Traditional Icelandic Cuisine

An Icelandic Tradition

An Icelandic Tradition

Þorri is the name given to the fourth month of winter in the old Icelandic calendar. It begins on the third Friday in January (men’s day) and ends on the third Saturday in February (the day before women’s day). It was always a rough month when there was little left of the farms’ food supplies and the island was terrorized by bad storms so the word is often associated with hardship and endurance. While nobody uses the old calendar today, Icelanders celebrate the old Þorri, by getting together in large groups and eating buffets of traditional Icelandic food. Every rumor you’ve ever heard about the horrors of traditional Icelandic cuisine is probably true and these buffets are living testimony. They include some truly awful dishes that only the very old or the very patriotic will claim to love but most of us just love to taste once a year. Here’s a little list of some of the delicacies one might find at a traditional Þorri-buffet.

 Image copyrights Stefán Birgir Stefáns: https://flic.kr/p/pijfx2

The Good    

Butter. It goes with nearly everything else on the buffet. This is one event where eating ridiculous amounts of butter is not only acceptable, it’s compulsory and old-school Icelandic butter is really very good.

Smoked lamb. Everybody loves the smoked lamb. For many, this will be the foundation of the actual meal at the buffet while they nibble at the rest of the food for team spirit.

Dried fish. A true delicatessen with a delicatessen price tag. It is delicious and an excellent source of protein so if someone offers you dried fish, you take it and smear offensive amounts of butter on it. Truly. We’re talking 50-50 fish and butter.

Flatbread. An Icelandic picnic-classic and really, really good. Best when coupled with lots of butter and smoked lamb cutlets.

hakarl
Image copyright Chris Goldberg: https://flic.kr/p/6APEJY

The Bad

Fermented shark. Obviously our signature dish and although I’m including it with the worst of the Þorri-buffet, it does have its moments. I would say that most Icelanders love having a little bit of shark and this is key. Have three little bits and wash it down with Brennivín (Black Death liquor). It’s good fun, great atmosphere and you’ll feel like an authentic old timer.

Whale blubber & seal flippers. For as long as I live, I will never understand why anybody would ever eat this. This is hands-down the absolute worst of the worst. Go ahead. Try it. You’ll regret it.

Sour ram testicles and all its sour friends. Like I said, traditionally Icelandic farmers were down to the bottom of the barrel during Þorri and so the sour bits of hell were laid out for dinner. They’ve been stored in acid to keep them from rotting, a desperate move for a desperate nation before the invention of freezers. I don’t believe anybody who claims to like this stuff. Forget that some of it is testicles. That doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the awful acidy taste of old meat.

 

An Icelandic Tradition

Image copyrights Stefán Birgir Stefáns: https://flic.kr/p/piiut3

The Ugly

Singed sheep head. This is actually good, tender and tasty meat and I highly recommend it but I’ll admit, it does look like a prop from a horror film. I was going to include a picture of it but I was honestly afraid I might offend someone. This is usually served as half a sheep’s head, sawed right through the middle with the works: eyeballs, teeth, tongue, you name it and it’s all edible. Well, that depends on who you ask, but supposedly so. I for one will leave the eyeballs and tongue alone, not because of taste but texture. But the meat itself is really quite good if you can get over the scorched face staring at you from your plate.

So now you know what’s good if you ever get a chance to partake in a real Icelandic Þorrablót, but give the bad and the ugly a little taste, even if it’s just for some love on Instagram.

An Icelandic Tradition
Image copyrights Stefán Birgir Stefáns: https://flic.kr/p/piiRpi
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