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Traditional Icelandic Food You Might be Afraid Of

June 22, 2017

Icelandic Food that Might Just Make You Lose Your Appetite

So, you're going to Iceland. You know exactly what you're going to pack, you're excited for the beautiful sites, got your flight, and even practiced your Icelandic. But something everyone keeps warning you about: the food.

Your friend told you something like: "They eat sheep head over there! And they'll make you eat an eyeball!"

Your mother said: "Are you really going to eat blood pudding? It isn't real pudding, you know."

Your boyfriend/girlfriend mentioned something akin to: "I won't kiss you if you eat any fermented shark meat."

Another friend warned you: "They're Vikings and they steal red heads!" 

Wait, okay you don't have to worry about that last one. We don't do that...anymore.

But largely, your family is correct. Iceland is more well known for its beautiful and startling landscape than the food. Before you grab an extra suitcase for your favorite foods, let me explain some of them for you.

iceland food

Hákarl (How-carl)

iceland food

This is fermented shark meat. You may have heard of some legends where we pee on it and bury it in the ground for months but only part of that is true. Urination is no longer a part of the process (thankfully) however it does smell of ammonia because of how we ferment it. And it's fermented, not rotten! It is buried in the ground from anywhere between 6-12 weeks and then hung for 4-6 months in most cases.

It is definitely an acquired taste though if you are a big fan of fancy cheese you may find the taste of Hákarl pleasing. But don't worry- not everyone in Iceland eats it. Mostly older generations eat it and definitely not with every meal! A lot of people save it for special occasions and have a shot of brennevin with it.

Svið (Sveeth)

Here it is-sheep's head. So even if eating the meat of a sheep's head doesn't bother you, the presentation might. It is literally...a sheep's head.

iceland food

Ok PETA, don't get mad at me here. Icelanders have struggled with agriculture because of the landscape (often lava rock) and climate, and do not have a large variety of wild animals they can hunt. When a sheep is slaughtered, every effort is made to use every part of the sheep.

Now with the global economy and imports/exports, it isn't as necessary to do this for the everyday person. But it is a part of our culture. You can buy these wrapped up in the grocery store otherwise you probably won't even encounter this unless you visit around Þorrablót (a mid winter festival). And yes, many people like the eyes.

And before anyone gets mad about killing sheep and eating their heads (I know, it looks bad) consider that Icelandic lamb and sheep have pretty awesome lives. They are legally allowed to run free-and they do! If you go to Iceland, you will have some close encounters with these fuzzy creatures! They are allowed to run through the meadows and do whatever they please. Iceland's meat or food industry is not industrialized and inhumane like the American industry. I don't eat meat in the US but I do abroad (more on that later).

Súrir hrútspungar (Soorir hrootspungyar)

Unfortunately, I should bring up súrir hrútspungar. This goes with the whole "use every part of the animal". This is sour ram testicles. They're sour for preservation...These aren't popular in Iceland anymore so don't be scared. I won't include a picture for your sake. :) 

Slátur (sl-ow-tur)

iceland food

The infamous blood pudding. Slátur literally means "slaughter" in Icelandic and it goes along with the whole "use the entire animal". Now, this is definitely NOT KOSHER FOLKS.

There are two types: blóðmör and lifrarpylsa.

Blóðmör is similar to British Black pudding while lifrarpylsa is similar to Scottish haggis. It is made with blood (obviously) and the innards of the sheep. I personally have had it a few times and don't mind it at all. Typically, this is eaten at Þorrablót.

See, most of the "icky Icelandic food" is eaten during the mid-winter festival. So just don't go to any of those parties and you will definitely be fine! Go to a grocery store and you will find many things that will suit your fancy. There are lots of great restaurants in Iceland, some more traditional than others. You definitely won't starve.

The Whale Conundrum

Tourists and visitors to Iceland often say something akin to: "I'm going to try some traditional whale meat when I go to Iceland!" Well, that isn't as cut and dry as you think it is. Icelanders have eaten whale and some still do, but I wouldn't consider it "traditional" and here's why.

Icelanders did not begin truly hunting whale until the 19th century because they did not have boats suitable for such an endeavor. Throughout history, Icelanders have taken advantage of beached whales and putting the body to use. Iceland's unique relationship with whaling can be expressed through the language: hvalreki not only means beached whale, but an opportunity that is unexpectedly yours.

Minke and fin whales are hunted by Icelanders and neither of these have been endangered.

Nowadays, whale can be found in stores but an interesting note is that the consumers of this whale meat is, largely tourists wanting to try a "traditional Icelandic food". Much of the whale catch is exported.

So think about that before you get mad at Iceland, please! :) 

Want more on Iceland? Here you go! :)

Free 7 Day Stopover with Icelandair

Packing Essentials for your Trip to Iceland

What NOT to do in Iceland

Getting to the Sólheimasandur Plane Crash

iceland food

Siggi Einarson

My name is Siggi-dubbed by my American friends because of the Icelandic yogurt-I am a writer, polyglot, and aspiring expat, not a cup of yogurt (unfortunately).

My love for travelling began with a trip to Iceland and Sweden to visit my family when I was just 15 years old. I spent so long dreaming of the possibilities of life abroad but I always figured these dreams were too far reached. Flash forward almost 10 years, here I am again, both cursing and thanking this damn travel bug.

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