When one encounters a new culture, the best way to immerse yourself is with your palate. Sniff and taste your way around until your guts feel Icelandic. Don’t scoff at what you might think are weird oral pleasures, just pinch your nose and swallow. Everyone’s culture has delicacies that seem bizarre to the outsider. I personally prefer ram’s testicles, or hrútspungar, to genetically mutated crops any day. (Figuratively speaking because I am actually a pescetarian and yes this is a real word.)
Being a non-meat eater, I respect the fact that in Iceland all parts of an animal are used, instead of senselessly slaughtering an animal only to use the prime cuts and discard the majority of the carcass. I think it shows how Icelanders haven’t lost their farmer’s roots and are proud of their (I’ve heard) incredibly delicious livestock which roam freely around the countryside blocking your car’s way along the Ring Road and dotting the landscape with cotton balls.
I do what I can to fit in culinary wise and embrace the delicacies of the sea. My first intent at hákarl, or putrefied shark, was unsuccessful as I spat it out before allowing my senses to get drunk with ammonia. The second time I tried it, I managed to swallow but did not enjoy the curiously strong aroma that accompanies the more demure taste. The Brennevín, a potato-based schnapps, definitely came in handy in dissolving the unwelcomed aftertaste.
My boyfriend’s belly is definitely Icelandic. He proudly eats hákarl on a weekly basis. He loves going to BSÍ and devouring a sheep’s head and chewing its eyeball obnoxiously loud. He has also tried whale meat, to his dismay. It is the only time I have seen this carnivorous man feel guilt, and he’s even eaten zebra in Africa.
His culinary triumphs and mishaps made me feel like my intestines weren’t becoming Icelandic enough. So I succumbed to tasting smoked puffin with blueberry sauce, which I unwittingly and thoroughly enjoyed. (I know. I know. Those loopy clown-like birds are so cute you just want to eat them! I mean hug them.) I was also not as appalled as I had imagined I would be when eating putrefied skate. The first bites were even kind of good until my eyes started getting watery.
There are lots of ways of embracing the Icelandic gastronomic culture that don’t involve the peculiarities that I mentioned above. You can eat rhubarb jam with waffles and savour some homemade skyr, but if you really want to feel like a local it takes balls.
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