Iceland Mag

6 Reykjavik

Iceland Mag

Food & Drink

Fermented skate is a delicacy like no other (it has been described as eating rotten fish)

By Jón Kaldal

  • Yummy! It's maybe not good on the eye but fermented skate is an acquired taste. Photo/GVA

For those uninitiated it might be hard to swallow, but fermented skate is considered a great delicacy in Iceland. That is, however, by no means the popular opinion. Few things create a wider rift in the nation than the tradition involving this ammonia-smelling dish, which has been described as eating rotten fish. 


Enjoying the aroma Local fish merchants with this year’s catch. Photo/Pjetur Sigurðsson

Happily, for those who can’t stomach it, only a handful of Icelanders eat it year round. However, on December 23rd there is almost no escape for those who do not appreciate fermented skate. This day is called Þorláksmessa (Mass of Saint Þorlákur). It marks the beginning of Christmas in Iceland and is celebrated by eating this smelly fish.

Avoiding restaurants or skate-parties at homes does not do the trick. It’s almost certain you will, while shopping for the last Christmas presents, run into someone carrying the fumes in his clothes (it’s either that or the person has not bathed for weeks).

Contrary to what many think, love for fermented skate is not isolated to Iceland. It’s also big in South Korea, where it is even prepared as a sashimi. Now that is a real challenge!

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