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Just when you thought it was safe to order the appetizer
December 2, 2006 9:09 AM   Subscribe

OK, I’ve been a good American. I’ve done the turkey and stuffing routine for more than three decades now. But next year is gonna be different. Next year I shall celebrate Thanksgiving by flying out to Iceland, where I intend to harpoon a big ugly shark. My friends and I will then bury the bugger in a gravel pit. After several weeks, it’ll be good and rotten. Then we’ll hang the strips of meat up to dry. When it’s ready, we’ll slam down some shots of the local liquor and consume dainty little cubes of fermented shark flesh. We’ll finish the feast with pumpkin pie.
posted by jason's_planet (53 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Þorramatur is just another reason why, when the global apocalypse comes, the Icelanders will be the ones who survive us all.
posted by synaesthetichaze at 9:21 AM on December 2, 2006


I've heard that Icelandic rotten shark tastes, who would've thought, really horrible.
posted by jouke at 9:22 AM on December 2, 2006


I read somewhere that old shark smells and tastes "like you took rotten fish and added lots of ammonia". It would be surprising if anything good could come of that!

Then again I also sometimes wonder about the first person who saw an octopus and thought "yes, I want to eat that!"
posted by clevershark at 9:30 AM on December 2, 2006


It's really no weirder than good dry ham or salami, which ferment and grow mold as they cure. Pretty much every culture eats some sort of "rotten" meat or fish — and we all find each other's versions disgusting.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:34 AM on December 2, 2006


clevershark rent Oldboy for a true octopus feast! Or, if you aren't up for Korean Cinema watch this googlevid
posted by HyperBlue at 9:42 AM on December 2, 2006


Whoops here's the googlevid.
posted by HyperBlue at 9:43 AM on December 2, 2006


Probably still not as gross as lutefisk. I've noticed nearly all of these gross dishes are served with liquor. My guess is the whole point of this dish is to get people to drink more liquor by giving them an awful taste they need to wash out of their mouth.
posted by boaz at 9:47 AM on December 2, 2006


Þorramatur on wikipedia

Other examples of Þorramatur are Rams Testicles, Singed sheep faces and Blood pudding.

"Chef Anthony Bourdain, who has travelled extensively throughout the world sampling local cuisine for his Travel Channel show No Reservations, has described shark þorramatur as "the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing" he has ever eaten."

I'm icelandic, i've only gone to Þorrablót once since i was small (we used to live abroad when I was a child, and Þorrablót is much more popular with expats). I've tried the shark once, and i'm never doing it again. I sincerely doubt that anyone enjoys eating it. Shark and Brennivín liqor are usually consumed together, they're similarily foul, and you have a bite or drink of one to get rid of the taste of the other, until you're too drunk to care.

I heard somewhere that the Þorrablót tradition was was revived only forty or fifty years ago, and it's much more popular with the older generations.

Another local "delicacy" of note is Skata, or Skate. Those of us that can stand it eat it on a day called Þorláksmessa, the 23rd of December. It's fermented for months before serving, so as to make it less poisonous (or so my dad tells me), and when it's cooked, the whole house smells like stale urine for days afterwards. I can't really describe the taste, it's really unlike anything else, and it's the kind of thing you only really feel like eating about once a year.
posted by svenni at 9:49 AM on December 2, 2006 [2 favorites]


HyperBlue writes "rent Oldboy for a true octopus feast!"

That's been in my DVD collection for a while :-) I was a little surprised when I first learned that in Korean cuisine octopus can be eaten alive (one example in the USA, vid of Korean family enjoying a live octopus meal).
posted by clevershark at 9:59 AM on December 2, 2006


I've been to Iceland, and my fiance and I hope to return one day in the not-too-distant future. On our first visit, we failed to find a place that sold the fermented shark meat, but we ate enough Skyr to feed an army. Good stuff, that, and regrettably not available in North America...
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:59 AM on December 2, 2006


Every year when Þorri comes around my father will buy a nice selection of rotten shark, sour pickled ram's balls (and, when it was available, sour pickled whale blubber) and sheep-face paté (which is actually yummy).
And every year I feel less like an Icelander for not daring to touch the foul stuff.
Then there are those that aren't satisfied with this and add to this boiled, rotten ray(no, not this one, unfortunately). I have less than fond memories of having to tag along with my parents to Þorra dinner at my grandparents house, seeing as boiling a rotten ray will make your house smell like a pisspot left out in the sun. Seriously, I wonder why people don't get ammonia poisoning from entering a kitchen where this abomination is on the stove.

