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Sunday, March 02, 2008


When I was little, my mother used to give me some shark to eat, so she could smell where I was playing - no smell = danger.

I used to baby sit for the Icelandic community in Lund, Sweden for the Þorrablót. I remember there were always some scandals and people would get incredibly drunk.

The food itself doesn't really appeal to me, I guess I have lived too long abroad.

My mother told me that once they had a Þorrablót in the company where she was working.
It started at six, by seven they evacuated all paintings in the room (as people were getting too drunk) at 8.30 they wanted to beat up the boss, due to some payment issues, at nine my mother left as it was getting far too chaotic.

I decided to go to this Þorrablót, I knew I had to eat a good lunch, as I don't really eat much more than Harðfiskur, Hangikjöt, flatkökur, but no. For some reason I decided I was going to try the sheap head, so many people I know love it and I used to love sucking its bones, eyeas and the chin was my favourite part.
Here is the result:

It is not so much that I am disgusted, but I was really really scared to bite in to this head. I do remember that I loved it as a child and good friends (with a food taste) like it. However it was not that disgusting, but more scary. I ate the whole of the tongue though, but did not have the courage to suck the eye.
In my youth (and I am not that old) we used to play with the bones, that were left of the sheep.

Menu for Þorrablót,
comments courtesy of your host.

Traditional Appetizers:

Shark, served in small cubes. It is prepared by burying it for several weeks, and then hanging it up and allowing it to dry. The semi-opaque flesh of the belly is called glerhákarl (glassy shark), and is not nearly as popular as the skyrhákarl, which is flesh from the body of the fish. Skyrhákarl draws its name from its resemblance in appearance to the Icelandic curds called skyr. The tough glerhákarl is recommended for beginners, as the soft skyrhákarl has been known to cause an involuntary gagging reaction due to its texture. Wash down with a shot of cold Brennivín (caraway schnapps). Believe it or not, this is actually good for the digestion - especially before eating the heavy Þorri food.

When the rotten shark was taken out of the package I almost fainted/vomited


Dried fish, usually haddock, cod or catfish, beaten to soften it. Delicious with or without butter. In olden times harðfiskur was eaten like bread in those homes that could only afford flour for baking on special occasions. It is still Iceland's favourite snack, and a popular travel food. (Chances are, if you meet an Icelander and he has a funny smell about him, it will be because of the harðfiskur tucked away in his luggage).

Main courses:
This is where the menu begins to get really interesting. Almost everything you find on a typical Þorri buffet is made from lamb or mutton, with a few exceptions. The food can be separated into two categories: sour and non-sour. The sour food has been pickled in extra strong skyrmysa (whey) for several weeks. The trick is to get it sour enough to tell where it's been, but not so sour that you can't tell what it is. Most of the sour food is also served non-sour. In the old days, sour milk was sometimes uses instead of mysa.

Sour only:

Hrútspungar or pressed sheep's testicles. Has little taste of it's own, and a texture reminiscent of pressed cod roe.
Hvalspik or whale blubber. This became hard to find after the parliament passed a law forbidding whaling several years ago. It has made a small comeback recently, due to the whaling ban being lifted. Fresh whale blubber is stringy and tough, but pickling it makes it soft and more digestible.
Lundabaggar - This is a tough one to explain - it is made from secondary meats, like colons and other such stuff, rolled up, boiled, pickled and sliced. Usually very fatty.
Bringukollar - breast meat. These are cuts of really fat meat on the bone, which have been boiled before pickling. As the name suggests, these pieces come from the breast of the animal.
Selshreifar - seal's flippers. These are rare, except at some family feasts where the participants have hunted the seals themselves.
Hvalllíki or fake whale blubber. This was invented after the whaling ban. It is made from fish, and has a colour and texture reminiscent of the real thing, but an entirely different taste. Has become a Þorri staple for many, and is by some preferred over the real thing. I think that now whale blubber is available, this will probably disappear soon, unless whaling stops again.

