Þorrablót, or Visual Guide to Some Traditional Icelandic Foods

It’s Þorri in Iceland. Þorri (or Thorri, for those of you wonder how to pronounce the Þ), is one of the old Icelandic lunar months. Some decades ago, a restaurateur in Reykjavík was wondering how to draw in more customers during this slow time of year and hit upon the idea to offer traditional Icelandic food. The idea proved so popular that it spread all over the country, and now every Icelander can expect to be invited to at least one Þorrablót every year.

The food is not to everyone’s taste, however. Some of the old preservation methods (salting, drying, smoking and pickling) give the food flavours that are unfamiliar to modern palates that are more used to pizza, chicken and fish fingers, and some people find these flavours downright hostile. However, some foods are also served in their fresh form, and most people like at least hangikjöt (lightly salted and smoked lamb or mutton) and hardfish (fish, dipped in brine and then dried  and beaten).

If you should ever find yourself at a Þorrablot, surrounded by strange food and even stranger smells, here is a guide to some of the food you can expect to be confronted with. Missing from the photos is fermented shark, a smelly product of the country’s former poverty that is now considered a delicacy by many. It doesn’t taste half as bad as it smells and reminds some people of very ripe cheese.

Front:

Smoked lamb. The slices come from a deboned leg and the chunks from a shoulder. The other two trays are shown in close-up below.

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Below:

Pickled food, from left to right (all of this is cooked and then pickled for several weeks in strong whey): whale blubber; blood sausage; liver sausage; brisket, pressed sheep’s testicles, rolled-up belly meat, head cheese. All of this except the blubber comes from sheep. In olden times you could also expect to find, among the pickled food, cow udders and seal flippers.2013-01-25 18.38.56

Below: Sheep’s heads, the hair singed off (which imparts a light smoky flavour), cooked in salted water and quartered. The eyes are a special delicacy.

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Below:

Top: Leaf bread. Traditional Christmas bread, but some people also serve it at Þorrablót.

Bottom, left to right: Fresh liver sausage and head cheese.

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Below, clockwise from the top:  Rye bread, flatbread and vinegar-pickled salt herring.
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