Yes, you read that right. Pay a visit to the chilly island nation, and you might spy a sheep’s head being served for dinner, eyes and all. And chances are that sight, or even the mere thought of it, fills your head with all kinds of questions. Luckily, we’re here to offer some answers. Join us as we explore the recipe and roots of a Nordic tradition.
What is Svið?
SVIÐ is a is an Icelandic delicacy. The eye is the best part which you have to eat first pic.twitter.com/qZBRj24Z2Z— Antti Heikkilä (@AnttiHeikkil2) July 9, 2019
Svið (often transliterated as “svid” or “svith”) is an unusual dish hailing from Iceland. It consists of a whole sheep’s head, cleaned of fur and cut in half, then cooked until the flesh is tender. Some preparations call for the head to be cured in lactic acid as well. Svið is typically paired with mashed root vegetables, such as potatoes and turnips. It is particularly popular during the mid-winter festival of Þorrablót (transliterated as “thorrablot”), where it appears in arrays of traditional Icelandic food called Þorramatur (transliterates to “thorramatur”).
Who Created it?
It’s widely accepted that svið was invented by Icelandic peasants, inspired by a desire to not waste food. Back in the day, pickings were slim. As such, if you were lucky enough to get your hands on an animal, you couldn’t afford to pass up on any part of it. Eating flesh off the skull or chewing on eyeballs might sound barbaric by today’s standards. At the time, though, the thought of wasting a meal, however crude, was unthinkable.
How is it Made?
First, the fur is burnt off the sheep’s head. Next, it’s run under cold water for cleaning, with particular attention paid to the ears and eyes. After that, the head is sawn in half lengthways, allowing the brain to be removed. The head might be frozen beforehand to make this step less messy. As for cooking, the head is seasoned with coarse salt and partly covered with water. When it comes to a boil, scum is skimmed off the top, and the head is left to cook for anywhere from one hour to ninety minutes. It’s ready to serve when the meat is just shy of falling off the bone.
What is it Like?
Svið is not a dish for the faint of heart. If you can look past its grisly appearance, though, you’ll be met with a range of textures. The meat of the cheeks is reminiscent of mutton. The tongue, meanwhile, has the sort of mouthfeel you’d expect from a thick chunk of muscle. And then there are the eyes, which burst when squeezed between the teeth. Many Icelanders consider that the best part. Altogether, svið can prove quite satisfying for daring diners. Just try not to eat the ears, as it’s considered taboo by some.
Where can you get it?
You’ll see svið served buffet-style during the festival of Þorrablót. The rest of the year, though, it can be hard to come by. Some Icelandic grocers sell pre-cooked or frozen svið. As for restaurants, they rarely offer it year-round. One of the few exceptions is Fljótt og Gott (“Fast and Good” in English), located in the BSÍ bus terminal in Reykjavík. Not only do they serve svið daily, but it can be ordered via drive-thru. According to the cafeteria’s head chef, they sell upwards of 10,000 portions a year.