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Stinky fish day

Fermented Skate/Ray

Great to wash your mouth with beer after eating this delicacy

Ray, rutabaga, potatoes, and brown bread


Melting the lamb fat with the crunchy membrabes

On the 23rd of December, we celebrate Þorláksmessa, stinky fish day

This was the day Þorlákur the Bishop of Skálholt church, announced a holy man in 1198,  5 years after his death. Icelanders took up Christianity from the heathen religion and became Catholic in the year 1000 at Þingvellir, the fields of Parliament. 

We converted to Luteren, like many Northern European countries in the 16th century. The Catholic way of fasting before Christmas, by not eating meat, and eating bad fish on the 23rd of December has survived the change of religion. 

It has been popular to eat fermented Ray/Skate on Þorláksmessa, this was a common dish before, and many people cooked and ate this meal once a week. The ray has it in common with other cartilage fish that after a few days after it is caught, it starts smelling of ammonia, when kept dry and salted it does not get any worse with age. 

The urine smell of the fish should tell you not to eat it, but people in Iceland way back were often starving, when you are hungry enough you are ready to try anything. Somebody ate it and did not get sick or die, so it was added to the menu of Icelanders and later became a delicacy.

It is like many of our old local foods, boiled, served with boiled potatoes, boiled rutabaga, and melted butter or lamb fat with crunchy membranes, It is probably a good thing to eat this only once a year 

I like to warn you nonadventure eaters not to try this local delicacy. If you have a sensitive nose stay away from downtown Reykjavík on the 23rd, when a lot of restaurants are cooking stinky fish and the aroma fills the air 

When I ran a restaurant downtown Reykjavík my Bulgarian friends working there, believed this was some kind of a manhood trial to be able to eat this “delicacy”

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Edmund Fu
Edmund Fu
Dec 24, 2023

In Hong Kong, we have stinky bean curd. Street hawkers used to sell this in the streets, though nowadays such hawkers are very very rare. You can smell the dirty smell yards and yards away. But when you put such in your mouth, the taste is quite good actually.

Replying to

Thank you, Edmund, this is the same, it takes a while to get used to it, but when you are, you get hooked

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