Akureyri, Iceland’s “capital of the north” is also a good place to enjoy the country’s traditional cuisine, with dishes such as smoked lamb (hangikjöt), marinated herring (sild) or rye bread (rugbraud).
More heavy duty dishes such as rotted shark (hákarl), ram’s testicles (hrutspungarand), and sour seal flippers (selshreyfar) are normally just eaten at the traditional midwinter festival of Thorrablot in January. Rotted shark is one of those dishes that you smell before you see, although you can practically see the smell.
The best thing you can say about it is that it doesn’t taste as bad as it smells. But that is only because it smells very, very bad indeed, with an acrid taint of ammonia. A shot of the local firewater, Brennivín (a form of schnapps often called “Black Death”) is an essential to help it down. Or keep it down. These dishes originated from preservation methods designed to last through the long winters but, as Jens says: “We have freezers now so why would you want to eat that s**t? It’s for the tourists.”
Those long, dark days of winter, when the sun disappears for 21 hours, contrast with 21 hours of sunlight at the height of summer. Icelandic author Jón Kalman wrote: “April comes to us with a first-aid kit and tries to heal the wounds of winter.” The ever-changing extremes of weather and landscapes of Iceland are an endless balm to the soul and one can hope it is one country that will never be finished, clinging to the storm-lashed edge of Europe as a reminder that nature still shapes – and rules – the world.
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