Thorrablot - Gastro Obscura

Food Festivals


This midwinter food festival honors Iceland's pagan history.

Before the 10th century, Icelanders worshiped the Æsir, or Norse gods. During their calendar month of Thorri (which runs from mid-January to mid-February), locals celebrated Thorrablot, a midwinter festival named for either Norwegian king Thorri Snærsson or the God of Thunder himself, Thor.

After Norwegian king Olaf Tryggvason Christianized Iceland in 1000 AD, pagan beliefs and practices faded away. But in the late 19th century, a group of Icelandic students resurrected Thorrablot. Icelanders really put the holiday back on the map (and restaurant menus) after World War II, when a rise in nationalism gave way to a cultural revival.

Locals mark the occasion with traditional Thorrablot foods. But the feast that ensues is no standard fare—unless you’re a Viking. Smoked, salted, dried, pickled, and rotten meats are the star of the show, including traditional favorites such as pickled ram’s testicles, rotten shark meat (hákarl), boiled sheep’s head (svið), dung-smoked lamb (hangikjöt), and wind-dried white fish (harðfiskur). For the faint of stomach, smoked salmon, sausages, rye bread, and flat bread are also on the menu. Participants wash it all down with brennivín, a potent local liquor that’s fondly referred to as “Black Death.”

After dinner, Icelandic families sing traditional songs, play games, tell stories, and party until the early hours of morning. Who could resist partying like a Viking after eating like one?

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