This post is going to be a mishmash of short stories about interesting, strange, and obscure Icelandic facts.
I posted a little about food before – namely, eating smoked puffin and raw reindeer – but there is so much more to say about what people eat here. I’ll discuss just a few dishes I have
enjoyed experienced over the past week.
Skyr is Icelandic yogurt, but it’s technically a cheese. It’s really, really thick – thicker than Greek yogurt by a long shot – and comes in just as many flavors as yogurt in the US, if not more. It’s a staple here. It is incredibly high in protein, and it is usually delicious, though this does depend on the flavor and type (I had a Skyr smoothie that kind of tasted like bad chocolate milk, so it’s not all amazing). Each serving-size container comes with its own little spoon, too, which is super convenient for the traveling person who generally lacks utensils.
I was reading about Skyr (not because I’m a huge nerd, but because there was an article about it on the wall of my hostel…) and I learned that the first form of Skyr was actually discovered by accident. Back in the day, Icelandic farmers were pondering different ways they could preserve meat. One of their experiments involved pouring skim milk all over a barrel of meat and leaving it there for several months to see what would happen. During the winter, the farmers got super hungry and ate the preserved meat-milk which had become thick and chunky. Gross? Maybe. (Wait, yes, that’s definitely gross). Creative? Totally, and it led to really delicious, high-protein yogurt that I’ve eaten every day for breakfast.
Hannah and I call Skyr an Icelandic Cheese Pot. Because technically that’s what it is. “Now that you’ve had your coffee, are you ready to eat an Icelandic Cheese Pot?”
Yes, it’s just as unappetizing as it sounds. But not to the Icelanders. It’s on every menu, and the traditional way to eat it is cold, washed down with a shot of ice-cold brennivín.
Here is a link that describes how to putrefy shark meat: How to Putrefy Shark Meat. A preview of the website:
Take one large shark, gut and discard the innards, the cartilage and the head. Cut flesh into large pieces. Wash in running water to get all slime and blood off. Dig a large hole in coarse gravel, preferably down by the sea and far from the nearest inhabited house – this is to make sure the smell doesn’t bother anybody…When the shark is soft and smells like ammonia, remove from the gravel, wash, and hang in a drying shack…
No, not at all yum.
Putrefied shark tastes like rotten fish mixed with Windex – because it’s rotten shark, and sharks urinate through their skin. All these flavors then combine and strengthen during the putrefaction process. I ate one piece and was done for life. Hannah had a similar reaction.
There aren’t any.
I have yet to find a real salad here. Most menus don’t even have any vegetable-centered plates. Everything is very fish and meat heavy. Lots of dairy. It’s all high in protein, but no greens! This makes sense, as nothing green and leafy really grows here, but still. I am thankful I found a grocery store so I could at least buy some fruit. With the exception of Skyr, I am not a fan of Icelandic food. But that’s probably because I eat what most people call rabbit food all year long.
The Icelandic Phallological Museum (Penis Museum)
This doesn’t really need much of a description. The pictures below tell all. However, the website is worth a read. An excerpt from www.phallus.is:
Phallology is an ancient science which, until recent years, has received very little attention in Iceland, except as a borderline field of study in other academic disciplines such as history, art, psychology, literature and other artistic fields like music and ballet…Now, thanks to The Icelandic Phallological Museum, it is finally possible for individuals to undertake serious study into the field of phallology in an organized, scientific fashion…The Icelandic Phallological Museum contains a collection of more than two hundred and fifteen penises and penile parts belonging to almost all the land and sea mammals that can be found in Iceland.
It’s a special place.
The museum’s founder and curator also have interesting tales. For example, the curator is proud to be a second-generation phallologist. That’s because he’s the founder’s son. Phallology: it’s a family business.
And this wasn’t in the museum. It was on the street in Reykjavik. But I still think it’s a fitting way to end this post: