50 Crazy Things to Taste in Iceland lists, well, fifty crazy things to taste in Iceland. It is obviously aimed at tourists, and with me being an Icelandic native myself, I didn’t expect to find the foods listed here so crazy. And, of course, the book puts forward all the usual suspects, such as putrefied shark, sour ram testicles, brennivín, singed sheep heads, puffin, hangikjöt and rot-cured skate. But the book still managed to surprise me by also listing some of the non-usual suspects that are, on close inspection, just as Icelandic as the mostly-gross-stuff listed above. They simply have less shock-value and are therefore not pushed in the tourists’ faces as enthusiastically as the others. Those include scurvy grass, Malt & Appelsín, kokteilsósa, rhubarb, Easter eggs and Icelandic water.
Each item gets a photo or two, and a short explanatory text where the origins and history of the food is briefly noted. There are plenty of fun facts to be found there, such as when Icelanders first started producing Malt (1913), that bread-making is the oldest industry in the country, Iceland holding the world record in lamb consumption and last, but not least, Iceland being home to the biggest banana plantation in Europe! The author also lists practical information about how to find the less common foods (except for the Icelandic bananas because I don’t remember ever seeing any in Reykjavík’s grocery stores).
Most of the photos are quite nice, except for a few where I couldn’t help but think that the intention was to make the food look as unappealing as possible, such in the case of the sheep heads (which is as might be expected), but I thought they could have done the hangikjöt and skyr more justice. Especially the skyr, as the photo portrays a bearded man eating skyr and he has it all over his face so you can see the hairs sticking out of the blobs of skyr, which, in my opinion, makes it less than appetizing.
I tried very, very hard to come up with foods that I missed from the list, and came up with only two items: salty liquorice and plokkfiskur (hashed fish). But the publishers probably saw that coming and left the last pages of the book blanks for the reader to fill in their own crazy things to eat in Iceland.
On the whole, the book is a most excellent overview of the crazy (and not so crazy) things to taste in Iceland.
- Text by Snæfríður Ingadóttir
- Photographs by Þorvaldur Örn Kristmundsson
- Translation by Kristín Birgisdóttir and Darren Foreman
- Design and layout by Arnar Geir Ómarsson
- Salka, Reykjavík 2009