It's not all bad though. Scorched sheep face is delicious.
posted by aldurtregi at 10:00 AM on December 2, 2006


Great FPP but the food sounds disgusting
posted by growabrain at 10:05 AM on December 2, 2006


No, strike that Þorra dinner remark. I got my horrid cuisine memories mixed. Svenni's comment reminded me that those Skata (are ray and skate the same thing?) tortures were on Þorláksmessa, not Þorri.
posted by aldurtregi at 10:07 AM on December 2, 2006


Actually, you can buy Skyr in north america now, from Siggi's Skyr. They're just starting up, but I think you can find them in a place called Murray's Cheese in NY and at the South Village Real Food Market. I don't know when it goes into wider distribution.

Skyr is the only icelandic speciality food i'd reccomend to foreigners :)
posted by svenni at 10:08 AM on December 2, 2006


Again, who was the first person to try sheep face, and what was going through his mind?.. "well, we've slaughtered it, and I've taken the brains out... hmm, I can't just let that face go to waste!"
posted by clevershark at 10:12 AM on December 2, 2006


Again, who was the first person to try sheep face, and what was going through his mind?

Probably something along the lines of:

"I'm hungry. My loved ones are hungry. There is nothing else to eat. Let's get creative."
posted by jason's_planet at 10:16 AM on December 2, 2006


svenni, you tease! Doesn't look like you can order Skyr from the site you linked to, or at least not yet, but my girlfriend will be glad to hear there is at least one place in North America selling it...hopefully we'll find it in local grocery stores before too long. And we've been looking for a while, to the point where we called the company to see if they had distributed it to anyone selling in Toronto.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:25 AM on December 2, 2006


The closest I've come to this is Surströmming, which is fermented herring, and pretty extreme. I quite enjoyed that, but Þorramatur just seems a step too far... still, I'd try it if it was offered (the only foods I won't ever eat again are bananas and chicken gizzards).

Again, who was the first person to try sheep face, and what was going through his mind?..

Eating a sheep's face is worse than eating its legs? Eating face bits and stuff inside animal heads is pretty normal - lamb's tongues are delicious - and look cute! - pork cheeks and pig's ears are yummy, most brains are too, and Bath Chap is just divine, so is brawn (which Americans unsqueamishly call 'head cheese'). I had tongue for my lunch today (from a cow), in a sandwich with some piccallili.

The first cheese-eater is the one I wonder about - 'Hmmn, what's that stuff congealing in the stomach of this dead lamb/calf/kid - looks tasty!'
posted by jack_mo at 10:39 AM on December 2, 2006


Rotten shark, sheep face - who dreams this shit up?
posted by glycolized at 10:43 AM on December 2, 2006


> Rotten shark, sheep face - who dreams this shit up?

I think jason's_planet had it right...I would imagin many of these unlikely culinary "innovations" were born of necessity. Even the pickiest of eaters would be surprised by what they'd eat if they got hungry enough.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:49 AM on December 2, 2006


Rotten shark, sheep face - who dreams this shit up?

Iceland isn't exactly the breadbasket of Europe, you know.
posted by atrazine at 10:51 AM on December 2, 2006


Probably still not as gross as lutefisk. I've noticed nearly all of these gross dishes are served with liquor. My guess is the whole point of this dish is to get people to drink more liquor by giving them an awful taste they need to wash out of their mouth.

Well, most of these things are Scandinavian. Non-alcoholic liquids probably tended to freeze, so everything had to be a little bit boozy, just for potability.
posted by kafziel at 11:00 AM on December 2, 2006


Iceland isn't exactly in the breadbasket of Europe, you know.

that's because europe kept throwing it up ...
posted by pyramid termite at 11:26 AM on December 2, 2006


jack_mo writes "Eating a sheep's face is worse than eating its legs?"

Well, yes, because the sheep's legs don't look like sheep's legs by the time you eat them. The faces seem to stare back at you.
posted by clevershark at 11:44 AM on December 2, 2006


Meat is murder, ya'll.
posted by BillBishop at 11:49 AM on December 2, 2006


Skyr is sold at a variety of Whole Foods markets in the mid-atlantic anyway. (Although only a few flavors of the dozens available.)

Perhaps not specialty food, but icelandic butter (I don't now if "SMJÖR" is the icelandic word for "butter" or a brand name) is outstanding, as is their chocolate.

As for finding a place for the rotten shark, my understanding is the guy with the restaurant on the pier in the north of Reykjavik will sell it to you, grumpily.
posted by abulafa at 11:56 AM on December 2, 2006


Yes, delicious, delicious murder.
posted by Bort at 12:05 PM on December 2, 2006


BillBishop: "Meat is murder, ya'll."

