Most people would think that Christmas in Iceland is a white fairytale with Northern lights and fluffy, snow-capped mountains. I am here to prove you wrong: back in the old days, the thirteen days before Christmas was used to scare the hell out of kids with the Icelandic Yule Lads. However, this tradition of totally freaking children out was banned, and the Christmas trolls have become more kid-friendly, they are still coming down from their mountain on the 12th of December, to put either candy in well-behaved or rotten potatoes in naughty children’s shoes, and play mischiefs on you for two weeks. If you are cautious enough, you will have a chance to see them projected somewhere in Reykjavík, committing their petty crimes. The Yule Lads live in a cave in the Dimmuborgir lava fields with their mother Grýla, their father Leppalúði and with the big black Yule Cat. Grýla, the Christmas Ogress has the ability to detect misbehaving children and hunts for them during Christmas time, as her favourite dish is NAUGHTY KID STEW. 12th December You should be careful about your sheep, because Stekkjarstaur would be more than willing to suckle the milk form the yews, if he could use his knees to kneel (which he cannot). 13th December Keep an eye on your cow’s milk, Giljagaur likes his latte with only milk foam. 14th December This should be the day when you hide your pans in the kitchen, as Stúfur loves to steal the crust from the meal you prepared for your late-night binge watching session. 15th December You like licking the spoon when baking? Þvörusleikir likes licking spoons even more. Put those spoons away if you don’t want them touched by sticky troll fingers. 16th December Pottaskefill will gladly make your day easier by stealing and cleaning your messy pots with his filthy troll tongue. Thanks Pottaskefill for sparing me the minutes I would have spent with putting the dishes in the dishwasher. 17th December Wow man, these guys really like licking stuff. If you had an idea of putting your wooden bowls under your bed on the 17th, don’t do it, if you don’t want Askasleikir to take care about cleaning them up. 18th December It’s dark and it’s cold outside and you are curled up in your bed readying yourself to take that long-wanted, well-earned good night’s sleep. This is the moment when Hurðaskellir comes to keep you up all night with slamming doors. Bummer, you should have gone partying after all. 19th December We have already phrased a lovesong about our undying love for Skyr. On the 19th of December, everyone should keep their precious skyrs within reach in case Skyrgámur comes to take it away. No, you won’t Yule Lad, there are things that you can mess with, skyr is not one of them. 20th December Skyr is not enough, on the 20th of December, Bjúgnakrækir arrives to rob you of your sausages. Damn, if you are not careful, you will end up with no food on Christmas day. 21st December Gluggagægir is one creepy little guy, probably the first one to come up with the idea of reality shows, as he is one for familiarizing himself with your intimate private life by peeking through your window. I would draw those curtains, if I were you. 22nd December You will easily recognise Gáttaþefur as his nose arrives before the rest of his body. It is a perfect tool for him to sniff out cakes and bread. He will not be satisfied with the smell only, and would do anything to have a taste. 23rd December If you are one of the meat-lovers, you should keep away your precious treasure from around the fireplace, because on the 23rd, one thing will come down from the chimney and it’s not Santa Clause. It’s Ketkrókur with his meat hook to fish your dinner away. 24th December This is the day of Kertasníkir, who creeps after children to eat their candles. Seriously, what is wrong with this guy? Icelandic Christmas traditions also made me change my mind about one more thing: I always thought that Dobby is the only one who can be genuinely happy with a pair of socks as a Christmas present. Not in Iceland. Here, a pair of socks is a loving symbol of caring about someone not being eaten by a giant cat. Yes, if you do not receive a piece of clothing for the holidays, the Jólakötturinn comes and eats you for dinner. Merry Christmas. Now you know what to be careful about until Christmas day (basically everything, you’d better just reserve Christmas shopping to the last days in case someone comes and steals and licks your kitchen dry) (and make sure you buy a pair of socks for your loved ones), it’s time for us to get you more into festive mood with our Icelandic Christmas countdown. Ready, steady, countdown!
When I mention Icelandic cuisine to my non-Icelandic friends, they immediately frown then start to rant about some rotten shark challenge video they’ve seen on YouTube. ‘And is that true they eat <insert any gross fermented dish>?’
