Hi hi from All Iceland's only non-Icelander Louise!
It's midwinter in Iceland at the moment, which means one thing: food. Bolludagur and Sprengidagur are days for celebrating midwinter with lots of good food and treats- a bit like Shrove Tuesday over here. However, there's a feast Iceland which is a lot more well known for its "traditional" food: Thorrablot. Infamous for its sheep's head, rye bread and wind-dried fish delicacies, I had to try it out and was lucky enough to last weekend!
We arrived and I noticed one thing straightaway: the smell of smoked fish and meat. You can definitely tell which room the food's in before you see it!
Here's our table. Everyone had a shot of Brennivin to go with their meal. Brennivin is an Icelandic schnapps made from cumin- it's name means "Black Death" but it's not *that* bad. Well...it depends on how brave you're feeling. I took a sip but I've seen old ladies down shots in one!
And here's the plate! I took a bit of everything on offer (no sheep's head tonight, more's the pity)- except for one thing. No matter how I thought of it, I didn't fancy eating ram's testicles...
From clockwise: swede, hakarl, black pudding, white pudding, smoked lamb, flatbread, rye bread, wind dried fish, pickled herring, head cheese, mashed potatoes and butter.
So what's it all like?
I knew that the mashed potatoes and swede would be safe, having eaten neeps and tatties plenty of times before. They worked really well (especially with the smoked lamb and headcheese- more on that later).
The rye bread is delicious, really lovely and sweet but not too stodgy. It went with just about anything but especially generously buttered- I went back for more of this and would've smuggled it home if I had the chance! You might be able to spot the flatbread as well, hiding behind the rye on my plate. It's light and fluffy and was gone in about thrity seconds, whoops.
The dried fish is really good as well- though be warned, there's no way you can eat it with a knife and fork. Instead grab a small handfull, dip it in butter (because it's very dry) and enjoy.
The smoked lamb is- as you might have guessed- very smoky. It's like you can taste the smoking cupboard it was in! But don't let that put you off- it's a delicious cut and tastes superb with the swede or a bit of rye bread.
The Surprisingly Good
My favourite part of Thorrablot has to be the pickled fish. Sure, it doesn't smell too appetising- but it's sooo tasty! It's another one that works well with rye bread or on its own and I was delighted to hear that you can buy it in supermarkets as well, yum!
Headcheese is the name for meat jelly made from the flesh of a sheep. Sound good? It actually does taste really nice, but it looks horrible. Once you get past the jelly taste it reminded me a bit of haggis- so out come the potatoes and swede again!
Of course, I couldn't go to a Thorrablot without trying the most infamous bit of all. Hakarl is fermented shark, hung to dry for four-five months. I felt brave until I smelled it- no wonder they only give it out in small cubes! You eat hakarl with a shot of Brennivin to follow- presumably to take away the taste. I decided to try this method- and it wasn't that bad! I think I could mainly taste the Brennivin which might have been for the best...
After eating there were traditional Icelandic songs and a live band- all in all a brilliant night! Everyone I spoke with was lovely to this confused Brit- including the Prime Minister of Iceland who'd turned up for a dance as well! It just goes to show how friendly Icelanders are- you're always sure of a warm welcome.
I tried new food, dances, convinced myself I could sing along to Icelandic songs (not very well but well gusto nonetheless) and had a great time despite going home smelling a bit like fish.
Never fear, squeamish eaters- Icelanders don't eat hakarl and headcheese on a daily basis. You're more likely to find lots of fresh fish and soups in an Icelandic restaurant (and of course pylsur, Iceland's famous hotdogs) than anything dried or pickled. Why not try out our Delicious Golden Circle package to sample the flavours of Iceland? Alternately our Flavours of the South self drive break is bound to have some rye bread on offer.