10 Weird and Strange Foods from Iceland
Iceland is a magical and fascinating travel destination and together with the normal choice of supermarket foods which are available you can also sample some of the more traditional and unusual Icelandic foods. These foods may seem weird and strange to us but in Iceland they are part of their national heritage.
Most of these weird foods are traditionally eaten during the Icelandic winter festival of Thorrablot which takes place every year at the end of January and lasts a month. The festival is a Viking midwinter pagan celebration and the feast, called Thorramatur, consists of these unusual foods. Being an ancient tradition, from before Iceland had imports, deep freezers or preservatives most of these weird foods are naturally preserved by being either pickled, dried, salted, smoked or petrified.
1. Hakarl - Poisonous Ice Shark
This fish is poisonous when eaten fresh so instead it is left to putrefy (rot) for 6 weeks, literally fermenting, and then cut and hung out to dry for another 4 months. By the time it reaches the table it has been slightly beaten to soften it up, had the tough moldy bits scrapped off and is eaten by itself often as a chewy snack. Rotten shark meat has a slight Ammonia or urine smell. There is also a similar Stingray alternative.
2. Slatur – liver sausage
Made from sheep innards during the autumn this weird food comes in two forms, either as a black blood pudding or a white liver sausage. The name literally means slaughter. The sausage version is covered in lard and sewn up inside of a sheep's stomach and then boiled, it can also be pickled in milk whey of course!
Puffin meat is eaten in restaurants prepared in any number of standard cooking methods, but traditionally the still warm heart of the Puffin is eaten raw straight out of the bird. Alternatively the Puffin is prepared in a milk sauce.
4. Brennivin – Potato Wine
Iceland's version of Schnapps is made out of fermented potato pulp and caraway seeds. This firewater – literally "burning wine" - is also known as the Black Death, and it is the copious amounts of this beverage that make the other weird foods palatable. The herb infused Brennivin is 37.5% alcohol. It is traditionally also drunk on St. Thorlac's Day, on 23rd December probably to burn out the taste of the pungent fermented skate which is also eaten. Black Death is most often served as a shot, after one of the weird food dishes.
5. Ram's Testicles
The ram's balls are pickled in whey (the watery sour part of milk), then pressed into a type of jelly and spiced up with garlic. The Ram's testicles are soft and yet meaty and sour.
6. Svid – Burt sheep's head
The sheep's head is burned to get the hair and outer grizzle off then the head is cracked open and the brains are removed after that it is boiled and good to go. The head can also be pureed and turned into a jam affectionately called headcheese. The tongue and jaw are the most popular parts of the head to eat and when served you can still see the facial features and even the sheep's eyes. In South Africa there is a similar weird food prepared in a similar way, and it is ironically called a Smiley. Alternatively in Iceland there is another weird food called pig's head jam which is a version of the same thing boiled and pickled.
7. Seal Flippers
The flippers of seals are sliced off and marinated in milk whey and then salted. The taste is slimy and slightly sweet and sour. This is one of the rarer weird foods of Iceland.
8. Raw Reindeer meat
The flesh of the reindeer is simply sliced very thinly and eaten raw.
9. Pickled Whale Blubber
The tough fat of a whale is much softer when pickled in sour milk and it loses its stringy texture although it remains oily. With the decline in whaling and the whole subject being politically incorrect real whale blubber is still eaten by some on traditional occasions but there is now a more conservation friendly alternative and that is "whale blubber" made out of fish meat. The fish whale blubber has it's own unique taste but looks like the real thing.
When all the food is made and there are left over bits and pieces which didn't make it into the conventional unconventional Icelandic dishes then it's time for Biximatur. Biximatur is another weird food prepared by getting all those meaty bits and pieces together and frying them up with some potatoes and onions. Depending on which animal parts were left over that day the resulting biximatur can come out with various flavors. Somehow the name reminds me of the words mix and mature. Don't forget that Brennivin!
Although that makes ten weird traditional Icelandic delicacies I could add horse meat, smoked sheep's belly, mashed rutabaga – yellow turnip, sheep's loins cured in lactic acid, whey soup, cod tongues and fried cod's cheeks. And most importantly don't forget the Brennivin!
If you are interested in other wierd foods here are some Kosher wierd eating habits!