Don't Look A Gift Sheep in the Mouth

I enjoy eating meat. Many of my favorite and most memorable meals have centered around a substantial helping of animal protein. But something about sawing into the face of another mammal with a dull knife takes a tiny bit of the pleasure out of being a carnivore for me. Knowing that the preparation of the entrée in front of me involved singeing, boiling in salty water, and then sitting, cold, for an undetermined number of hours removes much of what remains.

And while I hate to complain about what was, quite literally, a free lunch, these were the thoughts that crossed my mind as I tried my first bite of
Svið. Apparently, if you're an Icelander, a grayish sheep head, skin intact, lips parted just slightly to reveal long, narrow incisors, isn't grotesque, it's gourmet. To quote the author of a cookbook I picked up at the National Museum of Iceland last week, "singeing gives [the meat] a pleasing, mellow tinge which reaches through the skin and lingers caressingly on the palate." To my taste buds, this lingering caress more closely resembled the flavor of liver.

Served with a salty yellow bean soup, a scoop of pale orange turnip and another scoop of mashed potatoes, my meal seemed like it would be filling, even if I wasn't likely to go back for seconds. As expected, the soup, which also contained a large, fatty shoulder of lamb,
was an ideal dish for a cold February afternoon. The Svið however, left something to be desired—namely, meat. Even a fleshy sheep face wouldn't satiate a big appetite and luckily I was only feeling somewhat hungry the day I visited Fljótt og Gott. Nevertheless, I munched on crunchy pieces of neck, ate the chewy tongue, and managed to swallow a few tougher lumps of meat from around the eye socket. In the end though, I couldn't help but wish I'd ordered a big green salad instead.


  1. The "pleasing mellow tinge" which "lingers caressingly on the palate"--who's palate do they mean here--yours, or the sheep's? Total grey, singed area here.

  2. A good question that isn't entirely obvious in context. I'm pretty sure it's not the sheep's though...