The dish above is not one we would likely think to offer in our hospitality operations, which may explain why we have not (yet) developed any entrepreneurial conservation initiatives in the Faroe Islands. Nonetheless, this is the type of reading that makes a Monday morning full of thoughts of where to travel next:
People are flocking to a Nordic archipelago to sample cuisine—like fermented lamb tallow—that challenges even the most adventurous palate.
By Rebecca Mead
The Faroe Islands, an austere, mountainous archipelago marooned in the North Atlantic two hundred miles north of Scotland, has a landmass of only five hundred and forty square miles, and is sparsely populated with fifty thousand people and seventy thousand sheep. But, looked at another way, the country, an autonomous outpost of the Kingdom of Denmark, is much larger: its territorial waters extend for more than a hundred thousand square miles around nearly seven hundred miles of coastline. Only one village, Vatnsoyrar, isn’t on the coast, and wherever you are on any of the Faroes’ eighteen islands you’re never more than three miles from the crashing, frigid ocean. Like the human body, the Faroes are mostly water.
The inhabitants of the islands, which were settled by Vikings in the ninth and tenth centuries, have always depended on sustenance from the ocean. But the local diet is surprisingly selective. The waters of the Faroes teem with edible creatures that the Faroese do not eat. They don’t gorge on the mahogany clams, buried in underwater sand, that can live for centuries. They ignore the abundant mussels that cling to coastal rocks, and consider langoustines and sea urchins to be revolting. It’s a favorite game among Faroese children to pick up sea urchins and hurl them at one another, because they make a satisfying splat on impact.
The Faroese do eat cod and haddock—masses of it, typically prepared in one of two ways. When eaten fresh, the fish is subjected to prolonged boiling (or “killed twice,” as some locals put it). The Faroese also preserve fish, though not with such familiar Nordic techniques as salting or smoking; the islands are so windswept that almost no trees grow, and as a result there’s little lumber available either to manufacture salt or to generate smoke. Instead, a catch is suspended from the eaves of a house, like wind chimes on a porch, where it dries and ferments. After it is sufficiently decomposed, a process that takes several weeks, it is boiled, then served alongside boiled potatoes. A condiment of fermented tallow, made from lamb intestines, is poured on top. This dish is as delicious to an islander as a crustacean freshly plucked from the clean waters of the North Atlantic might be to just about anyone other than a Faroese.
It’s a mystery why the islanders decline to eat a rich supply of foodstuffs that elsewhere would be considered delicacies. When I visited the archipelago recently, locals offered me several explanations. Many said that the Faroese are afraid of getting food poisoning from eating anything too raw or mollusky, a caution that has hardened into tradition. It’s as if, in the ancestral era, a Faroese had eaten a mussel and died, while, a thousand miles south, his Gallic equivalent had discovered that a mussel becomes a tasty morsel when steamed, especially if you have wine, garlic, and parsley at hand…
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