Five Bizarre Foods in Iceland

by Marilyn Villanueva

Volunteers can get to know more about Iceland by tasting the nation’s traditional foods. Due to the country’s proximity to the ocean, most of their cuisines include fish, and many others dishes, lamb and dairy. However, for adventurous eaters or those with a thing for strange cuisines, Iceland offers much more than fish, lamb, and dairy. Throughout the country there are some traditional Icelandic foods that are downright bizarre and a must try for those volunteering in Iceland.

Svið: a sheep's head, sawed in half, singed and then cooked (with the brain removed), served with mashed turnips and mashed potatoes (the balls). Taken at BSÍ, Reykjavík, and then eaten.
Svið: a sheep's head, sawed in half, singed and then cooked (with the brain removed), served with mashed turnips and mashed potatoes (the balls). Taken at BSÍ, Reykjavík, and then eaten. Photo Courtesy of Schneelocke flikr

Singed Sheep Head (Svið)

This dish is made by slicing a sheep’s head into two halves and removing the brains. Next the sheep’s head is cooked in an open fire or direct heat to remove the fur. Singed Sheep Head is commonly eaten among Icelandic people and most frequently served during the Þorrablót mid-winter festival. The cheek part is usually said to be meaty and the most tasty. The hardest part about eating this food is looking the sheep straight in the eyes while eating various parts of its’ head. Eating this strange food comes with strange old Icelandic beliefs, for example eating the sheep’s ear is seen as taboo because it would lead people to accuse you of being a thief.

Pickled Ram's Testicles (Súrsaðir Hrútspungar)

A dish made of lamb’s testicles pressed into blocks, boiled, and cured in lactic acid. Dominated by a sour taste due to the acid and a naturally spongy texture. Pickled ram’s testicles is one of the traditional Þorramatur dishes, eaten during winter as a tribute to old Icelandic culture.

Blood Pudding (Blódmör)

Made of lamb blood and suet, the hard white fat on lamb’s kidneys and loins, this dish is usually mixed with flour and oats to create a pudding. As with many Icelandic foods, this mixture is boiled and then fried. Production of this food is abundant during slaughtering season in fall, where the suet and lambs blood is widely available.

Fermented Shark (Kæstur Hákarl)

The main ingredient of this dish is the Greenland shark, or basking shark, which is surprisingly poisonous. To prepare the dish, the shark is buried in a shallow hole with the heads removed for six to 12 weeks. After this curing period, the shark is cut into strips and hung to dry for four to five months (talk about preparations.) Some say it tastes similar to cheese, but first timers often have to get over the smell before their taste buds can indulge.

Cod Dried Fish

Cod, Dried Fish

Cod Tongues (Soðnar Gellur)

The name of this Icelandic food is deceiving, you don’t actually eat the cod’s literal tongue, because cod’s don’t have actual tongues. This dish is primarily made up of the meaty, triangular muscle behind and under “the tongue”. To prepare the muscle, it has to be soaked in cold water overnight. Then the cook must scrape off the slime (Yum!) and boil it for 10 to 15 minutes, after which it’s ready for serving. The cod has played a vital role in Icelandic cuisines for centuries. The food name can be pretty misleading so if you dare to try it, it may surprise you!

Why is Icelandic Food Sometimes Bizarre?

For the most part, Icelanders try to be economical when it comes to their food because the nation’s weather doesn’t always allow them a great deal of variety. Take for example, the lamb. From its head and internal organs to the animals blood, Icelandic people put to use nearly every single part in their cuisines. It makes for some bizarre dishes, but they are still distinct cuisines not available any other place in the world!