Week event coordinator, it is my job. But I also love it. Every dish is different. Seriously. Every chef has come at this from a different angle, so each of the 70+ dishes across 54 places (two grocers are selling to-go preparations) is unique.
Indeed, herring is a globally-eaten fish, and we have Alaska Herring Week dishes representing cultures from all over the world to prove it, including China, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Morocco, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, Vietnam and all over the US, from New England to New Orleans to the Pacific Northwest, and more. But nowhere did we see so much joy over the return of herring to our local plates than at the Swedish Club during Friday, June 23rd’s Midsommar Smörgåsbord.
The Swedish Club was packed on Friday for the feast, and while the menu featured other traditional Swedish fare, Alaska herring was the star of the show. But you had to be there to truly understand why. See, herring is the centerpiece of a traditional Midsommar Smörgåsbord. It is integral to the Swedish culture. It is, for Swedish expats, a taste of home. Unfortunately, herring has been just as unavailable to the Swedish Club for their Midsommar Smörgåsbord as it has been for everyone else in Seattle. This was the first time in years that their solstice feast feautred it. All night, we had one person after another come up to we organizers of Alaska Herring Week and thank us profusely, talk about their family’s history of fishing, about their boats and their pickling plants. They waxed poetic about their favorite places to get herring in Sweden, Denmark and Germany, about childhood memories and more. They came and shook our hands, and they gave us a rousing ovation. It was a delicious feast, but it was more so a moving experience. Putting herring back on their plates was not about sustainability or economic development to them. It was about history, about culture. It was about home. Alaska herring on their Midsommar Smörgåsbord brought them home. And that is why we do Alaska Herring Week.