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Nothing Like A Plate Of Smelly Fish To Start The Day


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Jerry Spitzer



When it comes to breakfast, we all have our preferences and traditions. Some opt for a hearty bowl of cereal, while others indulge in fluffy pancakes. But have you ever considered starting your day with a plate of smelly fish? It might sound unusual, but in many parts of the world, smelly fish is a beloved breakfast staple.


Smelly fish for breakfast? You might be wondering why anyone would willingly choose to eat something notorious for its strong odor so early in the day. Well, the answer lies in the rich cultural traditions and the unique flavors and health benefits that smelly fish offers.


In this article, we’ll dive into the fascinating world of smelly fish breakfasts, exploring the history, cultural significance, nutritional value, and recipes that make it an enticing choice for food travelers. So, get ready to embark on a culinary adventure that will challenge your taste buds and expand your breakfast horizons.


The History of Smelly Fish as a Breakfast Tradition

The tradition of eating smelly fish for breakfast dates back centuries and can be traced to various regions around the world. One of the earliest records of this practice can be found in Scandinavia, where preserved fish, such as herring and mackerel, were consumed as a morning meal by fishermen and seafarers.


In these coastal communities, where fishing was a vital part of the economy, preservation techniques like smoking, salting, and fermenting were used to ensure that fish remained edible during long journeys at sea. This led to the development of dishes like kippers and gravlax, which became popular breakfast options due to their rich flavors and extended shelf life.


The tradition of eating smelly fish for breakfast also has roots in Asian cultures, particularly in countries like Japan and Korea. In Japan, the practice of consuming fermented fish, known as narezushi, for breakfast can be traced back to the 8th century. Narezushi consists of fish, usually mackerel or sardines, that undergoes a months-long fermentation process, resulting in a pungent aroma and unique umami flavors.


In Korea, a similar tradition exists with a dish called “hongeo”, which is made from fermented skate fish. Fermentation gives the skate fish a distinct odor that some describe as akin to ammonia. Despite its strong smell, hongeo is highly sought after and has become a cultural delicacy, particularly in the coastal city of Busan.


Throughout history, the consumption of smelly fish for breakfast has been influenced by factors such as regional cuisine, available resources, and cultural practices. The preservation techniques used to create these smelly fish delicacies not only allowed for longer storage but also enhanced the flavors and textures of the fish.


Today, smelly fish breakfasts continue to be cherished traditions in many parts of the world. The unique flavors, nutritional benefits, and cultural significance associated with these dishes make them a must-try for adventurous food travelers seeking to immerse themselves in local culinary customs.


Cultural Significance of Smelly Fish Breakfasts

Smelly fish breakfasts hold a deep cultural significance in various regions, representing more than just a morning meal. These traditions are passed down through generations, symbolizing heritage, community, and a connection to the local environment. Let’s explore the cultural importance of smelly fish breakfasts in different parts of the world.


In Scandinavia, countries like Sweden and Norway have long-standing traditions of enjoying smelly fish for breakfast. These flavorful dishes are not only a testament to the abundance of fish in their coastal waters but also reflect the strong maritime history of these nations. Smelly fish breakfasts are a way for locals to honor their seafaring heritage and pay homage to the vital role that fishing has played in their communities.


In Asia, particularly in Japan and Korea, smelly fish breakfasts have gained cultural significance through their association with rituals and celebrations. In Japan, for example, eating narezushi or fermented herring is a traditional part of celebrating the New Year. It is believed that consuming this pungent fish brings good luck and prosperity for the year ahead.


In Korea, eating hongeo or fermented skate fish is not only a culinary experience but also a social event. Families and friends gather to share this delicacy, often accompanied by soju (a traditional Korean alcoholic beverage) and engage in lively conversations. The strong smell and unique taste of hongeo create a memorable and bonding experience amongst the participants.


For many cultures, smelly fish breakfasts represent a connection to nature and the environment. Coastal regions rely heavily on fishing as a means of sustenance, and smelly fish breakfasts serve as a reminder of the abundance and diversity found in the nearby waters. It is a way for locals to celebrate the treasures of the sea and express gratitude for the resources that provide nourishment and sustenance.


