My five-year-old nephew came home from kindergarten the other day, telling me he had eaten shark. And that he had liked it. What is even more interesting is that he is not alone, at least not here in Iceland.
During the midwinter month of Þorrinn, which runs from late January through late February, family, friends, co-workers all come together at gatherings called Þorrablót.
There is plenty of drinking brennivín, eating Þorri food such as putrefied shark (Game of Thrones actor Kit Harington mentioned in an interview with Jimmy Kimmel that he believed it to be a practical joke Icelanders played on foreigners—it’s not) and a number of other dishes made from such things as ram balls, sheep heads and eyes. Personally I prefer the stock fish.
This tradition is rooted in Icelandic history. The winters on this cold island were never easy. Ships struggled to get here with supplies and people lived in turf houses all around the country. With this being the case people had no choice but to use every method to prevent food from going bad.
Even the name ‘Þorrablót’ is a symbol of the history that surrounds Iceland. There are a number of theories as to where the word Þorri originates. It might be connected to words such as þurr meaning dry, or to the Norse God of thunder, Þór, or Thor.
Blót, meaning ‘sacrifice’ is a word used in the widespread worship of the Norse gods that was practiced here until the year 1000 when Iceland was Christianized. The act of blót included rituals where animals were sacrificed.
Nowadays we go through life at high speed. Phone glued to the face as we post a picture on Instagram or try to complete level 140 in Candy Crush. Yet this tradition is still kept alive in Iceland.
It might be that we are stubborn and proud of our history. Or it might be because our taste buds are too numb from the cold weather to register the real taste of rotten shark.
Whatever it is, I recommend visitors to Iceland look into this fascinating tradition and perhaps try to join a Þorrablót or two.
Anna Guðjónsdóttir – annagaua(at)gmail.com
Anna is currently in her first year of a MA in Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Iceland.