Around 20 January begins the old Nordic month Þorri. During the month Icelanders and people of Icelandic descent around the world gather for a þorrablót—a celebration of Iceland’s more peculiar culinary traditions. Sour ram's testicles, fermented shark and boiled sheep’s heads, to name but a few dishes, might not be to everyone’s liking, but they are an important part of Icelandic history.
Professor in Folklorist at the University of Iceland Terry Gunnell explains that the þorrablót is in fact not an ancient ritual, but a part of a nation searching for an identity.
“The modern þorrablót traces back to the mid 19th century, which was a time when the independence movement was taking shape,” Gunnell explains. “At the time people were attempting to create a national identity that differentiated Icelanders from Danes. The food people would have at a þorrablót harkens back to Iceland’s “golden age” of the vikings, which is also the last time Iceland was an independent nation.”
Þorri begins during a time when not much happens, it is the coldest time of the year and Christmas is over. That also ties into the food which, as Gunnell explains, is “basically leftovers of what people had during Christmas.” Some of the milder tasting foods served at a þorrablót are enjoyed year round. Hangikjöt (hung meat) is smoked and boiled lamb that is often served with mashed turnips at festive occasions. Harðfiskur is wind dried fish jerky that people enjoy as a snack and is often served with butter, and the liver sausage lifrarpylsa goes along great with the blood pudding blóðmör for dinner.
A longer version of this article by Elías Þórsson appears in Nordic Kultur 23/24.