Furthermore, smelly fish breakfasts often serve as a symbol of identity and pride for communities. These dishes are unique to each region, showcasing distinctive flavors, preparation methods, and serving styles. Sharing and promoting these breakfast traditions is a way to preserve cultural heritage and create a sense of belonging.


Whether it’s the Scandinavian love for herring or the Asian appreciation for fermented fish, smelly fish breakfasts hold deep cultural significance, connecting people to their roots, honoring traditions, and fostering a sense of unity within communities.


Health Benefits and Nutritional Value of Smelly Fish

Smelly fish may not only be a delicious breakfast option but also offer a range of health benefits. These fish varieties are packed with essential nutrients that can contribute to overall well-being. Let’s explore the nutritional value and health benefits of including smelly fish in your breakfast:


1. High in Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Smelly fish such as herring, mackerel, and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, particularly eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Omega-3 fatty acids are known for their anti-inflammatory properties and have been linked to promoting heart health, reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases, and improving brain function.


2. Excellent Source of Protein: Smelly fish is an excellent source of high-quality protein, which is essential for building and repairing tissues, supporting muscle growth, and promoting satiety. Including smelly fish in your breakfast can help you meet your daily protein requirements and keep you feeling full and satisfied throughout the day.


3. Rich in Essential Vitamins and Minerals: Smelly fish is a nutrient-dense food, providing a wide range of vitamins and minerals. These include vitamin D, vitamin B12, selenium, iodine, and calcium. Vitamin D is particularly important for bone health, immune function, and mood regulation, while vitamin B12 supports nerve function and red blood cell production.


4. Improves Cognitive Function: The omega-3 fatty acids found in smelly fish have been linked to improved cognitive function and brain health. Regular consumption of smelly fish may help enhance memory, attention, and problem-solving skills.


5. Supports Weight Management: Smelly fish can be a great addition to a weight management diet. The high protein content can help increase satiety, reducing the likelihood of overeating throughout the day. Additionally, the healthy fats in smelly fish can promote a feeling of fullness and help regulate appetite.


6. Boosts Heart Health: The omega-3 fatty acids in smelly fish have been shown to have cardiovascular benefits, including reducing triglyceride levels, lowering blood pressure, and decreasing the risk of heart disease. Including smelly fish in your breakfast can contribute to a heart-healthy diet.


It’s important to note that while smelly fish provides numerous health benefits, the cooking and preparation methods can impact their nutritional value. Avoid excessive frying or high-sodium seasonings, as they may negate some of the health benefits associated with these fish varieties. Opt for healthier cooking methods like grilling, baking, or steaming to retain the nutritional integrity of the smelly fish.


Incorporating smelly fish into your breakfast routine can be a healthy and flavorful choice, providing essential nutrients and promoting overall well-being. Remember to enjoy this delicacy in moderation as part of a varied and balanced diet.


Different Smelly Fish Varieties as Breakfast Options

When it comes to smelly fish breakfasts, there is a wide variety of options to choose from, each offering its own unique flavors and textures. Let’s explore some of the popular smelly fish varieties that can make a delicious addition to your morning meal:


1. Herring: Herring is one of the most widely consumed smelly fish varieties and a breakfast favorite in Scandinavian countries. It is often pickled, smoked, or salted, resulting in a rich, salty, and slightly tangy flavor. Herring can be enjoyed on its own, served with rye bread and pickled onions, or incorporated into dishes like kippers or rollmops.


2. Mackerel: Mackerel is an oily fish packed with omega-3 fatty acids, making it a nutritious breakfast option. Its distinct flavor and moist, tender flesh lend themselves well to smoking and grilling. Smoked mackerel can be served alongside eggs, incorporated into omelets or scrambled eggs, or enjoyed on a bed of greens for a healthy and satisfying morning meal.


3. Sardines: Sardines are small, oily fish that are often served canned or preserved. They offer a rich, savory flavor and are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, and vitamin D. Sardines can be enjoyed on toast, mixed into salads, or incorporated into hearty breakfast bowls or wraps for a quick and nutritious start to the day.


4. Fermented Skate Fish: In Korea, fermented skate fish, known as hongeo, is a beloved breakfast delicacy. It has a strong smell and unique taste that appeals to adventurous eaters. Hongeo is often served thinly sliced with kimchi, sesame oil, and other condiments. The combination of textures and flavors creates a complex and satisfying breakfast experience.