It's even better if it's tripping when you take it to the slaughterhouse.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:27 PM on December 2, 2006


I kinda like Brennevin; goes well with tonic water. Everything else, not so much.

(And jack_mo, bananas?)
posted by dame at 12:32 PM on December 2, 2006


(from the 2nd link) "Putrefied shark can become spoiled."

You Think? But how does one tell?
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:39 PM on December 2, 2006


I <3 Iceland.
posted by Slothrup at 12:47 PM on December 2, 2006


As an Icelander, I say that there's nothing cuter than having a sheep stare at you while you chew its face off.

But macho posturing aside, I know lots of people who love Þorramatur. It actually seems to be getting more popular year by year. My father snacks on shark all the time and stinks up the entire house in the process.

Mostly these dishes are a relic of old-style food preservation. Salted and smoked lamb is also very popular and dried cod or haddock with butter is absolutely wonderful. Dairy products such as skyr, súrmjólk and mysa are also simply methods of preservation. Same with butter, which was in fact once used to pay taxes. If you make a big enough pile of butter, only the outside will rot, leaving the lucky official in question with a mountain of buttery goodness.
posted by Zero Gravitas at 12:47 PM on December 2, 2006


Oh, and I happen to have met the fellow who wrote the blog in the last link of the post. He really made an effort to appreciate the traditional cuisine, but ultimately came to the conclusion that it's all "fuck-with-the-foreigner" food.
posted by Zero Gravitas at 12:51 PM on December 2, 2006


Smjör is Icelandic for butter.

When I was a small kid (2-4) I used to love fermented shark. I haven't had it much since, so I can't really say whether I'd love it still.

Þorrablót is the traditional feast when people eat Þorramatur.
Þorri is the Old Norse month that went from late January into late February. Þorramatur means simply Þorri food, i.e. the food that gets eaten then. Þorrablót means Þorri's feast.

Like a lot of ancient traditions, it's a mish-mash revival of customs and is probably nothing like anything that people used to do back in the day (the day being pre-19th Century Iceland).
posted by Kattullus at 1:54 PM on December 2, 2006


So what exactly is this delicious skyr that people keep mentioning? Is it a type of yogurt?
posted by clevershark at 2:27 PM on December 2, 2006


Skyr is the only icelandic speciality food i'd reccomend to foreigners :)

for those of you pining over skyr (which is difficult to define, but those curious can have a read here), it can be made at home, though the best starter is a bit of leftover skyr (jo's icelandic recipes has one that looks about right--i.e. about the one i use--as well as recipes for a plethora of other things). the flavors are gaining popularity, but for me nothing can beat a bowl of plain skyr with brown sugar and milk.

while i'll wholeheartedly agree that icelanders certainly have their fair share of iffy food (i'll never forget the christmas i spent in my aunt's apartment when she prepared skata ... my cousin came home, opened the door, stood there for a beat, and then turned around and walked out. the apartment stank for days afterward), they've got a lot more good stuff than just skyr. hangikjöt with flatkökur and smjör is delicious, as is harðfiskur (dried haddock). i used to come home with suitcases full of mjölkurkex, opal and apollo lakkrís. piparkökur are similar to the ubiquitous swedish ginger cookie, but crisper, with a more intense flavor. pönnukökur are similar to crepes in thickness, but traditionally served either sprinkled with sugar and rolled up or spread with a thin layer of rhubarb jam and a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream, and folded into quarters. kleinur are twisty doughnuts flavored with kardemomme (cardamom), and wonderful with coffee.

if anyone knows where to find smjör around chicago, i'd love to know, even though the end result would be me, 40lbs heavier.

i'm planning to spend a couple of years there getting my citizenship sometime soon ... all this food talk is making me want to leave now.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 2:53 PM on December 2, 2006


Suddenly, stinky tofu doesn't sound so bad ...
posted by bwg at 4:19 PM on December 2, 2006


I would imagine many of these unlikely culinary "innovations" were born of necessity.

There's a scene in Little Deiter Needs to Fly where Deiter Dengler describes how he and his mother would collect wallpaper from the bombed out buildings in thier post-war German village, because "the glue contained nutrients." So I can see how seared sheep's face would be a culinary delight in comparison, although the name still makes me a little queasy.
posted by maryh at 5:50 PM on December 2, 2006


Human Behavior indeed.
posted by bardic at 5:58 PM on December 2, 2006


What sort of shark is pictured in the first link? Is that a basking shark? The reason I ask is that I saw a segment on a news program some time last week about swimming with basking sharks off of Keflavik. The folks interviewed in the story said that sightings of the fish were rare these days. I googled around a bit but the best evidence I could find that I did actually see this story was here.

