Step One: Hold your nose.
In a country of bizarre traditions, one of the craziest has to be the putrid skate party. Every year on Þorláksmessa (St. Thorlák’s Mass), 23 December, Icelanders get together and eat skate (the fish, not the sporting equipment) that has been sitting in a closed container and allowed to ferment for about a month. By that time it has a smell that can clear your sinuses from a mile away, and that is very reminiscent of cat piss (it’s the ammonia – yum!).
Predictably, not everyone is partial to this tradition. It’s kind of a macho thing. Men seem to be more prone to imbibing putrid skate than women … which is probably a good thing, as a single bite will put hair on your chest instantly. In fact, groups of men will get together in the afternoon to eat the stuff in unison. This will usually involve copious amounts of brennivín (a schnapps appropriately nicknamed Black Death) because, well, you’ll drink anything to get the stuff down. Very often these skate-fests take place in restaurants or garages for the simple reason that, if cooked in a kitchen, the prevailing smell during the holiest of all holy festivals will be less like cinnamon and spice and more like urine.
Supposedly, eating putrid skate originated in Iceland’s West Fjords, where the wealthy gave it to their workers so that anything – anything at all – would taste better in the aftermath. We’re sure they never envisioned that it would become a nationwide, er, delicacy … nor that, in a century’s time, people would be claiming that rotten skate cures colds and increases libido. While the first assertion is plausible enough (the stench could clear an elephant’s sinuses), the second… well… let’s just say you’re probably better off sticking to Viagra.