The proximity of the West fjords to rich fishing grounds and the lack of lowlands for agriculture have shaped its traditions and practices. That said, it is a remarkable fact that the great innovator in 18th century vegetable farming, Björn Halldórsson in Sauðlauksdalur, did his extraordinary experiments and wrote his educational books in the West Fjords. Visiting the museum at Hnjót in Örlygshöfn gives a sense of how the people in the area faced the stuggle of life through the ages. The sea was the foundation. Fish, seals and birds provided for life.
Souring, Salting & Smoking
Látrabjarg, Europe’s largest bird cliff, was a treasure trove of food for centuries with its millions of seabirds. Eggs were collected early in the summer while the birds were hunted in late summer. The cliff birds were customarily salted and immediately stored in barrels. Pickling, salting and smoking were all employed to preserve food.
Auks and Puffins were the most utilized species. Today, Icelanders enjoy birds mostly fresh or smoked. Consumption of fermented skate was restricted to the West Fjords for a long time, often served with melted suet. Mashed skate, cooked in the broth of smoked lamb, is a West Fjords Christmas tradition and catfish skin jellied in the same broth was a delicacy. Today, many Icelanders enjoy fermented skate on the 23rd of December, an Icelandic holiday known as Þorláksmessa. Mashed shark, hung whale, roe curd and smoked belly flesh of sheep lined the food tables of the West Fjords. Wind-dried frames were reserved for festivities and eaten on New Year’s Eve and Ash Wednesday with dried halibut or haddock. In the West Fjords a spoonful of dock was added to meat soups “kjötsúpa” while barley and later, oats and rice, were common additions.
Flatbread for Plates
The West Fjords maintain the national baking tradition with many places that offer traditional baked goods. In the old days flatbread was baked before Christmas and was around 25 cm in diameter and more than a centimeter thick. These flatbreads were used instead of dishes and the Christmas food was served on top of the flatbread. This might be the first mark of an Icelandic pizza. Many people think that the best waffles in the world are found in the West Fjords and that will not be disputed here.
Fish farming is a growing industry. The coastline of the West Fjords is known for its clean waters, nutritious ocean and quiet Fjords. This makes the area an ideal place for fish farming on land and at sea as is evidenced by the decades-long tradition of river trout, salmon and rain trout farming in the region. Salmonidae like river trout, rainbow trout and salmon contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which is very beneficial to people. Salmon and trout from the West Fjords are sold in Icelandic restaurants and grocery stores, often smoked, buried or fresh.
For more information on dining in the Westfjords: Visit Westfjords