Anyways, is this revolting dish always made with basking shark? Or will any shark do?

Don't get me wrong. I have no problem with eating threatened or endangered species as long as they're delicious. It just strikes me as a bit of waste if no one actually likes eating the stuff.
posted by GalaxieFiveHundred at 6:29 PM on December 2, 2006


Ah, I just noticed that Greenland Shark was one of the tags. Those seem to be doing ok.

I'm still curious if the type of shark matters. Y'know, just on the off chance that I actually do have a rotting basking shark buried out in the backyard. Can I eat it?
posted by GalaxieFiveHundred at 6:54 PM on December 2, 2006


I strongly believe that the shark listed in the first photo is a Greenland shark. It looks an awful lot like the photos I've seen of that species and they're the ones typically used for this recipe.

In any event, I just e-mailed the photographer (SamRag) to ask him if he remembered which type of shark his friend caught.

If I get a response from him, I'll share it here.
posted by jason's_planet at 7:04 PM on December 2, 2006


Faces. Oh thank god. I read it as feces.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:28 PM on December 2, 2006 [2 favorites]


I am so damn thankful that my life will likely never require choosing between eating rotten flesh or dying of starvation.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:42 PM on December 2, 2006


Just a note to say that live octopus is absolutely delicious - better, even, than cooked octopus - and also provides entertainment in the form of a plate of dancing tentacles. I'm just glad that octopi can't scream...

In Corea there is something a bit similar to Þorramatur, called hongeo-hwae (sorry, no hangeul on this keyboard). It's meat from a ray, or skate, that is aged and fermented. Smells like a combination of a clogged toilet and ammonia. I hear it's a taste that can be acquired in 5 or 6 encounters, but I've only had it twice, and I can safely say I haven't yet acquired the taste for it.

In Jeolla-nam-do (a southern provice), it is sold and priced based on how long it's been aged. Rad.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:09 PM on December 2, 2006


thanks, the luke parker fiasco , for your description of Icelandic desserts - they sound delicious and the only edible thing so far in the thread. Then again, I come from a country that has poutine, so who am I to talk, right?

five fresh fish - ain't that the truth. Thank heaven for non-rotten shark mercies... Chaqu'on a son gout, I suppose ('to each his own...taste')

(great FPP too - nice to read about someone else's culture for a change)
posted by rmm at 10:30 PM on December 2, 2006


MMmmmm, this post is making me hungry. I'm gonna go fry up some crap I found behind the fridge in old dishwater.
posted by tehloki at 1:32 AM on December 3, 2006


bwg writes "Suddenly, stinky tofu doesn't sound so bad ..."

Yeah, nothing beats the experience of wandering through one of Taipei's night markets and suddenly wondering if everyone around you has suddenly thrown up, but then realizing that you're just next to a stinky tofu stand.

I had snake while I was there. The meat is the consistency of chicken, but it really lacked taste, and it's tricky to eat because the snake's ribs are thin and pointy like a fish's spine.
posted by clevershark at 1:59 AM on December 3, 2006


skyr... can be made at home, though the best starter is a bit of leftover skyr

And nobody knows how they made the first batch...
posted by chrismear at 5:53 AM on December 3, 2006


I strongly believe that the shark listed in the first photo is a Greenland shark. It looks an awful lot like the photos I've seen of that species and they're the ones typically used for this recipe.

In any event, I just e-mailed the photographer (SamRag) to ask him if he remembered which type of shark his friend caught.

If I get a response from him, I'll share it here.


Oh, I have no reason to doubt that it's a Greenland Shark. I wouldn't know one way or the other. I hadn't noticed the tag when I made my first comment. Thanks for indulging my curiosity though.
posted by GalaxieFiveHundred at 10:43 AM on December 3, 2006


The drunker you get, the better fermented shark tastes. And it tastes even better the second time coming out. The magnificent grandeur of the Icelandic landscape makes puking in glacial run off somehow...enbiggening.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:41 AM on December 4, 2006


You know what they've said: start your day with Þorramatur and things can only get better!
posted by five fresh fish at 5:41 PM on December 4, 2006


Thanks to everyone who contributed, favorited and otherwise enjoyed this post
posted by jason's_planet at 7:05 PM on December 8, 2006


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