Last year I went to my first Thorrablót, which is a traditional Icelandic feast. It was an interesting experience which I want to share with you.
Thorrablót takes place every year during the old Icelandic month of Thorri, beginning in late January and ending in late February.
People in Iceland gather in groups and eat all the traditional food that their forefathers used to eat. Used to, past tense. There is a reason why this food got out of fashion, if you ask me. You will see why.
If you want to know more about the history and tradition of Thorrablót, just click here.
I celebrated my first Thorrablót in February 2010. In 2011 I was invited to a Thorrablót feast with a group of people calling themselves Lopapeysan (which is also the Icelandic word for “woolen sweater”) who are mostly from the film, fashion and theatre scene.
This event usually takes place at a Reykjavíkian bar called Prikid and has been going on for a few years. All the guests are supposed to wear woolen sweaters or at least something made out of Icelandic wool as the group’s name suggests.
After watching a short comedy show all guests take a seat and start plundering the buffet whilst sipping beer or having shots of Icelandic brennivín (local schnapps).
Speaking of the buffet, the food served at a Thorrablót is called thorramatur. Most people divide the dishes into sour and non-sour food as some of it is pickled.
I was brave and tried everything that was offered. Everything.
Let's start with the “normal” food:
- There was of course the popular meat soup (kjötsúpa), hangikjöt (smoked lamb), rófustappa (mashed rutabagas), flatkökur (unleavened rye flatbread) and wind-dried fish, which provided the whole bar with a nice smell.
All of these dishes are very delicious and can be eaten without any problems. Absolute tourist-friendly.
Then there is a second category of thorramatur, food that sounds or looks strange but tastes alright:
- Hrútspungar, pickled ram's testicles, are actually quite tasteless. One might not like the thought of having animal balls in one's mouth. I didn't mind.
- Lifrarpylsa (“liver sausage”) and blódmör (“blood pudding”) have promising names but didn't fulfill my expectations. The only strange thing about it is the crumbly consistency.
Let's proceed to the next category:
You need to be a bit brave to try svid: Sheep's head. The head is cut lengthwise and then singed and not exactly an eye candy.
At my first Thorrablót I didn't know how to handle the damn thing—naturally I had never ever eaten a sheep's head before.
But it seemed as if every Icelander around the table could eat sheep's heads blindfolded. They probably learn this at school. Luckily an older svid expert showed me how to hold the delicacy and how to use the knife.
As disgusting as it may sound and look, the meat actually tasted good. I was surprised. But I have to admit that it felt weird to eat someone's face. I didn't dare to munch on the eyeballs, though.
The other thing in this category is hákarl, putrefied shark. Do I have to say more? Ok, I will say more: It isn't as horrible as most people say it is, but I can easily do without it.
My last category of thorramatur is actually just one dish: Hvalspik. Whale blubber. Pickled whale blubber. Yuk. It tastes how it sounds.
Of course there are lots of other dishes eaten at this heart- and stomach-warming event of Thorrablót.
To complete my self-experiment with traditional Icelandic food I'm hoping to find the following dishes on next year's Thorrablót menu:
- Lappir and fótasulta, sheep's legs and sheep's leg jam. Doesn't that sound mouth-watering?
- Seal's flippers (selshreifar), which aren't that common anymore but I'm waiting to try it.
The traditional end to a cozy dinner of thorramatur is the singing of Icelandic folk songs and maybe even some dancing; exactly around the time when the copious amount of beer and brennivín start to kick in. Might there be a connection?
If you have the chance to take part in a Thorrablót dinner you shouldn't hesitate to do so. It's a great event and a priceless occasion for watching Icelanders turning into their forefathers (aka Vikings) by eating strange food, being merry and sentimental and singing their hearts out.
Katharina Hauptmann – firstname.lastname@example.org