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
Vatnsmýravegi 10


  1. Absolutely fantastic - a brilliant start to the day. I can't wait for the next in the series and as for similes: "like an office-worker's arse against a photocopier" actually made me laugh. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    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'!

  2. so EFFING hardcore it's ridiculous hahahaha i love the skull at the end of the meal, you hanging that on your wall??

  3. @chumbles - I have enough cojones for everyone ...

    @catty - Nah, it wouldn't fit in my handbag - otherwise I would have.

  4. Brilliant post! U go girl! Hats off to you for having the courage to eat it.

  5. Heh. RESPECT!

    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.

  6. @The Cooking Ninja - Thank you, thank you :)

    @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.

  7. Oh.my.lordy. Hilarious account. Yep, 'hardcore' as Catty said.

  8. Beyond brilliant!

    I love that they make no attempt to prettify it. I'd eat it as a terrine, but that on a plate? No.

  9. It looks like you pretty much destroyed that...er...skull. What I want to know was what was in the mystery soup?

  10. Oh wow! You are a better woman than I! Subscribing to the same, if you're going to kill it and eat it don't waste bits of it philosophy, I still don't think I could have managed that. Certainly not the eye, it's making me squirm just thinking about it!

    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.

  11. My god, you are BRAVE! Respect! (bows)

  12. @Nats - Thank you :)

    @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.

  13. *Bows down in awe to MiMi Fearlessly-Eatsitall*

  14. Well done for taking on the beast! Not sure I would off I done :-)

  15. Heh, I think I am most amused how sheepy looks asleep and at piece with the world and once you've had your way with him he's got this inane grin on his face. I'm not used to my food smiling at me!!!!!

  16. Of course I meant "at peace" - don't want anyone thinking I can't spell...

  17. @emmizzykay - I feel like I should get a crown or something :)

    @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.

  18. That skull looks like the skull of something that will come back to haunt you at night.

    By the way, is there a particular reason why they remove the brain?
    I like the brain.

  19. Horrific, hilarious and gut wrenching. Awesome post MiMi!

  20. Dave J. Clarke15 June 2010 at 12:54

    Glad I finished my lunch before reading that! Well done MiMi.

  21. You are brave. I would have had a hard time myself, ironically because it too closely resembles the real deal. Now I'm curious about trying this.

  22. @Bridget-The Internet Chef - I try :)

    @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.

  23. How much did this cost you?

  24. @Katy - Full menu with prices is here, but this was 1350 ISK (Icelandic Kronur) so just over £7.


  25. The brain's the best bit! I thought you liked offal!

    I would've balked at the eye too, definitely. Just looking at the photo makes me feel a bit sick.

  26. You are officially the coolest person in the world, I choked with slightly queasy laughter the entire time I read this.

  27. @Catherine - I do like offal, I do. I just have a weird phobia of brains. BRAAAAAINS. It's irrational scrapie and BSE fear - and the texture is weirdly creepy too.

    @sasasunakku - I am going to make myself a T-Shirt with that sentence on it - thanks :)

  28. I saw this one twitter and needed to read this. You are too cool so eat it. But like you, I wouldn't have made the eyeball! What a crazy name for a specialty but so glad you tried it and shared it with the rest of us.

  29. @diva - Thanks - I felt like I had to share it :)

  30. Brilliant! You should be quite proud of yourself!

  31. Bravo, MiMi! I have no qualms about eating the face off an animal, though maybe not presented quite like that. I love that the mashed potato & swede was too disgusting, but the face was fair game.

    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.

  32. You're a brave woman, MiMi. A very brave woman. Bravo, brave one!

  33. Be honest, the only way you powered thru that skull was the thought of 10K hits when this post goes viral.

    Not a good time, surely, but great a shtick

  34. @Su-Lin - Thank you - I am, I am!

    @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.

  35. I don't honestly think I could eat something's face. You're a lot braver than I!

  36. OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD!!!!! Pretty much sums up my reaction.

  37. @Alex C - Was it bravery or stupidity? Answers on a postcard :)

    @Michelle Peters-Jones - Greetings Michbot! Best not show Aditi :)

  38. Oh my god you're an actual legend.

  39. Hilarious. That's what I call dedication to the cause! I think you'll win the 'What's the weirdest thing you've ever eaten?' conversation from now until forever more. That said, it's no scarier than moast of the shrink-wrapped crap served up at most UK bus stations, except that in this case you could at least be sure of what you were putting in your mouth...

  40. @The Shed - Another t-shirt slogan for me - thank you :)

    @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?

  41. OMG! I would have fainted if I had got that served to me, I'm such a wimp!
    Hilarious and a great read, thanks!

  42. I voted for your blog at the Observer food monthly awards. Hope you don't mind!


  43. @Nicisme - Thank you! I did feel a bit giddy :)

    @othcymru - I am honoured and flattered and overwhelmed - thank you so much!

    @beccarothwell - Aww, thank you xxx

  44. I am a big girls blouse and actually nearly passed out reading that - especially the tongue and eye bits! You are a much braver girl than me MiMi! I have to go think pretty thoughts now before bed or that skull'll haunt me!

  45. @I heart cupcakes -

    You're a metalhead! You can't be a wuss!

    Sweet dreams :) x

  46. Awesome! Your description of "I hacked what meat I could off the skull" is rather at odds with the photo at the end, you obviously picked it up and gnawed the thing till it was shiny, there's not a slither of meat on it ;)

    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.

  47. And you tell me I'm not allowed to call you CRAZEEEEE. ;)

    Loving this post, it's very you! :)

  48. Blimey- I can see why this was blocked at work now!! Fish heads I can kind of manage but wouldn't attempt anything else even if I did eat meat.
    Props to you though!

  49. @Jones - The clinical dissection was just so I could get a good picture - there really wasn't very much meat on the thing. No gnawing occurred, believe. Yeah, I believe it's like Brussel Sprouts :p

    @Kavey - Stupid, yes. Insane, never :)

    @TheFastestIndian - Hahaha - yeah, sorry - and thanks!

  50. I am seriously impressed, I really am. I didn't indulge in any sheeps face when I went to Iceland.

    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 :-(

  51. this is fascinating and macabre. I eat fish-heads but wonder whether a sheep is one to graduate onto next. the pleasures of eating certainly stretch far and wide!

  52. @Sharmila - I decided that if I was going to go to Iceland, I was going to eat as much odd stuff as possible. I loved Perlan btw!

    @Helena Lee - They do indeed!

  53. Brilliant.How strange the serving of innocuous school dinner scooped mashed potato compared to the main event.

  54. That truly was a face that only a mother could love.

    And you ate it.

    Brave MiMi, very very brave!

  55. @Northern Snippet - Yep, I think they used an ice cream scoop :)

    @Food Urchin - Shall I make you one for WMPC?

  56. Somehow the combination of the rather macabre dish and the fast-food-like presentation makes it all the more weird. Is that what the canteen's like in hell, I wonder?

    Even in the name of blog research I would hesitate.

  57. @knit nurse - Hahaha - canteen in hell :)

  58. Oh my. I honestly do not think I could have. Well done!

    The teeth do me in too. *shudder*

    You need a sweater from wool from said sheep.

  59. @Helen (Fuss Free Flavours)

    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.

  60. gross and gory ....ick

  61. I could def eat this but not the tongue..... that part grosses me out.. If I had this dish on my own it wouldn't even occur to me to eat the tongue


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