5. Fermented Herring: In Sweden, fermented herring, or surströmming, is a traditional breakfast delicacy. The fish is fermented in brine for several months, resulting in a powerful aroma that is an acquired taste for some. Surströmming is typically enjoyed with boiled potatoes, crispbread, sour cream, onions, and sometimes accompanied by a shot of aquavit for a truly authentic Swedish breakfast experience.


6. Fermented Fish Roe: Fish roe, such as Swedish löjrom or Russian caviar, can also add an element of smelly fish delight to breakfast. These delicacies are rich in flavor and can be enjoyed simply on buttered toast or as a topping for eggs, pancakes, or blinis.


These are just a few examples of the smelly fish varieties that are popular as breakfast options. Each offers its own unique taste and culinary experience, providing a flavorful and nutritious start to your day. Exploring the different smelly fish options can open up a world of flavors and traditions from around the globe.


Smelly Fish Breakfast Recipes from Around the World

Smelly fish breakfasts are not only culturally significant but also incredibly versatile when it comes to preparation. Let’s take a culinary journey and explore some delicious smelly fish breakfast recipes from around the world:


1. Scandinavian Herring Smørrebrød: Thinly slice pickled herring and place it on a slice of dark rye bread. Top with a dollop of creamy mustard sauce, sliced onions, and fresh dill. Serve with a side of boiled eggs and pickled cucumbers for a traditional Scandinavian smørrebrød experience.


2. Japanese Narezushi: Rinse fermented fish like mackerel or sardines and serve them on a bed of seasoned rice. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and drizzle with soy sauce. Add a side of miso soup and pickled vegetables for a complete Japanese breakfast.


3. Korean Hongeo Ssam: Wrap thinly sliced fermented skate fish in lettuce leaves. Add a spoonful of spicy gochujang sauce, garlic, and sesame oil. Enjoy the combination of flavors and textures in this Korean-style breakfast wrap.


4. Swedish Surströmming Skagen: Mix fermented herring with creamy mayonnaise, finely chopped red onions, and dill. Spread the mixture on crispbread or toast and top with a slice of avocado and a sprinkle of lemon juice. This Swedish-inspired open-faced sandwich is both savory and satisfying.


5. Norwegian Mackerel and Egg Bake: Layer sliced mackerel, boiled potatoes, and sliced red onions in a baking dish. Pour a mixture of beaten eggs and cream over the top and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and fresh herbs. Bake until the eggs are set and golden brown for a hearty and flavorful Norwegian breakfast.


6. Russian Caviar Blini: Prepare small pancakes (blini) and top them with a generous dollop of fish roe (caviar). Add a touch of sour cream, thinly sliced red onions, and chopped chives for a luxurious and decadent start to the day.


These smelly fish breakfast recipes offer a glimpse into the diverse and delicious ways to enjoy these unique flavors. Whether you prefer the Scandinavian herring or the Japanese narezushi, there is a smelly fish breakfast recipe to suit every palate and culinary curiosity.


Tips for Preparing and Eating Smelly Fish for Breakfast

While smelly fish breakfasts offer a unique and flavorful experience, they can also pose some challenges in terms of preparation and eating. Here are some helpful tips to ensure that you make the most of your smelly fish breakfast:


1. Choose Fresh and High-Quality Fish:


When selecting smelly fish for your breakfast, prioritize freshness. Look for fish that is firm, shiny, and has a mild odor. Fresh fish will have better flavors and textures, enhancing your breakfast experience.


2. Experiment with Different Cooking Methods:


Smelly fish can be cooked in various ways, including smoking, grilling, baking, or frying. Experiment with different cooking methods to find the one that suits your preferences and enhances the flavors of the fish.


3. Pair with Complementary Flavors:


Smelly fish breakfasts often benefit from the addition of complementary flavors that balance the strong aroma and taste. Consider adding ingredients like onions, fresh herbs, sour cream, lemon juice, or pickled vegetables to add layers of flavor to your breakfast.


4. Accompany with Carb-Rich Sides:


To make your smelly fish breakfast more filling, serve it with a side of carbohydrates like toast, crispbread, or boiled potatoes. These sides can help balance the strong flavors while providing energy to kick-start your day.


