Tuesday, 15 June 2010
Svið - Satan's Face on a Plate (Iceland)
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