Tastes of an Icelandic Viking Past at Fjörukráin

Dinner is served at the Viking Village
Dinner is served at the Viking Village
Serving the Viking Starters and Brennivin, known as Black Death
Serving the Viking Starters and Brennivin, known as Black Death

Iceland’s Viking Cuisine Lives on

Driving across the vast landscape of Iceland, I wondered of the culinary history of early Icelanders. There have never been many indigenous animals in Iceland to hunt, although oceans for fishing surround the country. It is hard to imagine a hulking Viking working in his vegetable garden.

As it turns out, you don’t have to dig deep to learn about Iceland’s food history. Icelanders still cook using age-old traditions, on a daily basis and on special occasions and festivals.

After hiking in a remote part of Iceland, we learned that we were surrounded by edible wilds in the wilderness, all of which were used in the past as part of the Icelandic diet. I referred to a well-researched and informative book to learn more about the history of food in Iceland. William R. Short wrote Icelanders in a Viking Age – The People of the Sagas. His informative chapter about the foods eaten in early Icelandic times included surprising information that helped me to link the past with what remains of these customs in a country with a varied and sophisticated culinary tradition. For example, you can find whale offered on modern menus, but Icelanders were not historically whalers. Historically, they made use of beached whales to provide part of their diet if the opportunity presented itself. Skyr, a no fat, fermented milk product is commonly eaten today, but has been eaten in Iceland for 1100 years. It is mentioned in Icelandic sagas of long ago.

Fjorukrain, the Viking Village
Fjorukrain, the Viking Village

Fjörukráin – Dining out Viking Style

While visiting Iceland, we visited a popular attraction Fjörukráin, a hotel and restaurant, located on the site of an old seaman’s village, that celebrates the Viking history of this country. The original building was a wooden house that dates back to 1840 and many buildings have been added since. A 15-minute drive south of Reykjavik, it is located on the waterfront of Hafnarfjördöur.

A maiden dressed in Viking like garb of the past, served us a dinner recommended by Jóhannes Viđar Bjarnason, the owner of the Viking Village.

The Viking Starter plate was served on a rustic wooden tray, as was the custom of the past. Small samples of tasty delicacies were served. These would turn the stomach of my vegetarian friends, but remember, the Vikings survived on what they could find and used preservation methods that did not include refrigeration for the summers.

Viking Starter tray including fermented shark and sheep's testicles.
Viking Starter tray including fermented shark and sheep’s testicles.

We tasted bits of sheep’s testicles, fermented shark, dried haddock, pickled herring, rye bread, whey, and Thorri food, (a type of pickled food.) We washed it down with a taste of the famous Black Death, a nickname for the signature Icelandic drink Brennivin, a clear, unsweetened distilled liquor made from fermented grain or potato mash. Brennivin translates to “burning wine.” The Black Death nickname is said to have been given at the period of the Icelandic prohibition.

Fermented shark is made using a time old method using meat that would be toxic if eaten unfermented. It is preserved by burying the meat in sand for 612 weeks. The pressure of the sand removes the uric acid from the meat and it becomes edible. It is best eaten by recklessly tossing it into your mouth and chasing it with a swig of Black Death.

Our main dish was lamb shank, pureed potato and glazed vegetables. We had a fish soup and a dessert of skyr with blueberries

Skyr dessert served with blueberries. This has been eaten in Iceland for 1100  years.
Skyr dessert served with blueberries. This has been eaten in Iceland for 1100 years.

The structures of the Viking Village Fjörukráin are reminiscent of the dark wooden longhouses that once housed the Vikings of the past. The décor inside the restaurant is rustic and furniture is built of old logs. Artwork and reproductions of historic Icelandic writings decorate the walls, giving the eatery the feeling of a museum.

Although the food is a modern version of what was eaten, some of the food served is based on recipes that have been served in Iceland since the Vikings walked the land.

Viking feasts are served to large groups at the restaurant, using a buffet of food reminiscent of tastes of that period. Costumed wait staff provide music and enact Viking behavior, including diners in the drama. A Viking Festival held each year in June at Fjörukráin includes days of food, sport, and reliving of Viking traditions.

In Iceland, the tastes are as special as the country.Watch for future articles about the historic cuisine of Iceland, as I head back in June. 

