Today is the Feast of Saint Thorlak, and while in most of the world, this is an obscure saint’s day at best, in Iceland it’s a national holiday.
This holiday is typically celebrated by eating putrefied skate, but don’t be fooled: this is by no means a “Viking holiday”. Rather, it’s entirely a 20th century invention whose persistence baffles even the best minds in the country.
In fact, a new poll from Market and Media Research shows that about 37% of respondents intend to dine on skate this year, a percentage that has been relatively unchanged for the past few years now. According to the demographics, the typical skate-eater is an elderly male who lives in the countryside and votes for the Progressive Party or the Centre Party.
For the unfamiliar, the preparation of skate for this holiday is marked by lengthy fermentation in a sealed environment, after which it is usually steamed or boiled. The heady aroma of this dish will fill any enclosed area with a dense cloud of ammonia, bringing to mind Christmas for some, and the surface of Venus for others.
The smell can be so pervasive and overpowering, in fact, that even property owners take strong exception with cooking it in apartment buildings. Sigurður Helgi Guðjónsson, the director of the Homeowners’ Association, spared no words in discussing the matter with RÚV.
“Commonly, the general rule about consideration and tolerance should be followed, but there is no consideration shown in flushing this kind of stench over innocent people,” he said, referring to people who cook skate in their apartment. “It’s like a terrorist attack on the taste buds. This isn’t food; this is spoiled material and is classified as trash by any definition. This is a barbaric feast and just horrifying, the smell sticks inside the building well into spring.”
Perhaps then the best way to enjoy skate, if you so dare, is either at a private home far removed from any neighbours, or at a restaurant. Below, you can see a video of Icelanders dining out on their favourite putrefied animal (direct link).
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