Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Day We Ate Svið (Sheep Head) in Iceland

Introducing, the dish that gave me 3 days of nightmare. Hence, I felt like it deserves a special blog post. 
Svið is a traditional Icelandic peasant food. In English, it is called a singed or charred sheep head. I’ve never thought that I would bring myself to try a dish this barbaric, but since I've decided to go native all the way, I wanted to eat what the Icelanders eat during the hard times. In fact, it might not be as bad as it looks. Food does not need to be pretty, it needs to be tasty.  

Just like the cod’s head, Svið exists because, during hungrier times, people could not afford wasting food, and tend to eat every last bit of the slaughtered animals. This explains about the ram's testicles too. 

The preparation of the dish is what I call “a Fuss”. Firstly, the chef has to burn off the fur, slice the sheep’s head in half lengthwise (ouch!) , de-brain it (what the...) and then boil the whole thing until the flesh is fully cooked. 

Now it's throwback time. 

It was 7.30 in the morning when we reached BSI. We were hungry and we needed our breakfast (first meal of the day, huge mistake), fast. Jeanne asked the waiter would it be long for them to prepare the dish and we were told that they just need to pop it into the microwave. Just a few minutes.   

When the plate of sheep's head hit the table, we took a good few minutes just staring at that poor animal. I sensed a shiver going down my spine. There it was on the plate, a sheep's head with its eye closed and mouth slightly opened, served together with a generous serving of mashed potatoes and rutabaga jelly

sheep head
Sheep head and its rosy cheeks.
We hesitated for a while before stabbing our forks into the cheek, pulling out a piece of meat. In fact, I think that was the only piece of acceptable meat found on the head. We both took a bite and that’s it. We read on the internet that the meat should be tender and tasty as long as you don’t think about what you are eating but no…. no, our sheep's head tasted like…. well, SHEEP! 

We looked at each other in the eyes and Jeanne stood up to refill our cola. I turned the sheep head over and was baffled. This thing still has its tongue attached to it! Poking the dynamic tongue with my fork, I felt a gush of I-don’t-know-what rushing up my esophagus. 

sheep's head, tongue
And that's the tongue...
Are you going to eat that? ” I asked pushing the plate towards Jeane, only to get a long pause and then an equally cowardly answer “We don’t have time for this. The bus is here.” I took a deep breath and went for the eye, the part which many Icelanders consider to be the best. Sticking the knife into its eye slit, I swear I could felt the rubbery content it held… I blinked a few times and then put down the knife. I couldn’t do this. 

Let’s just eat the acceptable part and get going.” We agreed and immediately dug into the jelly at the side, leaving the sheep head behind. The free cola refill literally held our stomach from turning 180 degrees. But believe me, you'll be proud that you've gotten over it, someday.   

svid, Iceland strange food

My jaw dropped to the ground when I was told a few days later that in October, there will be a charred sheep’s heads feast in the town of Ísafjörður in Westfjords, Iceland. Not only that, upgraded versions of the horrifying dish will be served. If you think singed sheep's head is bad enough, wait til you find out there is "Slegin svið", which is…… wait for it: rotten sheep’s head! 

For a dish to have its own festival, and for it to be part of the midwinter Þorrablót celebrations, Icelander must be loving this dish. We don't, so... are we the weird ones? On second thought, maybe I’d one day love the dish, after a few more servings (a.k.a. practice), but certainly not today. 

What you should know when eating a sheep head
1. Leave the ear alone. According to old Icelandic beliefs, people will accuse you of theft if you eat the ear. 
2. Another superstitious belief states that if the tiny bone underneath the tongue is not broken, a baby will become mute for the rest of his/her life. 
3. People make jelly out of the sheep head too. If you are determined to try every single strange dish in Iceland, head to Cafe Loki in front of Hallgrímskirkja cathedral.  

Where to get it: 
Fljótt og Gott (Fast and Good) cafeteria 
Vatnsmyrarvegur 10 Umferdarmidstodin 
BSÍ bus terminal 
Reykjavik 101 Iceland. 
***It can also be bought at the drive-thru counter.

Iceland sheep's head, svio
Jeane with her beloved sheep head. 

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Thank You for Reading! 
This post is based solely on my honest opinion or personal experience. Many might find the sheep's head a delicacy, I blame this on my picky Malaysian taste buds.  
If you have a different opinion, feel free to share your thoughts with me by commenting below!

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