From Iceland — THE PTARMIGAN


Published August 8, 2003


Hunting is a popular sport here in Iceland. Almost every Icelandic man I know hunts. They are known as “veiðimenn” (hunting men). My ‘Viking’ fishes, and he too is called a veiðimaður (hunter). Basically, as long as they are out there killing something, they are hunters. My ‘Viking’ has to come back with an ample supply of salmon or trout to call the trip a success; we make sushi as well as smoked and grave lax with the catch. He also returns with an uncanny hangover. Uhmm???! …

Anyway, as I was saying, they hunt here. They hunt reindeer, shoot geese, ducks and ptarmigan or rjupa as it’s called in Iceland. Or at least they used to. Just recently, the Environmental Ministry ruled that rjupa hunting be banned for the next 3 years as the poor bird is being depleted from this volcanic island. The plan of action is to up its numbers to what it was at the beginning of the 20th Century. The rjupa, is to the Icelander what turkey is to an Englishman at Christmas. It’s a must, it is the beast of the feast! But whereas one turkey would suffice a whole family with enough leftovers to make you not want to eat it again for a whole year, the rjupa, in all its daintiness, is hardly enough for one adult. Three to four rjupa’s are needed per person. Funny enough, in the days of old the rjupa was considered a poor mans meal whereas today a single rjupa can cost up to 1000 Icelandic krónur.

“Watch out for the pellets” I was told, when I first tried this delicacy. I flinched back from my fork immediately. Cautiously I inspected the now suspect morsel of meat. I ran my fork through it a couple of times, making sure no metal bits were hiding in my food, before I put the now raggedy piece of meat into my mouth. My mouth instantaneously reacted with a force of its own and my tongue dived into removal action… coiling itself back in one swift move and massaging the morsel forward.

It was Christmas Eve and we were gathered at the large family dining table. All the family members’ eyes were on me, watching my virgin try of RJUPA (whipppee yeah hey! One feels like one should say that “whooppeee wayhay!” every time the word rjupa pops up. It’s always said with such gusto and licking of lips that one feels one should wave a flag or at least blow on a hooter!!) There was a general consensus that I was bound to LOVE it since they all thought it was the best thing since sheep’s testicles!!

Quickly I regained control of my reflexes and carefully avoided swallowing the slightest amount of saliva contaminated with the vile foreign substance while outwardly I concentrated on smiling. It was difficult as my mouth kept turning down at the corners in total disgust at the putrid matter in my mouth. In panic, I pick up a Christmas paper serviette and rid my mouth of the offending piece of rjupa. “It’s rotten!” I exclaimed, with uncontrollable shivers of my upper torso followed by a lot of water drinking.

Good God! The bird is rotten.. hung.. you know “Gamie” as gamie goes. I’ve been told that I have to try the bird at least three times before I learn to love its taste. Well har har! It’s precisely at this window of opportunity that I announce that I am by no means underweight and love ample kinds of food and therefore see no reason to force upon myself another craving, especially for a little ‘rotten’ bird!

So for me, the ban means nothing. I can, being an animal lover, (yet not so dedicated as to shy from my carnivorous ways) be quite happy that these pleasant little camouflaged cuties are saved from the big bad hunters.

Rjupa facts

They are called ptarmigan in the rest of the world, which is Gaelic for “mountaineer”, its technical name is Lagopus, Greek for “Hare footed.”
They have feathers on their feet.
They are a member of the grouse family.
They are quick to change their plumage to match their surroundings
They live most of their lives on the ground. Dwelling in the mountains during the day and flying some distance to lower altitude during the night.
There are three types of ptarmigan.
1) The willow ptarmigan which is Alaska’s national bird.
2) The white tailed ptarmigan.
3) The rock ptarmigan which is the Icelandic breed.
Funnily enough it’s referred to as Americas most under hunted bird.

Michelle Mitchell

Support The Reykjavík Grapevine!
Buy subscriptions, t-shirts and more from our shop right here!


Power In Numbers

Power In Numbers


Show Me More!