Einar Þór Gustafsson

Espresso and whisky drinking foodie that likes to run up mountains and swim in the cold ocean. Co-founder of Getlocal 

3 minute read 23 Dec 2017

Eating smelly fish, an Icelandic Christmas tradition

Ever heard of the rotten icelandic shark? Well that’s like baby food when compared to the rotten stingray (skate) that Icelanders devour on the December 23rd a day known as Þorláksmessa when Icelanders celebrate their patron saint, Thorlak.

The Getlocal team visited one of Reykjavik’s most beloved restaurants, Þrír frakkar, a family restaurant that has been serving local fish, lamb, horse, whale, puffin and stingray for more than 25 years. In order to get a seat at their feast on Þorláksmessa you need to order at least 3 months ahead, but it’s well worth it.

Rotten stingray (kæst skata)

Rotten stingray or kæst skata as Icelanders call them has been served for hundreds of years, mostly due to the fact that Icelanders needed a way to preserve their food but in modern times it has become a part of the Christmas tradition as many families and friends use the opportunity to celebrate while feasting and sharing a shot of snaps (black death vodka) and some christmas beer.

Traditionally Kæst Skata is served with a side of boiled potatoes, boiled turnip, melted lambs fat called Hamsatólg and sweet rye bread.


An Icelandic Christmas tradition

Some say the main reason why people eat Skata is because everything you eat afterwards will taste great so no matter what your Christmas dinner will include you will enjoy it so much better after having a plate of rotten fish!

As you get closer to the restaurant you can smell the intense pungent smell of the Skata that has been boiling in the pots all day long. Many people dress down for the occasion as getting the odour out of your clothes can be hard and frankly you need to take a hot bath afterwards unless you want to smell like rotten fish while doing your last minute christmas shopping.

The smellier the better

In the old days the Skata used to be salted which reduced much of the ammonium flavour that is natural to the fish. However, nowadays most people enjoy the strong flavour and when you order you have to request the level of flavour you prefer. Some even go as far as asking for level 11 on a scale from 1 to 10. If your eyes tear up and and you have difficulties catching your breath it’s a sign that you got a proper piece.

GetLocal tip: “Þrír frakkar is place that has authentic Icelandic food and on weekdays you often can get a table without reservations. They start serving Skata a few weeks prior to christmas so you can still get a chance to taste it even though you didn’t plan ahead.”

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