Þorramatur (Thorramatur, food of the þorri) is a selection of traditional Icelandic food, consisting mainly of meat and fish products cured in a traditional manner, cut into slices or bits and served with rúgbrauð (dense and dark rye bread), butter and brennivín (an Icelandic akvavit). Þorramatur is consumed during the ancient Nordic month of þorri (Thorri), in January and February, particularly at the mid-winter feast of Þorrablót (Thorrablot) as a tribute to old culture. Being thus connected with the tradition of Þorrablót festivals, Þorramatur is most often served as a buffet.
1. Shark meat – buried in the ground and allowed to putrify
2. Black pudding – a sausage made from blood
3. Pickled ram’s testicles
4. Sheep’s fat
5. Jellied ham
6. Singed and jellied sheep’s head
7. Dried fish
8. Smoked lamb
Almost everything you find on a typical Þorri buffet is made from lamb or mutton, with a few exceptions. The food can be separated into two categories: sour and non-sour. The sour food has been pickled in extra strong skyrmysa (whey) for several weeks. The trick is to get it sour enough to tell where it’s been, but not so sour that you can’t tell what it is. Most of the sour food is also served non-sour. In the old days, sour milk was sometimes uses instead of mysa.
Kæstur hákarl, putrefied Shark, served in small cubes. It is prepared by burying it for several weeks, and then hanging it up and allowing it to dry. The semi-opaque flesh of the belly is called glerhákarl (glassy shark), and is not nearly as popular as the skyrhákarl, which is flesh from the body of the fish. Skyrhákarl draws its name from its resemblance in appearance to the Icelandic curds called skyr. The tough glerhákarl is recommended for beginners, as the soft skyrhákarl has been known to cause an involuntary gagging reaction due to its texture. Wash down with a shot of cold Brennivín (caraway schnapps). Believe it or not, this is actually good for the digestion – especially before eating the heavy Þorri food.
–Súrsaðir hrútspungar, the testicles of rams pressed in blocks, boiled and cured in lactic acid. Has little taste of it’s own, and a texture reminiscent of pressed cod roe.
Svið, singed and boiled sheep heads. The name refers to the tradition of burning away all the hair from the head before cooking. This gives the meat a smoky flavour. The heads are cut in half lengthwise and the brains removed before cooking. Like hangikjöt, this is also quite a popular dish outside the Þorri season.
Sviðasulta, head cheese or brawn made from svið. This is quite good when pickled, and delicious fresh. It is made by cutting up the meat from cooked sheep’s heads (svið), pressing into moulds and cooling. The cooking liquid turns into jelly when cold, and keeps the whole thing together.
Lifrarpylsa (liver sausage), a sausage made from the offal and liver of sheep kneaded with rye flour
Blóðmör (also known as slátur, meaning slaughter), a type of blood pudding, which is prepared like lifrarpylsa without the liver and adding blood.
Both are cooked before pickling. Both are quite good when fresh, but take on wholly different taste when pickled, which people either love or loathe. Both contain rye meal, which contributes to the souring process and creates a special kind of taste that’s hard to describe. Both are quite firm when fresh, but will take on a crumbly texture after extended pickling. These can actually be pickled in water or milk, as the rye meal causes a souring action similar to whey.
Kartöflustappa – mashed potatoes. This hopefully needs no explanation.
Rófustappa – mashed rutabagas. These are boiled until soft, mashed and sweetened with sugar.
Harðfiskur, wind-dried fish (often cod, haddock or seawolf), beaten to soften it and served with butter beaten to soften it. In olden times harðfiskur was eaten like bread in those homes that could only afford flour for baking on special occasions. It is still Iceland’s favourite snack, and a popular travel food. (Chances are, if you meet an Icelander and he has a funny smell about him, it will be because of the harðfiskur tucked away in his luggage).
Kryddsíld, marinated herring (both plain and in several different kinds of sauce)
Rúgbrauð (rye bread), traditional Icelandic rye bread. Sometimes baked in holes in the ground where there is hot steam coming up.
Top with pickled herring for an entrée, eat on the side with the main courses.
Flatbrauð – flat rye bread, served with butter.
Hangikjot, (hung meat), smoked and boiled lamb or sheep meat
Hangikjöt – hanging.
Hangikjöt – boiled and ready to eat.
Lundabaggi, sheep’s loins wrapped in the meat from the sides, pressed and cured in lactic acid
Hvalspik or whale blubber. This became hard to find after the parliament passed a law forbidding whaling several years ago. It has made a small comeback recently, due to the whaling ban being lifted. Fresh whale blubber is stringy and tough, but pickling it makes it soft and more digestible.
Bringukollar – breast meat. These are cuts of really fat meat on the bone, which have been boiled before pickling. As the name suggests, these pieces come from the breast of the animal.
Selshreifar, seal’s flippers cured in lactic acid
Magálar – heavily smoked sheep’s bellies. Eaten like hangikjöt.
Trog – the “plate” to put the food on when serving. It’s made of wood.
And this is what it looks like with the thorri food on.
And this is another serving size … he must be hungry.
Brennivín – caraway schnapps, locally known as Svartidauði – “Black Death”. These days many people will rather drink vodka and/or whisky – which they claim tastes better.
Bjór – beer and its relatives, Malt (non-alcoholic brown ale) and Lageröl (pale ale). During the beer-less years (several decades), the only ale allowed in Iceland was the low-alcohol Malt and Lageröl. Since we have been allowed to drink beer again, it has become “the drink” for many at Þorrablót feasts. These days you can even buy special Þorri beer.
Mysa – whey. Yes, it can also be drunk. Before the arrival of carbonated beverages, this was the refreshment of choice. Unfortunately, it is not much used as a drink anymore. The taste? It is reminiscent of dry white wine, and mysa can actually be used instead of white wine in cooking, without anyone noticing the difference.