You may also be interested in a past article about cooking with Icelandic Moss  https://diningoutwithhistory.com/2014/02/28/cooking-with-icelandic-moss/ 

For more information:

Fjörukráin – fjorukrain.is/en/

Icelanders in a Viking Age – People of the Sagas by William R. Short

The Shackleton Whiskey Journey 1907 – 2015 A Fine Sip of History


“Let’s toast to the successful journey of Ian Evans, “we said, and after the clinks we sipped our MacKinlay’s Shackleton Whiskey. We were celebrating the bravery of our 58 year- old Canadian friend who had completed a journey of forty- four days and 950 kilometers. He and three others skied from the Ronne Ice Shelf to the South Pole in December and January of 2014/15 pulling heavy sleds of supplies.

Ian carefully removed the whiskey bottle from it’s elaborate cardboard case and pulled it from a straw wrapping, making it look indeed, like it dated from the early 1900’s.

The taste was heavenly and is described on the whiskey’s website:

It reads: “delicate aromas of crushed apple, pear, fresh pineapple with notes of oak shavings, smoke, hints of buttery vanilla, creamy caramel and nutmeg.” A talented nose would recognize all of those flavours, but it tasted very fine to us.

His good friend Rick had earlier learned of this perfect gift for Ian’s return while listening to a CBC radio broadcast about the distillery Whyte & MacKay bringing back to life the taste of the whiskey that Shackleton had taken on his journey to the South Pole in 1907.

I went in search of the story from the Shackleton Whiskey website and here is what learned:

Shackleton’s History

On July 30,1907, Ernest Shackleton gathered the crew he had recruited through a newspaper add and headed out on the ship Nimrod, from the East India Docks in London, England. The ship arrived in New Zealand in November of that year. On January 16, 1908, they left for Antarctica and entered McMurdo Sound on the 29th of that month. From February 6 – 24th, they built a hut to act as a base camp at Cape Royds. That hut still stands to be visited and is preserved by the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust.

MacKinley hutShackleton headed off with his party of five to reach the South Pole in October of 1908. For Christmas celebrations they enjoyed plum pudding, brandy cigars, and a spoonful of crème de menthe. When they were 97 miles from the Pole, Shackleton made the difficult decision that they must turn back or die of starvation. They planted a flag and headed back, arriving on February 28, 1908. He returned to England a hero for his efforts. His subsequent explorations continued.

The Whiskey

Before the expedition began in 1907, the Glen Mohr distillery received an order from Ernest Shackleton for forty- six cases of MacKinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt Whiskey to be included in the provisions of the expedition.

Jumping forward 100 years, in February of 2007, 3 crates of the whiskey were found encased in ice under the hut at Cape Royds by a team from the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust while working on a conservation expedition. They could not, however be removed, unless used for conservation or scientific reasons.

In early 2010, permission was received to remove one crate and it was flown to the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, New Zealand, for thawing and stabilization. This process took over 2 weeks and it was slowly taken from -20degrees Celsius to 0 degrees. It was then returned to Antarctica as part of the 14,000 artifacts the New Zealand Antarctic Trust watches over.

In January 2011, some of the whiskey was flown by private jet back to Scotland to W&M’s Invergordon Spirit Laboratory for analysis. A team led by Dr. James Pryde spent weeks nosing, tasting and deconstructing the whiskey to “reveal it’s true heritage.”

Now produced by the Whyte & MacKay Company (owners of the MacKinlay brand) for all to taste history, it is marketed in a way that reminds us of the brave accomplishments of the men who travelled to the ends of the earth to learn about Antarctica? The whiskey is bottled in glass created with the look of old. Reproductions of photos from the expedition, maps, copies of letters and the story come in an envelope with the straw encased bottle, to tell the story of Shackleton’s expedition. And brave men, and women, are still setting out to experience the same inhospitable landscape – men like Ian Evans and the three men in their expedition. He deserved a toast with such an exquisite whiskey after the difficult two- month trip.

Whiskey image

I felt privileged to share a drink of a taste so close to what Shackleton and his men sipped to celebrate special occasions and keep their spirits high in this hostile environment.

Only one question remains to me, a mystery.

Why did Shackleton’s men leave three cases of whiskey behind?

Only Shackleton knows that answer.

To learn more about Shackleton Whiskey, please view the entertaining website at:



Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: