Food Culture and Tradition

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Domestic Life and Special Occasions in Iceland

Domestic Life in Iceland

Since wood is scarce and bricks expensive to import, most homes in Iceland are built of concrete blocks. Most Icelanders use the living room for company and the kitchen as the center of family living and eating. Actual food preparation areas are described kindly as “step saving”: tiny by any standards. Yet Icelandic women retain a proud tradition of home cooking, baking, and preserving.

Electrical appliances tend to be expensive (prices for almost everything are said to be the highest in Europe) but the Icelandic homemaker will save her money for a first purchase of an electric iron, teakettle, and electric mixer; later acquisitions may include a toaster and a vacuum cleaner. Some homes have refrigerators with freezers, but most manage with “cold closets.” These are small alcoves built into the kitchen wall, enclosed with doors and ventilated to the outdoors. They are fine in winter, but of little use in summer.
Because of inadequate storage, the homemaker shops almost daily for the needs of the family. The number of department stores and supermarkets are increasing, but most still shop in specialty stores.

Special Occasions in Iceland

Most Icelanders are of the Lutheran faith. Although they are not devoutly religious, many go to church services while others prefer to listen to the services at home on the radio. Others spend the day quietly resting and reading. But almost all Icelanders know it is Sunday when svid (lamb’s heads) and potatoes appear as the main dish and the favorite skyr as dessert.

Perhaps it is because of their Viking heritage that many Icelanders believe in psychic phenomena such as communication with the dead and a belief in haunted houses. Telling ghost stories is a favorite pastime and these tales are listened to with more than casual interest. Though not strict in their own religious beliefs, Icelanders are most tolerant of other beliefs.

Christmas is the main annual celebration with hangikjot (smoked mutton) being the specialty of the feast, together with a variety of special sausages, many cured and smoked meats and fish, and an array of special baked treats. Astarbollur are baking powder doughnuts made as a Christmas specialty and richly studded with currants. All in all, it is a veritable “groaning table” of hot and cold buffet dishes to please all family tastes and those of callers.

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