5. Embrace the Aroma:


Smelly fish has a distinct odor that might take some getting used to. Embrace the aroma as part of the experience, and remember that the strong scent often translates into bold and unique flavors.


6. Enjoy in Moderation:


While smelly fish breakfasts can be delicious and nutritious, it’s important to enjoy them in moderation due to their potential high sodium content. Incorporate variety into your breakfast routine and balance your diet with other nutritious options.


7. Be Mindful of Others:


If you’re planning to prepare a smelly fish breakfast in a communal setting or shared living space, be mindful of others who may not appreciate the strong aroma. Consider proper ventilation or designate a specific area for enjoying your breakfast.


By following these tips, you can ensure a pleasurable smelly fish breakfast experience. Embrace the flavors, explore new recipes, and savor the cultural heritage that these breakfast traditions offer.


Overcoming the Challenges of the Smelly Fish Breakfast Experience

While smelly fish breakfasts offer a unique and flavorful experience, they can also present challenges that may require some adjustments. Here are some tips to help you overcome the challenges and fully enjoy your smelly fish breakfast:


1. Familiarize Yourself with the Smell:


Smelly fish can have a strong aroma that may catch you off guard at first. Take some time to familiarize yourself with the smell by gradually introducing it into your meals. This will help your senses adapt and appreciate the unique qualities of the fish.


2. Proper Ventilation:


If you’re concerned about the lingering smell in your kitchen or home, ensure you have proper ventilation. Open windows, turn on exhaust fans, or use air purifiers to help dissipate the aroma quickly.


3. Store Smelly Fish Properly:


To minimize the smell in your home, store smelly fish properly. Keep it in airtight containers or tightly wrapped in the refrigerator to contain the odor and prevent it from permeating other foods.


4. Consider Precooked Options:


If you’re hesitant about cooking smelly fish from scratch, consider trying precooked options. Canned or preserved smelly fish varieties are more accessible and may have a milder aroma while still offering the unique flavors.


5. Pair with Strong Flavors:


If the strong smell or taste of smelly fish is overwhelming, balance it out by pairing it with strong, complementary flavors. This can include adding onions, garlic, citrus, herbs, or other flavorful ingredients to create a more harmonious breakfast experience.


6. Start with Milder Varieties:


If you’re new to smelly fish breakfasts, start with milder fish varieties like herring or lightly smoked fish. These options tend to have a more subtle aroma, making it easier to acclimate your taste buds to the unique flavors.


7. Share the Experience:


Smelly fish breakfasts are often enjoyed as a communal experience in many cultures. Share the experience with friends or family who are open to trying new flavors. Their perspectives and enthusiasm can make the meal more enjoyable for everyone involved.


Remember that embracing the smelly fish breakfast experience is about exploring new flavors, cultural traditions, and expanding your culinary horizons. With an open mind and some adjustments, you can overcome the challenges and fully appreciate the unique qualities of smelly fish breakfasts.



Embarking on a smelly fish breakfast adventure can transport you to different corners of the globe, where rich culinary traditions and unique flavors await. From the preserved herring in Scandinavia to the fermented fish in Asia, smelly fish breakfasts offer a glimpse into the cultural heritage and local customs of various regions.


While the strong aroma of smelly fish may be off-putting to some, it is often a testament to the time-honored preservation techniques and the intense flavors that await. By embracing the cultural significance and nutritional benefits of smelly fish breakfasts, you can enhance your breakfast routine and expand your culinary horizons.


Throughout history, smelly fish breakfasts have been cherished as a connection to nature, a celebration of the sea, and a symbol of community and heritage. They offer a unique way to start the day, infusing it with bold flavors and a sense of adventure.


Whether you opt for pickled herring on dark rye bread or enjoy a traditional Korean hongeo ssam, smelly fish breakfasts allow you to explore new tastes, challenge your senses, and appreciate the diverse world of food traditions.


So next time you find yourself craving a bold and unforgettable breakfast experience, consider venturing into the realm of smelly fish. From the coastal towns of Scandinavia to the bustling fish markets of Asia, there is a whole world of smelly fish breakfasts waiting to be discovered.


Embrace the aromas, savor the flavors, and let smelly fish breakfasts transport you on a food-filled journey that will tantalize your taste buds and leave you with a deeper appreciation for the diverse breakfast traditions found around the globe.