Penitential Food

Every country has some food, some ‘national dish’ that defies all good taste. Haggis, balut, lutefisk, casu marzu…it’s a point of pride to eat it, and great fun dare to visiting tourists to tryFor the record, I like haggis. It’s just sausage, and pretty tasty sausage at that. Just don’t think too much about what goes in that sheep’s stomach, and you’ll be fine.

The others? I haven’t tried them and I don’t think you could pay me to. Balut is a boiled developing bird embryo, eaten from the shell and casu marzu is the infamous maggot cheese in Sardinia. No thank you. I probably draw the line at eating bugs, too. Or eyeballs.

Iceland, like every other country, has a particularly gross dish that is a traditional and often proffered to visitors as “try it! you’ll like it!”. When you hear those words, it’s usually a good idea to begin drinking heavily. Just in case you actually decide to try. In Iceland, we were wimps. Icelanders are a fearsome people, for eating this stuff. Most of the dishes persist


Many countries have dishes of fermented fish, but Iceland does seem to go all out. Hakarl is rotted, fermented, dried Greenland shark. People actually do eat it — a bit of suffering required to prove your icelandic prowess. It is often called the most disgusting food on earth.

The shark meat is toxic when fresh, so it is allowed to decay and then is hung to dry before being cut into little cheese-like cubes and eaten, along with a healthy shot of brennevin (the local akvavit, often called ‘the black death’). It sounds like you should drink a lot of brennevin first, actually. It has a very strong ammonia smell, and peculiar fishy taste, and a texture like cheese (all told to us to encourage us to try).  We saw it for sale in the supermarket, and on a few tasting menus as an ‘icelandic starter’, but we didn’t actually try it ourselves. Some details on how it’s made are here, in the wiki article.


Whole sheeps head. Cut it in half, singe off the hair, and boil it. Minus the brain, of course. Of course! Why would you include the brains when the dish is already a sheep’s head!  This actually isn’t such an awful dish, really — the meat is tender and tasty, I’m told. Svið is usually attributed to the idea that at one point, food in iceland was very scarce and no part of the sheep could be wasted — if it can be eaten, it should be eaten seems to be the mantra. It’s the same story I heard about Haggis, really, but the Scots make head cheese instead, in civilized fashion and don’t serve a sheep-face on a plate.

The ears are traditionally not eaten. Although everything else is.

I’m a little squicked out that the eyeballs are considered a delicacy. Eyeballs are on my list of ‘not to eat, ever!’.

Súrsaðir Hrútspungar

Picked rams testicles. I’m from a state where fried sheeps testicles are a delicacy (Rocky Mountain Oysters, anyone?), but it’s the pickling that’s throwing me for a loop here. Picked, pressed, and then eaten as slices of a rather wierd-looking lunch meat — this is a traditional dish eaten at the midwinter festival. I don’t think I saw these anywhere.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *