Þorrablót, a tradition is celebrated in Iceland
From the beginning of the settlement of Iceland in the ninth century, people had to make precautions for feed themselves during the long cold winters. Up to eight months a year there was hardly any fresh food. The Icelanders were forced to stockpile food and take various measures to preserve it. It wasn´t until freezers for household were invented in the 20th century that it became possible to preserve food over a longer period of time.
Salt was not available in Iceland
The Icelanders had to be particularly creative. It was already known at that time that meat and fish could be preserved by salting them. But salt was already a treasure on the European continent. It was not available in remote Iceland. Instead of salt, the Icelanders had the brilliant idea to make whey from skimmed milk naturally sour within a few days. With the sour whey one could make cooked meat products sour and thus durable in big bins of barrels.
Another method to increase the shelf life of food was drying. Above all fish was made durable with it. A very special form of preservation was applied to sharks, by fermenting the urine containing shark “meat”, based on the fact that sharks have no kidneys and deliver the urine through the skin.
Icelandic fish as an export article
Later, when salt was also easy to get in Iceland, both the meat and the fish were preserved in this way. Salted cod was exported as “Bacala” to southern European countries. In addition, salted food could be further processed by smoking it. As such, they still enjoy the reputation of excellent food today, whether as smoked leg of lamb (Hangikjöt – smoked meat) or as precious smoked char/ salmon.
With the introduction of freezing technology, in about the first half of the last century, “survival in winter” became much easier. It didn’t last long until the ancient way of storing food was half a way forgotten. In the 1950s, clever and probably historically inclined restaurant operators came up with the idea of organising festivities where this food, preserved in the old style and already known as “traditional food”, was served. Since then these festivities have been called “Þorrablót”, pronounced like Thorrablot.
Þorrablót is a cult
These Þorrablót events have experienced a real boom in the past 70 years. Even today people celebrate “as if there was no tomorrow”. Every club, every community, every family or group of friends celebrates Þorrablót at least once in the month of Þorri. This month belongs to the old time registration, when the months had names close to nature, like Góa (goodness), Heyannir (hay harvest) and Mörsugur (fat sucker). Only the meaning of Þorri can not be easily interpreted. But one can imagine this name referring to a cold and rough man. The month Þorri is in the middle of winter, in the hardest part of the year. The ancient month Þorri starts on a Saturday, the “Bondadagur” -the man’s day, around the 20th of January and lasts until the Women’s day comes, a Sunday close to 20th of February. It is said that if you manage this month, you will have survived the winter. The word Þorrablót means an eating fete in the month Þorri, enriched with music and dance.
Icelanders let it really crack
Þorrablót is thus a gourmet orgy, where the singed sheep’s heads (or sheep’s head brawn for the sissies), the acidified mutton testicles, the fermented shark, the pickled herring, the soured mush of the sheep and/or soured whale skin fat, the dried fish and the raw smoked meat of the lamb (Hangikjöt) is eaten with the greatest pleasure. The digestion of this rich and fat meal can be significantly eased by rounding it off with a sip -or a load- of the Icelandic schnapps Brennivín. The schnapps, that some people see as a reward for a successful consumption of these delicacies, is also known by its nickname “Black Death”.
Þorrablót in Iceland like Oktoberfest in Germany
It is a very interesting development, that Þorrablót has taken over the years: from a necessity to survive the long winters over to a festival, which enjoys a similar status with the locals as the Oktoberfest in Germany. Maybe Þorrablót will become a tourist magnet like the Oktoberfest in the future, although this cuisine might not be as suitable for the masses as Bavarian beer and Bavarian snack?
If you want to get your own impression of Þorrablót, you can rent one of our holiday homes and enjoy the traditional Icelandic food there. Here you can discreetly taste the various items, without exposing yourself to the scoffing eyes of the locals, if your food doesn’t seem quite right to you. You can buy this delicious food :-), normally called “Þorramatur”, in portions e.g. in the restaurant Múlakaffi (https://www.mulakaffi.is/is/veislumatsedlar/thorramatur) or – in smaller amounts as precaution – in different supermarkets in Iceland, e.g. “Krónan” (kronan.is) and Bonus (bonus.is)
Enjoy your meal!