August is the traditional time in Sweden to have a crayfish party. The party is called a “kräftskiva” in Swedish. A few weeks ago I attended my first one.
Usually crayfish parties are held under a tent or out on someone’s deck. The reason for this is that the crayfish “juice” ends up going everywhere and even though it’s a pleasant enough odor during the party, it is a horrible smell the next day when it’s worked its way into the rugs, etc.
The party I attended was an annual affair at my workplace where employees and their families are invited every year. Since I wasn’t here last year in August, this was the first one for me.
Since my office doesn’t have a large outdoor space, they have the party indoors in the large lunchroom/meeting room. A few days before the party, a special company delivered 15 or so thick mats to put under the tables. I didn’t even know there existed companies that do nothing other than deliver to, take away, and wash industrial mats for offices (not just for crayfish parties but for other purposes such as when it gets super wet, slushy, gritty, etc. in winter).
Swedish crayfish parties tend to feature silly paper hats, paper tablecloths, and paper lanterns with a clown/moon—the latter of which I don’t quite get the connection. Plastic bibs are always welcome but there weren’t any available at the party I attended.
The crayfish were boiled in salt water and seasoned with fresh dill. They were served cold and we ate them with our fingers although at this particular party there were some special implements that looked like dull knives available as well.
Expats and Crayfish
Here’s where it gets dangerous for us expats. Traditional crayfish parties typically feature lots of drinking songs, beer, and snaps (vodka). It can get pretty rowdy.
No problem! Expats can drink with the best of them, right?
The problem is that you need to get some food into your stomach while you’re doing the drinking. If you don’t know your way around a crayfish, it can be quite challenging to actually get some food into your stomach—at least enough to help soak up all that liquor. I’ve eaten my share of crab and lobster and it’s still entirely unclear which are the edible crayfish parts and which aren’t. Plus, it’s a lot of work getting those little critters open. And then you spend a lot of time staring in amazement, crayfish suspended in your hands, at the natives who are loudly slurping crayfish parts.
The slurping, by the way, is encouraged. It seems so, well, un-Swedish that you can’t help staring.
So…not so much food in the stomach, lots of alcohol…lots of singing and suddenly…you are more drunk than you would like to be. You didn’t realize it but, while you were staring in horror at your crayfish, the natives were helping themselves to the Västerbotten pie (cheese pie made with cheese from Västerbotten), salads, and bread. But your stomach is empty because the crayfish just don’t have much meat (at least that you can find, anyway).
Here’s my simple tip to all you expats, visitors, and newbies to Swedish crayfish parties:
Eat a lot of food before you get to the party!