A regular Saturday evening in London. The warm sun of early September starts plunging into the horizon while it paints the sky in every shade of pink. The traffic is more constrained than usual, it feels like every Londoner is hurrying to make their 7 o’clock reservation. As the world unravels outside my window, I sit motionless, eyes glued to the oven, to make sure my quiche is brown enough, so that getting dressed in five minutes was not in vain to make it to the party on time. This would all seem like a regular Saturday evening in London, was I not being awaited by more than a hundred crayfish on the other side of the river.
- a nocturnal freshwater crustacean that resembles a small lobster and inhabits streams and rivers.
- another term for spiny lobster.
- the most big-headed crustacean I’ve ever seen with the most ridiculous contrastingly tiny body.
The top is just brown enough and I hurry to take the quiche out of the oven while trying not to burn myself or drop all my hard work, which I’ve been doing for the past hour and a half.. My pride and joy is baked. I weigh my options, considering whether to walk 15 minutes in heels, holding an oven-hot quiche or cursing myself and paying for an Uber that takes exactly the same time (if not more) to drive me there. I wrap the pie in kitchen paper and bags, breath in deeply, hold it close to my chest, softly scream and put it back down, take my phone out and call the closest Toyota Prius which takes precisely 3 minutes to arrive. How I love technology sometimes!
After what would have taken me a lot less had I walked, I ring the doorbell of a fourth floor apartment off Berkeley street. As I enter the flat, I am met by flags, plates, hats and bibs all crayfish adorned, stupidly, the only thing that comes out is ‘oh, wow’ and a nervous laugh. This is a traditional Swedish Kräftskiva. My first traditional Swedish Kräftskiva.
A Kräftskiva is a nordic tradition that originated in Sweden to celebrate the tiny red crustacean. It’s an old tradition initiated due to environmental restrictions on fishing these shellfish thanks to overconsumption. During the time people were allowed to have them, they celebrated. It usually occurs in August, however in September it’s still acceptable, I was told, and it gathers family, friends and often just acquaintances around a table to eat crayfish and drink (a lot!). One of the Swedes I met told me he thought the crayfish were only an excuse and worked as a soaking device to hold in more alcohol. Fair enough…
In the midst of the Swedes there was me, a Portuguese, my friend from Puerto Rico and one of the flat mates who was Spanish. We sat as a confused latin trio on one side of the table. None of us had ever even seen one of those types of crayfish, not to mention been at a party in their honour. We were asked to put on the hats, the very important bibs and were each given a little booklet of songs in Swedish and their respective phonetic English translation decorated with clip art in the form of dancing crayfish.
Under a paper balloon smiling sun, we sang the first song before initiating the beheading. I cannot for the love of god tell you what I was singing, especially because I was only making grunts and mumbling incomprehensible phonemes while trying to imitate something that in the phonetic translation read ‘Hell and Gore’, originally Helan Går. After a trusting Wikipedia search, I found out that Helan means ‘the whole’ and refers to the first shot of liquor in a series, which is worrying enough that they even have a word for it. Går means ‘goes down’ as in ‘bottoms up’. Now this started making a lot of sense… Given that as we were finishing the song we were instructed to take a shot glass filled with a transparent liquid that I deep down wished was water, but was soon disenchanted thanks to the burn on my throat going down until my stomach.
Aquavit, that’s what happened. The most similar thing I can relate it to is Aguardente or Aguardiente, in Spanish. And I’m sorry to any Swede reading this but it’s disgusting… even some of your compatriots agreed.
“You either love it or hate it!”
“Does anyone love it though? Or do people just pretend they do?”
Neither of those sentences was said by me nor could anyone answer the question. As the aquavit flowed, so did the crayfish and one of the most fun and different dinner parties I have been to in a while. Everyone digs into their crustaceans, chucking off heads, cracking tails and splitting up bodies – I apologise to any vegan or vegetarian people in the audience for the visuals. Having grown up by the sea, any type of shellfish is my utmost delight, some people at the table looked at me admired after having said I had never seen that type of crayfish before and later de-shelling them with such ease. It feels a bit unrewarding though, since of the whole portion of the crayfish you only eat about an 1/8, but they are so good you look past it. Until you get to your eighth or tenth and just plainly give up and go wash yourself.
Remember the little song booklet we were given in the beginning? I thought it was an innocent fun souvenir but soon enough I understood its purpose, as a facilitator of aquavit shots, as every song intentionally has at least one pause in all-caps saying DRINK. I’ll admit after the second forceful aquavit, I started changing mine for water and should have won an Oscar for my “oh it buuuurnssss” performance. Even ABBA betrayed me and tricked me into yet another ‘aquavit’ (wink wink) shot. Disguised as Supa Supa, all Swedes started singing the melody of Super Trouper and all of us startled Latins burst out laughing, trying to keep up with the unpronounceable words.
While at the party I mentioned I’d be writing an article on it and was at the end asked what was my review, as such, to all my crayfish mates, 5/5 on Tripadvisor, promise. I shall add your flat as one of the top 10 places to get seafood in London here on Hynt. You can thank me later.
I have to admit I had never heard of such a thing as a Crayfish party before a couple of weeks ago, but genuinely recommend it if you ever get the chance to attend one. So, go ahead, befriend a Swede! Or do as I did, have a friend date one.
P.S. – Having not ever before, most probably, written the word crayfish, I wrap up this article celebrating having written it 11 times.
Thank you, sorry, bye!