Thursday, October 11, 2012

My first Finnish crayfish party

And hopefully not my last.

For as many years in college as I can remember, during a certain unspecified time of year, when I happened to be at Ikea, I would notice that they would start selling crayfish party packs. In America this means a plastic pack that contains paper table decorations, conical party hats, paper bibs with little crayfish printed on them, and maybe some streamers or something of the like. Since the product came from Sweden, I had no idea what the concept was behind it, but generally speaking I liked it. Anything that revolved around large group gatherings and the consumption of seafood sounded pretty damn fine to me.

So when my friends started talking about the real basis of these things, which was, uh, real crayfish parties, I got super excited. Apparently they're a really big deal here and in Sweden (more so in Sweden, but equally here...though for different reasons). In Sweden they're a big deal because people love getting together and socializing and eating good crayfish (because they're in season). These parties usually happen in September because that's when crayfish are doing something in particular (mating?), and that's when they're abundant and delicious or something of the nature.

In Finland crayfish parties are also celebrated. But for an entirely different reason. Not being the wholly social type, they center around the fact that you can get away with drinking. A lot. In fact it's just another excuse for getting people together and drinking. But not necessarily having to socialize while doing so. In fact they've created ways to continually drink without having to say a word. Let me explain:

In the Finnish tradition you drink a shot of snaps (which is basically vodka) every time you finish eating a crayfish.

This means your food to drink ratio remains at an all-time low. And your mouth is pretty much always full.

I think you can see where this is going.

Crayfish are also exceptionally expensive, if you're eating at a real restaurant. So it's clear they're not taking advantage of the overabundance/fact that crayfish is "in season" or whatever. Interesting.

Anyway, like I said, just another great reason to drink, or something something.

So when Finnish French chef F said he would be hosting a crayfish party at his restaurant, I was all for it. Not that I'm interested in the Finnish aspect of crayfish parties, but I was definitely interested in checking out what all this nonsense was about. And since our group happens to be a very motley crew of foreigners, I knew we would be having fun either way. Plus I had heard stories of previous year's crayfish parties and they sounded...interesting.

A previous group leader (let's just call him...Gene), was very set on ousting anyone from any future leadering and set the bar last year at 70 crayfish. Yes that's right. He consumed 70 crayfish in one sitting. It's a bit disgusting, if you think about it. He decimated an entire community of crayfish. Entire generations, gone, at the hands of this one Canadian. 

There were also the other typical stories: people getting so drunk they needed stitches, etc, but those are the ones people whispered behind their hands at various parties or when they wanted to warn you against dating someone in the group, so I'll not mention those here.

Anyway, clearly I was going to check this out.

I arrived with German K on the appointed Saturday and was immediately taken aback by how adorable the decorations were (I think you can tell I'm a total sap for this entire thing...sigh, I miss the ease with which America allowed me to throw decorated dinner parties). Just look at this table:

Knowing people were likely to get quite drunk (people bring their own alcohol, as it's so expensive here, but also this is an occasion centered around alcohol and seafood), French Finnish chef F also made lots of side food (something that is uncommon in the Finnish version of this event). So tasty!

And of course, the spotlight of the entire event: crayfish. Glorious glorious crayfish. 

These were the frozen kind, to keep costs down, and aren't as big as the normal ones you can get in Finland, but being expats, we cared not. We were here to chow down, have a good time, and spend time with good friends.

...silly enough, though I love seafood and all of its creatures (for consumption), I didn't know how to eat a crayfish before this party. I definitely had to be taught. A general walkthrough of how to do such a thing:

  1. Twist the body where the tail meets the upper body. It should come apart in your hands. You can choose to suck the juices from the bottom of the upper body or not at this time (I decided not to - it looked hairy and I dunno about anyone else, but who knows where that bugger has been, generally speaking).
  2. You can throw away the upper body at this part unless you're meticulous enough to get the meat out of the tiny claws (not tiny in comparison to the relative size of its body, but small in comparison to the amount of meat you'll get for all your trouble). I was hella lazy.
  3. Squeeze the tail between thumb and forefinger, as though you were giving the tail a finger hug from the waist down.
  4. Remove the segments one by one until you can slip the tail from the shell.
  5. Voila! Tasty meat is now yours to consume.
Surprisingly not difficult. But also a very small amount of meat, for what you're doing. Whatever, these things are delicious!

I was definitely a shameless fatass.

Full plate of deliciousness. I finished 12 little crayfish. Not so bad, I'd have to say. And I didn't even freak out once (being around that many appendages can get to you after awhile...especially if you start to think too hard about what everything is...and how that's one whole creature you're ripping apart, limb from limb).

Our group, thank my lucky stars, did not follow the one-snaps-per-crayfish rule. First off, we would have all been passed out under the tables by 9pm, but second, it's just way too expensive. Since we went with the cheaper crayfish, they were super plentiful, and we didn't even finish the tray of them that had been put out.

Plus there was so much other amazing food to eat that it wouldn't have been a fair fight. Two types of green salads (caesar and something with grapes), shrimp potato salad, some sort of rice, not to mention multiple quiches, pizza breads, and a homemade banoffee pie (man those things are the devil, I absolutely love them).

The wine and snaps were flowing all night and we partied straight into the wee hours. Well, sort of. After this we helped clean up and then headed into town to dance off all of the great stuff we had just eaten. What a great way to end the night!

Finnish crayfish party, I'd have to say - you did not disappoint!

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