PART I: THE HIGHS (PART II TO FOLLOW TOMORROW)
There are times when I feel like I’m becoming Swedish, and there are times when I know I’ll never be one of them. Then there are times when I can’t tell which side I’m actually on. Take candy, for example, a totally harmless, nice treat to be enjoyed now and then… or IN MASSIVE QUANTITIES ALL THE TIME.
See, here’s the problem. Swedish candy is so amazingly, mind-bogglingly good that once I start eating it, I can’t stop. No, really. I am physically unable to stop myself. And I’d love to think that this lagom thing I’m always being told about—you know, the Swedish concept of having “just enough, but not too much”—is going to rub off on me eventually. But no. I go straight into an American-style eating frenzy like a fat kid at an all-you-can-eat ice cream bar. It’s not pretty.
But what makes it so good?
One, the “pick and mix” phenomenon. Observe the rows of bins below. You get a bag and a mini shovel and then it’s up to you to either carefully select just a few pieces here and there or to fill your bag with reckless abandon. You don’t have to choose whether to have sweet and sour or gummy or chocolate… you can have it all.
A typical row of pick and mix candy bins. A grocery store could easily have twice as many. Photo by: Let Ideas Compete (CC BY-NC-ND)
Two, the variety. This is just the basic list of categories offered by “Karamellkungen” (“Candy King”), the brand carried by all of my local grocery stores. From top left, across, and down, the categories are: chocolate, sweets that are coated in something, marshmallow-y*, hard candies, gummy, liquorice, toffee/caramel, other, and Easter. (*My own translation.)
So much candy... so little time. (Visit www.candyking.com to order your own in English, Swedish, Norwegian, or Finnish!)
Three, the texture. I know this is going to sound weird, but bear with me on this. I’ve never had candy in the US where you could actually tell if it was fresh or not. Have you? Once it’s in those ziplocked packages, all the candy is about the same consistency: kind of chewy, kind of hard. In Sweden, you know if the candy is fresh or not because the texture varies considerably. It should be chewy or sticky (depending on the candy) but not hard. I wouldn’t have believed that you could have “fresh” candy or not before I lived in Sweden, so you’ll just have to try it yourself.
Four, the bags. Whether you take four pieces (I’m so delicate!) or half a kilo (FEED MEEE), your candy goes into one of the distinctive bags seen below. Assuming you don’t eat it all immediately, within a day or so, all of your candy ends up doing the hippity dippity together while you’re not looking. This means that everything becomes lightly coated with a mix of sugar, sour flavoring, maybe even salt or the powder that comes off of marshmallows. In short, it’s just a giant orgy of deliciousness.
The main downside of the Swedish candy is obvious. I am just so not lagom with the candy. I have always been a fairly self controlled person, but when it comes to the candy, I eat until I get sick. Every time. I had a bag of candy next to me as I started this (inspiration, obviously), and I had to take a break to lie down halfway through because the sugar rush became too intense.
There’s just one thing I have to warn you about… a giant BLACK HOLE of DEATH AND DESPAIR in the starry universe of delicious Swedish candy. Like Ahab and the whale, Troy and that big wooden horse, Bin Ladin and SEAL Team 6, there’s the constant threat of danger—a soulless menace that will rush out of the deeps and crush your seemingly idyllic candy experience.
I have met the danger, and I know its name. It travels under a false cover: SALT LICORICE.
To be continued tomorrow.