Þorrablót: the midwinter feast
During the old Norse month of Þorri, which in 2023 runs from January 20 to February 18, Icelanders toast to the old gods with a midwinter feast known as Þorrablót.
You eat what now?
The food of Þorrablót is called þorramatur (Þ in Icelandic makes a 'th' sound), and includes a wide array of preserved fare, delicious and, er, otherwise.
Icelandic favorites like hangikjöt (smoked lamb), harðfiskur (dried fish) and rúgbrauð (dark, sweet rye bread) share the buffet with treats that are more of an acquired taste:
- hákarl (fermented Greenland shark)
- hrútspungar (rams’ testicles)
- svið (singed sheep’s head)
- sviðasulta (headcheese made from svið)
- hvalsrengi (whale blubber)
- blóðmör (blood pudding)
- lifrarpylsa (liver-suet sausage)
Brennivín (Icelandic schnapps) is the drink of choice to wash this all down.
Because this traditional food was meant to be eaten through late winter, much of it is tough or otherwise undesirable pieces of the animal that have been preserved in mysa (fermented whey). The mysa both preserves the food and breaks down the proteins, which tenderizes the meat and makes it more palatable. That said, don’t expect the refined flavors of roast chicken. We’re still talking about face meat and testicles here. Feeling hungry?
Sample it for yourself
When the time is right to visit Iceland and your taste buds get curious, you can find Þorrablót menus (or a taste of þorramatur-style food) at some traditional restaurants around the country, including Café Loki, Íslenski barinn, Fjárhúsið, Múlakaffi and Þrír Frakkar in central Reykjavík. You can also find some of the treats in supermarkets.
Icelandic plate Loki, from Café Loki.
Find out more
There's a fascinating history behind Þorrablót, and its connection to two charming days in the Icelandic calendar:
Bóndadagur - Men's Day, in 2023 celebrated on January 20 and starting the season of Þorri.
Konudagur - Women's Day, in 2023 celebrated on February 19 and ushering in the new season of Góa.
These are days for women to pamper the men in their lives, and vice versa. The sentiments are similar to Valentine's Day, and flowers are often given.