Sour and non-sour:

Slátur. Of this there are two types: Lifrarpylsa or liver sausage and Blóðmör or blood sausage. Both are cooked before pickling. Both are quite good when fresh, but take on wholly different taste when pickled, which people either love or loathe (I happen to like it). Both contain rye meal, which contributes to the souring process and creates a special kind of taste that's hard to describe. Both are quite firm when fresh, but will take on a crumbly texture after extended pickling. These can actually be pickled in water or milk, as the rye meal causes a souring action similar to whey.
Sviðasulta - sheep's head jam (headcheese). This is quite good when pickled, and delicious fresh. It is made by cutting up the meat from cooked sheep's heads (svið), pressing into moulds and cooling. The cooking liquid turns into jelly when cold, and keeps the whole thing together.
Svínasulta, or spiced pigs' head jam/headcheese. A recent addition to the Þorri table, probably borrowed from the Danish. Tastes much better fresh than pickled.
Lappir and/or Fótasulta - sheep's legs and sheep's leg jam. This is a rare sight, both due to the effort it takes to produce the jam, and the fact that the slaughterhouses are required to throw the legs away. Therefore only available where people do their own butchering.*

*The must have changed the regulations - you can now get legs at my local supermarket.

Hangikjöt - Literally "hung meat". This usually refers to smoked lamb or mutton, although smoked horse-meat is also called hangikjöt. This is one of those courses that are eaten outside the Þorri season as well, and is really delicious.
Magálar - heavily smoked sheep's bellies. Eaten like hangikjöt.
Svið - singed sheep's heads. The name refers to the tradition of burning away all the hair from the head before cooking. This gives the meat a smoky flavour. The heads are cut in half lengthwise and the brains removed before cooking. Like hangikjöt, this is also quite a popular dish outside the Þorri season.

Side dishes:
Kartöflustappa - mashed potatoes. This hopefully needs no explanation. Recipe will be posted at some later date.
Rófustappa - mashed rutabagas. These are boiled until soft, mashed and sweetened with sugar.
Flatbrauð - flat bread, served with butter.
rúgbrauð - rye bread. Dark (almost black) "thunder-bread" served with butter. Top with pickled herring for an entrée, eat on the side with the main courses.

Brennivín - caraway schnapps, locally known as Svartidauði - "Black Death". These days many people will rather drink vodka and/or whisky - which they claim tastes better.
Mysa - whey. Yes, it can also be drunk. Before the arrival of carbonated beverages, this was the refreshment of choice. Unfortunately, it is not much used as a drink anymore. The taste? It is reminiscent of dry white wine, and mysa can actually be used instead of white wine in cooking, without anyone noticing the difference.
Bjór - beer and its relatives, Malt (non-alcoholic brown ale) and Lageröl (pale ale). During the beer-less years (several decades), the only ale allowed in Iceland was the low-alcohol Malt and Lageröl. Since we have been allowed to drink beer again, it has become "the drink" for many at Þorrablót feasts. These days you can even buy special Þorri beer.
Soft drinks - for those who don't like ale or strong spirits.

Every year, I hear people, especially young people and those who like to consider themselves cosmopolitans, grumbling about the Þorri feasts. They go on about the food being horrible and the tradition outdated and cheesy, and ask why we should eat all this horrible, fattening preserved food (which must be horrible to everyone because they don’t like it) when we can get it fresh. In my opinion, they should count themselves lucky to have been born in the 20th century, when they at least have a choice as to what they eat, a luxury our ancestors didn't have. The old-fashioned food of today is much healthier than the same kind of food used to be. Here I am not just referring to the traditional Þorri food, but also for example to sour and mouldy butter, rotting meat and bread with lots of extra proteins due to maggots and insects in the flour. Many people had no choice but to eat this kind of food, or else starve.

Note: Almost all of the information on Þorrablót are taken from: Icecook

Other References are:
Icelandic Horse

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