Bananas first arrived in Europe in 1905, with the first shipment arriving in Norway, of all places. Despite being right next door, it wasn’t until 1944 that bananas made it to Sweden – 20 tonnes of them. This may explain what was to come, because how else would the Swedes know what to do with 20 tonnes of tropical fruit?
While bananas were exotic and expensive at first (and looked upon with equal parts suspicion and fascination), Swedes eventually became so enamoured with them that they not only became embroiled in an ongoing battle with Denmark about who can eat the most in Europe (Sweden currently holds the title), but they also began developing some, shall we say, interesting ways of cooking with them.
Naturally, Swedes do normal things with bananas, such as slice them onto Swedish pancakes (often with chocolate sauce drizzled on top) or bake a great banana bread or even just eat them the regular way. Quite oddly, however, they don’t often slice bananas onto their morning bowl of cornflakes, but prefer putting them onto (or into) a couple of ‘interesting’ dishes which when offered to visitors can evoke a gag reflex. Until they try them, of course.
When you think of pizza, banana toppings don’t normally come to mind – unless you’re Swedish, that is. In Sweden you’ll find a variety of pizzas topped with bananas, including Hawaiian pizza, Indiana pizza, and Milano pizza – depending on which part of the country you’re in. However, the one that almost always makes visitors from around the world scratch their heads has to be the ubiquitous Banana Curry Pizza. Yes, you heard that right – a Banana Curry Pizza!
Here’s what it’s made of: a normal thin-crust Swedish pizza base (which some liken to cardboard and others to twine), some tomato sauce, grated smoked cheese (sometimes mozzarella), and then two ripe bananas sliced and spread across the pie, followed by a good sprinkling of curry powder. Mmm… sounds delicious or disgusting? It all depends on who you ask because in Sweden, this is one of the most popular pizzas available at nearly all standard pizza kiosks across the country.
Another pizza with bananas that even most Swedes don’t know about – and some say it’s just an urban myth – goes by the name of ‘Turbo’ (which apparently has to do with its after-effects). Found at a small pizzeria in Dalarna, it contains regular sauce, cheese, and ham before it’s topped with pork, prawns, pineapple, bananas, and – get ready – béarnaise sauce. According to some aficionados, this pizza might keep you busy in the toilet for some time afterwards, but it’s well worth the trouble!
However, if we’re really talking banana cuisine in Sweden, then the ultimate dish is a casserole called the Flying Jacob, which first became popular in the 1970s after its recipe was published in a popular cooking and recipe magazine. Created by a certain Ove Jacobson, who worked in the air freight industry, the dish is an ultimate when it comes to using bananas cleverly. It’s also simple to make: throw together chopped up meat from a whole rotisserie chicken, roasted peanuts, bacon, chili sauce, cream, and four bananas. Chuck it in the oven, wait for it to bubble, and serve over rice. Although it may sound hideous, it’s actually considered to be one of the best hangover cures.
So when in Sweden and hankering for a banana, toss aside all you think you know about eating bananas and try the Swedish way: mix bananas with the most unlikely ingredients and see what happens. For some it’s magic, for others it’s the work of Satan himself. Go bananas!