So I went to Iceland. And despite my misgivings (mainly concerning the ash-cloud) I really, truly loved it. One of the things I loved was their attitude to food which is totally in keeping with my own philosophy - if it moves, we can eat it and, what's more, we should eat every last bit of it.
With this in mind, I'd done my research and discovered that a particular Icelandic speciality is svið. Svið, dear reader, is singed sheep's face or head.
Traditionally, a whole sheep's head is singed to burn off all the hairs, boiled, de-brained (thank God), and then sliced in half before being served. You're drooling at the thought, aren't you?
Apart from at Þorrablót, the mid-winter festival, the only place in Reykjavik to serve this traditional beauty is a cafe called Fljótt og Gott, which is set within the BSI Bus Terminal on the outskirts of town, and is ruddy difficult to get to by foot, but worth nearly getting run over for.
So it was the third day of our trip, and my husband and I had meant to go to the revolving restaurant Perlan (more on that anon), but when we got there, it turned out our hotel had cocked up our reservations.
Hungry and annoyed, it then occurred to me that, though we were stranded up on a hill, we weren't that far from the bus station and therefore from the legendary singed sheep's head. Cheered, we made a beeline for Fljótt og Gott, dodging trucks and cars along the way, and eventually found the sleepy little diner.
I walked up to a bored-looking youth behind the till and said "Um, svið" (allegedly there is no Icelandic word for "please"). Amused, the youth pointed at a cling-filmed plate on the counter and said in perfect English, "There you go. You want soup with it? It's included".
I nodded dumbly, and he ladled some unidentifiable broth into a small bowl, placed it on a tray with the svið plate, and then pushed it all towards me.
I picked up the tray in a daze and my husband and I sat down at the nearest table. I wondered if the youth was playing a prank on me, as stone-cold, shrink-wrapped sheep's face is not what I'd been expecting. The sheep was pressed up against the film like an office-worker's arse against a photocopier, and I hesitated briefly before gingerly peeling the plastic away.
I stared at the svið with a lump in my throat. My husband said "I'll have the soup" and snatched the bowl from me.
I stared at the svið some more. It seemed to leer back at me like some kind of goaty demon. "Can you get me some water?" I croaked to my husband in an unfamilar voice.
I took a forkful of the mashed potato - bleurgh, sweet and pappy. I took a forkful of the swede - equally pappy. I played with the condiments - the salt, the pepper, and the "potato spice", which as far as I can tell is instant tomato soup powder plus extra salt and sugar. It's addictive, mind - as part of my delaying the inevitable, I shook some onto my palm and licked it off (does that make me sound feral? If so, apologies).
And then I gritted my teeth and tucked into that bad boy. And you know, it was actually quite good - a little like brawn aka head cheese (which makes sense if you think about it).
Emitting the occasional girly squeal of horror, I hacked what meat I could off the skull and yammed it down. The best bit by far was the tongue, which I had to wrench out of its mouth (mwuhaha) before chewing with surprised satisfaction.
As I carved and carved, I realised I was getting closer to the point of no return - the eye. I've written about sheep's eyeballs before, but those were faux - this was the real deal.
Each time I tried to approach with my knife and fork, a shiver went down my spine and another squeal burst out of my mouth. A group of old folk on the neighbouring table had been watching with interest and by now were clearly wetting themselves with laughter.
Finally, I sliced open the eyelid, and I found myself staring straight into a bulgingly lifeless and clouded eyeball. Feeling myself heave a little, I pushed the tray away and wiped my mouth with a napkin.
"I'm done", I said to my husband, "Let's go".
Fljótt og Gott
BSI Bus Terminal
And wow, you've got more cojones than I have - that's official!! I will attempt to eat anything, but I know that I couldn't manage that eyeball having screwed up the courage to eat 'satan's head'!
@catty - Nah, it wouldn't fit in my handbag - otherwise I would have.