This is when I clear my throat and give a profound speech about my experiences with Icelandic food, that don’t only include sheep’s head, rotten shark, or pickled ram’s testicles. In fact, after spending years in the Land of Ice, I have never seen any Icelanders casually walking up to the fridge for some fermented shark bites. Being a moderately adventurous person, I appreciate delish bites and also like to try new things, be it Doritos flavoured ice cream or an exotic fruit that I haven’t heard of before, but there’s a line that shall not be crossed (and that line for me is somewhere around lyfrapylsa).
So please let me tell you about…
A FOODIE’S EXPERIENCES WITH ICELANDIC FOOD – A LIST UNCOVERING THE TASTY BITES:
1. Skyr – I can’t express my undying love for this dairy product that is something between cheese and yogurt and comes in a variety of flavours – vanilla, banana, baked apples, berries, mango, strawberry, just to mention a few. You can even make your own healthy snack of plain, unflavoured skyr, brown sugar and some berries. Every time I taste skyr, my tastebuds burst into an ode thanking the person who accidentally left milk somewhere for too long. Someone said that cheese was milk’s leap towards immortality, but I think skyr is.
2. Kleina – doughnut a’la Iceland. This fried pastry exists in all the Scandinavian countries, as well as in northern Germany under the names of: klenät, klena, klejne, kleina, kleyna, and fattigmann. It’s not too difficult to make at home, but you can buy them anywhere. In packs. Big packs. Which means you really need to make an effort not to eat them by yourself as “afternoon snack”. Your heart will be very grateful for that.
3. Flatkaka – Icelandic flat bread. You can eat it with any kind of paté or just some salted butter. Doesn’t look very mouthwatering but the taste makes up for it.
4. Sugar-coated potatoes – yes, it is what it is: small potatoes floating in caramel sauce. First you are suspicious about them. Then you smell them – not bad. Then you taste them. And you feel conflicted, because they’re actually quite tasty, especially when served with ham and some sweet corn. Yummy!
5. Grjónagautur – when it’s cold and windy and rainy outside and you need something sweet and warm and comforting, there is one thing you can do: cook rice in milk, and serve it with some more milk and cinnamon-sugar. The adventurous ones can have some lyfrapylsa or slátur with it, but for me these are out of the question.
6. Hardfiskur – dried fish usually eaten in small bites with some butter on top. You might not want to kiss anyone after eating it, and your fridge will smell for weeks, but it’s definitely worth trying.
7. Everything lakkris (or liquorice) – I hated it. I fought against it for so long. But on one occasion, when I bought a bag of nammi for a movie-night I realized too late that everything I had contained lakkris so I had no other choice but eating them. And for my biggest surprise, they weren’t as bad as I thought they would be.
8. Icelandic pancakes – these are just like any European pancakes or crépes. In Iceland, they’re traditionally served with cinnamon-sugar or some jam and an enormous dose of whipped cream. Even just thinking of them makes my mouth water.
9. Kokteilsósa – a.k.a. the “pink sauce”. Mix some ketchup, mayonnaise and sour cream with salt and pepper – voilá. One of the Icelandic culinary claim to fame, so it was exceptionally painful when someone pointed out that the sauce might have already existed before the Icelandic version was made. But it doesn’t change the fact that it is pretty awsome if you eat it with french fires, sandwiches, salads, cakes, dip candy in them or whatever you like.
10. Kjötsúpa – Icelandic meat soup made of sheep, barley, veggies and magic. There is a kjötsúpa wagon in Reykjavik, find it, and buy some soup, you won’t regret it.
+1 Kókómjólk – chocolate milk! Although it’s not technically a food, we decided to put this on the list. Because it’s perfect.
There’s only a month left until Christmas so everything is covered in Christmas lights and fake (well, for now) snow in Iceland. Even my favourite retro radio station has morphed into a 24/7 holiday cheer monster, so no more cruising to cheesy 80’s Madonna songs, thank you very much, Christmas.
But of course, there are numerous advantages to the holiday season, and one of them is CHRISTMAS BEER.
