Thursday, January 24, 2008

Christmas in Iceland - The Skata experience

There are experiences in life that can only be enjoyed in it´s original habitat. A good example is the Skata tradition in Iceland on the 23rd of December. My wife is of icelandic origin so I´ve had the pleasure of spending christmas several times in a wooden house far out in the countryside on the eastern side of the island. To be exact Stóra Sandfell close to Egilstaðir.
My father in law is a steady and persistent man who had a rather strong belief that for me to become a proper member of the family, I had to join in for the feast named Þorláksmessa (Mass of St.Thorlak patron saint of Iceland) were the fish skata is served according to ancient tradition. Perhaps not ancient according to the greeks but definately not 20th century either. So despite my recollections of the odor from his clothes returning home from Þorláksmessa previous years, the whole family joined this mass to make sure that we finally became one big happy smelling christmas family.
You might wonder how this glorious food looks like, so instead of bothering you with detailed descriptions, here´s a picture of a healthy skata plate.

Here is a exact description of what you see in the picture according to Iceland Review: It is so putrefied that when you take the first bite it will numb your nose and throat – so strong is the smell. The habitual way of cooking it is to boil it for about ten minutes. Then the fish is taken from the bones, some lamb fat mör is added, and then this sort of stew is served with boiled potatoes and brown rye bread.
Sound delicious doesn´t it? Remember that despite the rather strong smell the fish itself doesn´t taste as much. And how strange it may sound the preservation method is rather good for the stomach (base not acids), so it might be a good way to handle all the fat that could be served in the coming days of x-mas. I am Norwegian so putrefied food is not uncommon, so remember that I might be slightly biased here, but I really believe that it was OK. Not great, but not as expected from the smell of my father in law when he he came home from previous years Þorláksmessa.
Is it worth a trip to Iceland? No way! Is it worth eating to become a proper familymember? Indeed it is! But should you ever be in Iceland around christmas time you have to try it. Not because you wil fall in love with skata, but because travelling should evolve around experiencing local life and traditions. And it doesn´t get more Iceandic than skata. Just look at the picture of my father in law and you´ll understand. Thank you Jón for making me part of the family. See you next christmas for Þorláksmessa.

And here is the final proof of me enjoying skata. Hmm, delicious.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

The reason I read this is because I'm watching House Hunters International. The couple that is being featured is in Iceland. They were in a market and the man was telling his wife about skata. I Google it and this blog by you popped up. Interesting. Thanks for the enlightenment.