19 December 2005

'tis the season for eating

I just had a discussion at lunch about the latest holiday delicacy, skate. This is a must-eat on December 23, and of course, like most traditional Icelandic food, it’s been preserved in a high-tech way. When I asked my co-workers about it, one said, “they just put it in a corner for a while.”

This is starting to sound good, isn’t it? Apparently you can prop it up outside for a few months or inside for a few weeks, and there is a chemical in the fish that doesn’t make it rot like most things (we think it's ammonia). If this isn’t enough, they add “hnoðmör”, which my dictionary failed to translate. Consultation with the coworkers explained that this is fat from a sheep that comes from the abdominal area. The rotten fish wasn’t enough on its own- gotta add stomach fat to that! I think I will eat some boiled lumberjack socks (post sweaty wearing) instead!

The majority of the most traditional foods here are really a reflection of the barely-squeaking-by history of the country, where anything edible, even the most wretched, was a cause for celebration. As one man-of-few-words coworker put it, “they served the really horrible stuff just before Christmas so whatever people got on Christmas day seemed delicious in comparison.”

Since I am still thinking about our trip, I thought about how the Czech holiday treats compared. The plentiful raw materials they have to work with combined with the historical prosperity of the country has expressed itself in the wealth of deliciously edible foods, such as hot mulled wine, meringues, fruit-filled buns, and creamy soups. Iceland is coming along though- we now have jólaöl, which is malt extract mixed with orange soda. Nothing says Yuletide like orange soda, don’t you think?

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