You know that the time has come, when you have to search for a parking space in front of the liquor store, and the queues are zigzagging between the shelves, filled with people hanging on to their red-labeled bottles. Endless amounts of specially brewed awesomeness is coming to the Vinbúdin this time of the year, and we were eager to try and describe as much as we can to yours truly. I got some precious help from my Icelandic and Czech companions, I do not think I would have been able to make this journey on my own.
So here it goes, sorry if our highly sophisticated style is somehow fading on the way.
Ölvisholt Brugghús: Jóli
We were expecting a lot from this one, as the gingerbread man seems really happy on the label, and we were certainly not disappointed. Gingerbread men don’t lie.
Nice, deep brown colour, smells like cinnamon and well, Christmas. The head is basically non-existent. The ginger, cinnamon and negull (whatever the hell is this, because not even my viking did not know) undertones are very delicious. Quite high in alcohol (6,3%), so be careful with gulping it all the way down with your first rush of enthusiasm.
Föroya Bjór: Jóla Bryggj
Brought to us by our cousins from the Faroe Islands, we supposed this beer to be very exotic, but we were a bit disappointed not smelling the Christmas right away. Small, quickly disappearing head, light golden brownish colour. For the second smelling, I have to admit, it smells like those banana chocolates that resemble tasteless foam. Nothing special, disappointment no. 1.
Excitingly different bottle, promising label. Foamy, compared to the already tasted two beers. Not really Christmassy, no holiday taste, actually not different from the regular one, but not bad. Easy drinking, not too high on alcohol (4,6%).
Slightly black metal design. I jumped into this with doubts, as it has liqorice in it. Well, I don’t really know why I’m surprised, everything has liquorice in them in Iceland. It’s very „hobbsy” according to the boys, with a slight liqorice taste in the back of your tongue (someone is really pro here).
(We’ve just thought it started snowing already. No, it didn’t.)
-Oh lord, this one is in a CAN.
-This is going to be disgusting.
-CAN I skip this?
Still, the best head we had tonight and the most Christmassy design, going to serve its purpose as a Christmas decoration in the kitchen. Although, it smells sour and tastes like can. Not really disappointing, we knew it was going to be bad.
Danish, and there is glucose syrup in it. WHY. And mais. Double WHY.
Colour is the colour of piss after a night of heavy drinking.
I’ll just let the pictures talk for themselves.
Egils: Malt Jólabjór
Icelanders have an obsession with malt. Malt extract is a really sweet, refreshing beverage (where did this word come from?). At Christmas time they usually serve it mixed with Appelsín, which is basically the Icelandic Fanta, that makes it even more sweeter. However, Jólabjór is even better, as it also has alcohol, 5.6%, so you don’t even realize that you are getting drunk from something this awsome. Malt is all we need in the holiday season.
(We are listening to Cher.)
Egils: Jóla Gull
No heads going on lately, but there’s a head of Santa Claus on the bottle. Tastes like fruity chewing gum.
Kaldi has always been our favourite Icelandic beer, so the stakes are really high here. In the summer we had a pilgrimage to the North just to visit the small family brewery and taste as many beers there as possible. We ended up hitchhiking to the next town in the pouring rain with still full beer glasses. It was a day to remember.
Pleasant, burnt caramel smell, pleasant caramel taste.
Fuck, this is good.
Tuborg: Christmas Brew
Iceland’s favourite Christmas beer, although it’s Danish. There’s liquorice, it explains everything.
‘There’s nothing to disturb me, but nothing to surprise me’ – David.
‘It’s fine’ -Gudjón.
‘I’m just waiting for my Einstök’ – Dóra.
This is crap. We didn’t even open it. Save it for when it doesn’t matter.
Okay, we did open it, and as we had previously supposed, it was bad. The design is the same as of Tuborg, maybe to lure people to mix the two up, and end up going home with this one.
Einstök: Icelandic Dopplebock
Saving the best for last. It wasn’t a really fair game as we already know Einstök would win. And it really did. Beautiful head, beautiful dark brown colour, deep, aromatic taste. This is the beginning of a new love at 1 in the morning.
…and finally it was time for our favorite music festival of the year. We started the countdown back in August when we bought the tickets, and time passed by so quickly, it became November in what it feels like a heartbeat. Those four days went by even faster, so it’s good we have some pictures as proof, otherwise it would seem like a not-so-surreal hallucination.
The first Iceland Airwaves was held exactly in 1999 and took place in a cool airplane hangar at Reykjavik Airport. Since the first time it has grown out the hangar and spread all over town: cafes, pubs, stores, hostels and even the street have turned into a concert place. With its off-venue schedule the festival has something for those as well who don’t have a ticket. With approximately 9,000 other festival goers and who knows how many off-venue attendees Airwaves turns Reykjavik to one enormous party-town for a few days each year, where the visitors can bump into an interesting performance at every corner.
We had a blast with our friends Topas and Captain Morgan and although we didn’t make it to all the concerts we wanted to (decided to surrender before Caribou when we saw that people were standing in line from the Art Museum to the Bæjarins Beztu hot dog stand and went to check some local bands instead) we had an amazing time together.
Good news everyone! There’s the three of us now (no, not because somebody got pregnant). Welcome Dora, who’s just as enthusiastic about our beloved island as we are.
A few weeks ago we managed to finally see each other in real life again, we had a blast and agreed to join our forces and have a beautiful, intercontinental online threesome working on the page.
The Day of the Icelandic Language (Dagur Íslenskar Tungu) is celebrated each year on 16 November, which is also the birthday of the famous and beloved Icelandic poet Jónas Hallgrímsson. In his poetry he often mentioned Iceland, its landscapes, people, and his deep love for the country. Every year, the Jónas Hallgrímsson Award is given to someone who has contributed to the language.
Although it still seems to be Mission Impossible to learn the language, we’re all in love with every consonant, vowel and sound of it. Also it’s a good opportunity to celebrate, so if anyone is in the mood today, raise your glasses to Icelandic. *clink*
A (very) short history of the Icelandic Language
Iceland was first settled in the 9th century by Norwegians, so at this time the same language was spoken in Iceland and Norway as well. No significant changes occurred in the vocabulary till the 11th century, the introduction of Christianity, when new religious concepts were introduced requiring new names in the language. These words were mostly taken from other Scandinavian languages. Icelandic also has some loanwords from English, French, Low German, Danish and German. The modern Icelandic alphabet has developed from a standard established by a Danish linguist in the 19th century.
The pronunciation of the language has changed a lot since the old days, but the written version has not changed much in the past thousand years. It means that modern speakers can understand sagas and Eddas written hundreds of years ago! (With the help of some footnotes and modern spelling, but still, an impressive thing.)
How many words are in Icelandic and how many of them are used?
As I was studying for my exams, an interesting question popped into my head and gave me a pretty good excuse to procrastinate for a while.
Of course it’s borderline impossible to count all the words in a language. There are new ones invented every day, some of them don’t even make it to the official dictionaries. The words that never appear in print are called “augnablikssamsetningar” which means that they were “assembled in a moment”. There are also some archaic words that haven’t been used for centuries, but nevertheless, they are part of the vocabulary.
For new concepts and ideas Icelanders rather introduce new compound words instead of using the foreign equivalent. Icelandic is a North-Germanic language and like other Germanic languages it has the tendency to be compounded. This is how words like “vaðlaheiðarvegavinnuverkfærageymsluskúraútidyralyklakippuhringur (a ring on a key chain for the main door of a tool storage shed used by road workers on (the hill) Vaðlaheiði”)” are created.
About ten years ago a research was conducted on determining the number of words in written Icelandic. This study includes all words that appeared in print between 1540 and the mid-eighties and helps to give an estimated number of words occurring in the language. If we consider that quite a lot of words have been created since – just think of the new compound words, slang, technological vocabulary etc. – the study might be a bit obsolete but still, this is the only official source we have. And it contains 610,000 words of which about 519,000 were compound words, half of them only occurring only once in the source documents. That’s quite a lot, isn’t it?
If you feel like, share with us why you like/don’t like Icelandic, we would be happy to hear other opinions besides ours. Have a nice Sunday everyone!
Mjöll: snow that has just fallen. You can also use nýsnær which means “new snow”. Mjöll is a girl’s name as well, and Snow White in Icelandic is Mjallhvíti.
Mjöll is a feminine word,what doesn’t have plural form and you need to inflect it like that:
Did you know there are 46 words for snow in Icelandic?