I'll eat most things, but I think I might have struggled a tad with that. After all, it ain't what you'd call pretty, is it?
And as for eyeballs. NO.
@aforkfulofspaghetti - They actually sell them in supermarkets like salami. I was going to bring some back for you, but I thought Customs might object.
@The Grubworm - I am woman. Hear me ROAR.
I love that they make no attempt to prettify it. I'd eat it as a terrine, but that on a plate? No.
I do love how incredibly macabre that sheep's skull looks at the end though, grinning at you from beyond the grave. Although I'm not sure why but one of the things that creeped me out the most about that is that it still has teeth!
Properly impressed MiMi.
@bron - I think the use of clingfilm shows that "pretty" was not the look they were going for.
@tehbus - It just tasted like Campbell's Cream of Chicken soup. My husband was happy with it :)
@beccarothwell - Yeah, the teeth did properly freak me out - not as much as the eyball, mind.
@Judith - It's all in the line of duty.
@Jo - It was a close call, but I think I won
@Sarah, Maison Cupcake - I didn't even notice :)
Yes, food shouldn't smile back at you really. Grinning is even worse.
By the way, is there a particular reason why they remove the brain?
I like the brain.
@BribedwithFood - I'm not sure - I figured it was do with scrapie fears. I'm still glad it wasn't there though.
@Paul aka Pavel le Bouche - That's so sweet of you!
@Dave J. Clarke - Thanks Dave :)
@Fresh Local and Best - Not to worry, I think that's a common sentiment. You should try it if you can - I'm glad I did.
I would've balked at the eye too, definitely. Just looking at the photo makes me feel a bit sick.
@sasasunakku - I am going to make myself a T-Shirt with that sentence on it - thanks :)
The skull's grinning! Even it thinks you've done well. I have to say, pulling the tongue out of the mouth was definitely the most impressive/terrifying bit.
This was effing hilarious.
Not a good time, surely, but great a shtick
@Suzler - I'm so glad everyone I know seems pleased about this. I once did a post on dimsum and someone commented "Is there anything the Chinese won't eat - disgusting!" and that was re chicken's feet...
@Ollie - Thank you, kind sir :)
@SinoSoul - Genuinely, I had no thoughts of my blog when I did this. I just thought "Whoa - Icelanders eat sheep's faces! I'm so doing that!" and then it was a case of proving to myself I wasn't a big wuss.
@Michelle Peters-Jones - Greetings Michbot! Best not show Aditi :)
@Hugh Wright - Well, the creature itself is quite mundane to be fair. It's not like I've eaten a dog or a cat. And I don't intend to! But yeah, it's very Ronseal, innit?
Hilarious and a great read, thanks!
@othcymru - I am honoured and flattered and overwhelmed - thank you so much!
@beccarothwell - Aww, thank you xxx
You're a metalhead! You can't be a wuss!
Sweet dreams :) x
Am surprised there's only one place in Reykjavik that does them. Really. Funny to think of it getting wheeled out once a year for a festival and everyone forcing themselves to eat some because that's what you're supposed to do! Just like mince pies and xmas pudding, except with eyeballs.
Loving this post, it's very you! :)
Props to you though!
@Kavey - Stupid, yes. Insane, never :)
@TheFastestIndian - Hahaha - yeah, sorry - and thanks!
I did go the revolving resto tho - so keen to know what you thought of it. I was expecting something akin to a setting out of a Bond film. Needless to say, my expectations were too high :-(
@Helena Lee - They do indeed!
And you ate it.
Brave MiMi, very very brave!
@Food Urchin - Shall I make you one for WMPC?
Even in the name of blog research I would hesitate.
The teeth do me in too. *shudder*
You need a sweater from wool from said sheep.
The teeth, the teeth, I dream of the teeth - they haunt me still.
Icelanders are mad for woollen sweaters made from these sheepies but they cost shedloads - they start at £100, otherwise I would have got me one.