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Thorrablot; a feast of ram’s testicles, sheep face, and fermented shark.

thorrablot - photograph of traditional Icelandic food including a cooked sheep head.

Thorrablot; a feast of ram’s testicles, sheep face, and fermented shark.

by Lucky Byfleet

During the month of Thorri, which starts mid January, Icelanders have a festival called Þorrablót, or Thorrablot. It started many centuries ago as a midwinter festival, as so many cultures have, but it was abolished during kristnitaka – the conversion to Christianity in Iceland, as it was a pagan festival. The move to Christianity here is an incredible story in it’s own right, but, now, a thousand years later paganism is making a come back in Iceland, with it being the largest non-christian faith here, and the fastest-growing religion in the past decade.

During Thorrablot we eat a lot of meat, preserved in traditional ways, and using all the parts of the animal, and we mean all of them. Sour ram’s testicles are definitely a thing here, you can buy them in the local supermarket even! Don’t worry if you don’t eat meat though, Iceland does love to eat fish and lamb, but it is surprisingly vegan friendly.

At this time of year Icelanders come together to eat, drink, and be merry, whilst filling up on traditional Icelandic Thorrablot food. The drink of choice to wash the food down is a potato and caraway schnapps called Brennevin, which is affectionately nicknamed ‘Black Death.’

Thorrablot
By The blanz – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

So. Ram’s testicles. Yup. Súrsaðir hrútspungar. Which means sour ram’s testicles to be specific. These little delights are pressed in blocks, then boiled, and finally cured in lactic acid. After which they slice easily, and are easily wolfed down. Yum.

You won’t be in Iceland long before you hear about hákarl, the ‘rotten’ shark meat (It is actually more fermented but let’s not split hairs here) and you may have even heard about it before arriving onto our shores.

However, have you ever come across a boiled sheep’s head? Svið is eaten during Thorrablot of course, but is frequently found on dining tables throughout the year. It’s really tasty, but it can be a bit off-putting at fit seeing a face on your plate. Real Icelanders even eat the eyeball! It is also eaten as sviðasulta, translated to Sheep’s head jam, though it is more like a jelly. The meat is chopped up and preserved in gelatin. It’s beautiful cold, and a slice of it goes down a treat. It is often compared to the inside of a pork pie, or a traditional English raised pie.

Other culinary delights served at Thorrablot are things like blóðmör, a dark sheep’s blood sausage with course texture, not dissimilar to black pudding. Or lifrapylsa – literally a liver sausage, similar to the Scottish haggis as it is a ram’s stomach stuffed with fatty tissue and liver, mixed with oats and rye flour, then boiled until it’s ready to put into your own belly.

If you aren’t a meat-eater, or you just don’t want to brave these delicacies then why not try our gorgeous rúgbrauð, traditional rye bread, backed in the ground using the geothermal heat from the earth. Or mashed turnips! Whatever you chose to eat you enjoy you will also get to join in with traditional games, learn songs and listen to stories until the small hours. Ideally you want to find a tame Icelandic family to educate you in all matters Thorrablot however you will find a lot of restaurants here bring out special menus for this time of year, so you won’t miss out!

If you enjoyed reading about Thorrablot foods why not learn out our favourite Christmas foods here. To hear more about Icelandic culture come on one of our tours and chat to our enthusiastic and informative guides.

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