Should You Be Eating This? - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Should You Be Eating This?

Should You Be Eating This?

Published February 9, 2007

Þorrablót food is SO WEIRD

Þorrablót food is SO WEIRD

Once again, it is time for the traditional weird-food article, to be published around the month of February, for our foreign readership to scoff at all the strange, foul-tasting stuff Icelanders will traditionally eat around this time of year, and for locals to scoff at the Grapevine for getting it all wrong, yet again. It’s a seasonal thing, and now is the season.

So, let’s go:

If you are reading this before February 18, and you are located in Iceland, you are currently experiencing the month of Þorri according to the Old Norse calendar. Known as the harshest, most unforgiving month of them all, Þorri begins on a Friday of the 13th week of winter (which occurs January 19-25) – known as Bóndadagur, or Husband’s Day – and stays with us until the traditionally gentler Góa month commences on the Sunday of the 18th week of winter (February 18-24). That particular Sunday is also referred to as Konudagur – ‘Housewife’s day’ or ‘Women’s day’, and has its own set of accompanying rituals, just like Bóndadagur.

Þorri is probably best known for the month’s accompanying feasts – and the point of this article – the Þorrablót. Þorrablót are held at random points during the month and usually feature lots of drinking along with the consumption of spoiled and/or rotten food (with a few exceptions). The feasts are Icelanders’ way of honouring their ancestors’ methods to store food; as there were no refrigerators available and salt was a rare treat, they resorted to pickling, smoking, drying and rotting some of their foodstuffs to be consumed during periods when fresh food was scarce. Deadly winters used to be the norm before this whole global warming thing, you know, people would freeze to death on their way to the barn.

So Icelanders will gather with their Brennivín and their pickled foods to honour their ancestors’ traditions, and to get shitfaced while at it, as they have done for the past 50 years or so. Þorrablót is an important part of Icelandic culture, so much that those living abroad will even celebrate in small groups and import foul food for the occasion. They make for excellent parties, and those who can’t stomach the pickled ram testicles can usually get by fine consuming the dried fish and the smoked lamb.

Aside from the rather pleasant smoked lamb and dried fish, there’s the usual fare an Icelander will tell you about when wanting to gross you out and seem special. There’s Svið, the seared sheep’s heads that are readily available year ‘round albeit specially enjoyed during Þorrablót, and the Sviðasulta, Svið-jam, which is Svið in compressed, gelatinous form. Putrid shark is also a staple of Þorri cuisine, usually enjoyed with a shot of Brennivín. Magáll is essentially smoked sheep’s abs, pressed to a hard core. The aforementioned dried fish and smoked lamb are pretty self-explanatory and remain favourites of those not inclined to the sour taste of pickled meats.

Which brings us to the sour-division. Lundabaggar are a concoction of internal organs from sheep, rolled up in nets, boiled and sour-soaked in mysa (whey). The year-round food of Slátur (Iceland’s version of Haggis, sheep’s liver or blood mixed with rye and sewn up into sheep’s stomachs) also gets the sour mysa treatment, which makes it taste a lot weirder than it usually does. And that’s saying something. And last, and definitely least (in one reporter’s opinion), in the weirding-tourists-out division are the sour ram testicles, or Hrútspungar. The name says it all, a ram’s testicles are pickled in mysa for an extended period of time. All that pickled stuff has the same foul taste, really, so it’s rather the texture of the pickled items that counts. And testicle texture really isn’t all that swell. But, you know, try a bite. It’ll make for an interesting story at some stupid bar in the future.

 

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