Here in Iceland, Christmas is all about tradition, and one of the most sacred traditions in every household is what to have for Christmas dinner. Most people I know are absolute sticklers about having the same thing every year, and ideally it has to be something special, i.e. something that you ordinarily would not eat at other times.
For those that don’t know, Icelanders celebrate Christmas on the 24th – Christmas Eve. And good part of the day usually revolves around cooking the evening’s dinner.
A national culinary tradition for centuries was hangikjöt, or smoked lamb. Over the last few decades, though, that’s changed, and happily more choice has been added. In the past three decades or so, the two most popular dishes to have for Christmas dinner have probably been rjúpa – ptarmigan – and hamborgarahryggur – glazed rack of ham.
Since moving back to Niceland, YT has been most firmly in the ptarmigan camp – an exquisite wildfowl with a taste all its own. The ptarmigan, for those that don’t know, is a small-ish bird that cannot fly very far, and which feeds on lyng and berries and herbs. It stores these in its oesophagus [I think!] and this is a major contributing factor to its unique flavour.
Alas, ptarmigan hunters went a tad too far in the last decade, so two years ago a hunting ban was imposed – which although it was absolutely necessary, was rather traumatic for those of us who looked forward all year to having our ptarmigan for Christmas dinner. Worse: we had to come up with something else. EPI voted for the hamborgarahryggur, whereas YT remained unconvinced – plain old ham just didn’t seem festive enough. I would eventually have to concede that this was nothing but gross ignorance, baggage carried over from my previous incarnation as a North American person. Had I been a true-blue Icelander I probably would have recognized it for the utterly delectable Danish specialty it is. But I digress.
The first post-ptarmigan Christmas we decided to eschew the ptarmigan imported from Scotland [everyone who tried it pah-pahed it, claiming it just didn’t measure up] and opted for reindeer instead. I’d eaten reindeer on several occasions before, and had found it absolutely delicious, particularly cooked medium rare. However, for some bizarre reason, the reindeer we got on that particular Christmas Eve turned out to be both tough and tasteless. Possibly because there was a huge demand, from the ptarmigan crowd of course, and supplies were accordingly scarce. Bigtime letdown.
So last year, I allowed myself to be swayed, and we had the hamborgarahryggur. And I had to concede that it was very good indeed [although not as good as the irreplaceable ptarmigan.] This year, the ptarmigan hunting ban has been semi-abolished, i.e. hunters can shoot enough for their own consumption, but there is a ban on selling. And as neither EPI nor I are in the habit of getting dressed up in Icelandic camouflage clothing and wielding rifles, it looks like it’s ham on the menu again, with EPI’s special lobster tartalettes as a starter. No decisions yet as to what’s for dessert, although tiramisu is a strong contender [not sure it will jive with the ham, though – suggestions are welcome!].
SO WHAT SORT OF WEATHER ARE WE SERVING TODAY?
Finally something vaguely resembling Yuletide weather, what with the flurries and blustery winds and a wee bit of the white stuff managing to stick to the ground. We’ve had strong winds all day, temps 2°C; sunrise at 11.19, sunset 15.29.