Vikings are remembered for their Nordic conquests and ruthless gods, rather than their cuisine. But the Icelandic festival of Ţorrablót, or “Thorrablot,” a midwinter feast and celebration, recalls some of the Viking’s oldest—and strangest—culinary traditions.
The Nordic month of ţorri begins on the first Friday after January 19th (this year, January 23rd) and celebrations occur throughout the month. The feast revolves around traditional winter foods, or Ţorramatur—many of which are less than familiar.
Such as Hákarl
, or fermented shark’s meat: the fish is stripped of its organs, chopped, then quite literally buried and left to rot for months. Once softened and largely decomposed, the putrefied meat is hung out to dry. (This fermented shark entered the ranks of infamy when it made British chef Gordon Ramsey vomit during the filming of a television special.) Slightly less unorthodox foods include Harđfiskur
, fish dried until harder than jerky, or Sviđasulta
, a sheep’s-head jam.
Ram’s testicles are pickled in whey, and sheep’s blood sewn into a stomach; cooked seal flippers are common, as are blood sausage, whale blubber, and sheep’s fat. Reindeer meat is served raw, sliced thinly like a carpaccio. Meat, fat, and animal blubber are the order of the day.
The only exceptions to this carnivorous orgy are drink and dessert—the meal is washed down with a potent schapps made of potato and caraway, called Brennivin
, and followed with the thick yogurt-like Skyr
, served with berry and vanilla.
In the far north, where survival once depended on highly fatty foods and long-preserved meats, the Ţorrablót
festival marks the celebration of a tradition that dates back millennia. Life in Reykjavik may no longer revolve around rotting shark and whale blubber. But for one month, the memory is honored.