Every year on 23 December Icelanders celebrate St.Thorlakur’s Day (Thorláksmessa) with one of their most bizarre traditions – a feast of putrid skate fish! You may have already heard of the Icelanders’ proclivity for cooking-up some crazy dishes, but getting your other senses involved in some of their culinary specimens takes some courage! According to statistics around 40% of Icelanders are brave enough make a meal of this fish, which smells strongly of ammonia from the fermenting process. Although it really does stink to high heaven, it’s apparently known to be good for you. In fact the stronger the smell the better as far as the chefs are concerned, especially if it makes you cry and clears your sinuses while it’s cooking.
Now I’ve successfully avoided a confrontation with this foul smelling skate fish (skata) for many years, but alas I was caught off-guard this year and challenged by head chef Thórdur Nordfjörd at Restaurant Reykjavik to taste a sample! I’m not normally that brave but I summoned my inner Viking with two shots of Icelandic Brennivín schnapps and went for it! Fortunately it’s not half as bad as it smells, and when you take a bite it sort of bites you back making your tongue go slightly numb and giving you the ability to successfully finish a serving. I cleared my plate and feel like I won the tucker challenge! But now I wonder, what’s for pudding?
Photos by Roman Gerasymenko