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Yuck Travel: Eating The Faroes

Rebecca Mead, for her sins, travels to the newest foodie travel destination: the Faroe Islands [1], a Danish territory in the North Atlantic, between Norway and Iceland. Get your barf bag ready for these excerpts:

When eaten fresh, the fish is subjected to prolonged boiling (or “killed twice,” as some locals put it). The Faroese also preserve fish, though not with such familiar Nordic techniques as salting or smoking; the islands are so windswept that almost no trees grow, and as a result there’s little lumber available either to manufacture salt or to generate smoke. Instead, a catch is suspended from the eaves of a house, like wind chimes on a porch, where it dries and ferments. After it is sufficiently decomposed, a process that takes several weeks, it is boiled, then served alongside boiled potatoes. A condiment of fermented tallow, made from lamb intestines, is poured on top. This dish is as delicious to an islander as a crustacean freshly plucked from the clean waters of the North Atlantic might be to just about anyone other than a Faroese.

It’s a mystery why the islanders decline to eat a rich supply of foodstuffs that elsewhere would be considered delicacies. When I visited the archipelago recently, locals offered me several explanations. Many said that the Faroese are afraid of getting food poisoning from eating anything too raw or mollusky, a caution that has hardened into tradition. It’s as if, in the ancestral era, a Faroese had eaten a mussel and died, while, a thousand miles south, his Gallic equivalent had discovered that a mussel becomes a tasty morsel when steamed, especially if you have wine, garlic, and parsley at hand.

You know what they will eat? Fermented lamb! And that’s not all. Here, Mead talks about a restaurant called Koks and its chef, Poul Ziska, who is at the center of her story:

Under Ziska, Koks gleefully embraces the potentially disgusting aspects of Faroese cuisine. In the nineteenth century, a Danish physician named Peter Ludvig Panum wrote a treatise entitled “Observations Made During the Measles Epidemic on the Faroe Islands in the Year 1846,” which noted that the archipelago’s inhabitants regularly ate meat that was crawling with maggots. Panum’s writings made many Faroese feel embarrassed about their culinary traditions, but Ziska does not doubt the account’s accuracy. “If you ferment the meat and the weather goes wrong, then you get maggots in it,” he noted, cheerfully. “It’s a completely natural thing to happen to any meat. Back then, you couldn’t throw any meat away—it was too valuable. You had to eat it to survive. What we did back then—and still do today—is you cook the meat but add rice.” (Rice has been imported for centuries.) One dish that Ziska has served at Koks is a twist on his ancestors’ starvation-level fare: flatbread filled with cooked fermented lamb and topped with ground mealworms, which Ziska buys from a pet-food supplier on the Internet. “Maggots are a very good source of protein, and could potentially save the planet, but when I give them to diners I don’t present it in that much depth,” he told me. “I just tell that fun little story about the rice.” Diners at Koks tend not to be timid eaters; with rare exceptions, the mealworms go down the hatch.

Read the whole thing. [1] It’s a good piece, but now I can tell you that there’s at least one place in this world that I will never visit. I make my travel decisions based in part on local cuisine. I told my wife this story. She said, “Is it haggis, things like that?” Ha! If only! Haggis sounds like cheesecake compared to this stuff.

I think I have a reputation on this blog as an adventurous eater. It’s not true. I actually have a very queasy stomach. In general, I’m not interested in organ meats (liver pâté being a big exception) and fermented things. “Fermented” means “rotting.” It’s not all bad. Cheese, for example, is nothing but fermented milk. Sauerkraut and kimchi are fermented cabbage. I love them all. But mostly, I am not a risk-taker in the area of fermentation.

A while back, I watched Anthony Bourdain’s episode in which he visits Iceland [2], and eats fermented shark, a traditional dish that he called one of the worst things he’d ever eaten (also on the list: Namibian warthog rectum). Here’s a clip of Bizarre Foods’ Andrew Zimmern eating the stuff. [3] That whole Bizarre Foods episode made me write Iceland off my bucket list. I’d love to see the country and meet its people, but man, I couldn’t handle the native cuisine.


How about you? Any foodie travel destinations appeal to you? For me, the most appealing, strictly in terms of cuisine, are Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia. Iceland and the Faroe Islands, not so much. I’ve never found much reason to think about South America (except Argentina for steak) and Africa (except Morocco for its spicy food) as places to go for their culinary offerings. Should I rethink that?

UPDATE: Turns out the yuckiest foodie destination imaginable is this weirdo’s table in Idaho.  [4]

78 Comments (Open | Close)

78 Comments To "Yuck Travel: Eating The Faroes"

#1 Comment By mrscracker On June 13, 2018 @ 2:26 pm

Alex says:

“Oh, and when it comes to organ meats, there are some versions that are quite wonderful. In southern France, gésiers de canard (duck gizzards) are popular and heavenly, as are ris de veau (sweetbreads).”
My grandma taught me how to cook sweetbreads. They’re an old timey food & very delicate, nothing like liver or kidneys.
Tripe isn’t half bad if cooked right. I think it’s supposed to be good for you, too.

#2 Comment By Randall H On June 13, 2018 @ 2:48 pm

Another vote to reconsider Iceland. The quality of the produce is quite outstanding – the fish and the lamb are among the best I’ve ever tasted. Even in basic roadside cafes you can get simple grilled lamb chops that are eye-poppingly packed with flavor. I didn’t bother with any of the weird stuff, and we ate very well while we were there. It’s also one of the most beautiful countries on earth, too, which of course helps.

#3 Comment By mainwayne On June 13, 2018 @ 2:53 pm

when it comes to food, Morocco and Lebanon were probably the most eye-opening paces I’ve visited. Especially Morocco. While I usually take a fair bit of Ideas back home to my own Kitchen, Morocco changed my own cooking the most. It’s not just the spiciness. The combination of spice, meat and sweet fruit, the deliciousness of these “lesser” pieces of a meat when made right… and it’s a beautiful place, most of it anyway.

#4 Comment By chablisienne On June 13, 2018 @ 3:01 pm

I’m impressed that James C liked andouillette on the first try. I’ve tried it three times at the urging of friends in France, and the third time was definitely not the charm. Still can’t stomach it – not even the smell.

[NFR: He ate it sitting with me at the Cafe Comptoir Abel in Nice, where we dined because Anthony Bourdain and Bill Buford had eaten there, and made it seem so great on TV. It did not disappoint. I did not try the andouillette. James C. is definitely a real gourmand. — RD]

#5 Comment By Kevin Sullivan On June 13, 2018 @ 3:57 pm

Rod, I’m not sure you’d love eating in Thailand. The, um, utter lack of public hygiene, clean water and garbage in the streets, and dead animals *everywhere*, made my stay in Bangkok a foodie nightmare.

My best friend loves Bangkok, and has gotten a particularly nasty bout of food poisoning there. They actually have medical centers devoted to the treatment of gastrointestinal dilemmas (on a side note, he said the medical facilities were sparkly and new, no wait, intelligent, kind staff, who sent him home with three presriptions, all for the measly sum of $185). Having said that, he loves the Chatuchak market, and says the food is absolutely delicious.

If you don’t want to leave the country, head to Los Angeles. Every country on the globe seems to have a small, delicious outpost in the hinterlands of L.A. where you get the most delicious food for pennies. Aremenian, Brazilian, Jamaican, Ethiopian, Korean, Peruvian, Argentina . . . I really need to go back.

#6 Comment By Longing for the Shire On June 13, 2018 @ 4:20 pm

Rod, Africa can be gastronomic heaven, and not just Morocco and the rest of the Maghreb countries. Ethiopian food is absurdly good. West African food can be gorgeous (pepper soup, jollof rice, chicken yassa). I suspect you’d also love a lot of food along the Indian Ocean coast – it’s deeply influenced by the Arab and Indian communities who lived and traded along that coast for centuries, as well as by the Portuguese. Zanzibari food, for example, has some interesting stews and curries and kebabs you’d enjoy, and Mozambican food (especially the seafood) can be excellent – peri peri prawns! And South Africa may be the quintessential example of African melting pot cooking. There’s the cooking of the African communities (which I personally found very meat heavy, but whatever floats your boat). Interestingly, during the Dutch colonial period, the enslaved population at the Western Cape wasn’t African; they were people from what’s now Malaysia, Indonesia, Madagascar, and other Indian Ocean countries, and the mingled food traditions of that mixed race community evolved into “Cape Malay” cooking – it’s wonderful, lots of curries, sweet and sour stews, interesting pastries. And the Indians were brought to South Africa as indentured servants for the sugarcane fields and as shopkeepers, so there’s a really interesting vernacular Indian cuisine (Google “Durban bunny chow”). And of course the white Afrikaner community have wonderful Dutch-influenced culinary traditions. All of this to say, it’s possible to eat your way from Cairo to the Cape and be very happy doing it.

#7 Comment By Eric Todd On June 13, 2018 @ 4:27 pm

Lebanese cuisine is amazing, with many fast-friendly small vegetarian dishes. Don’t do the Great Fast again without visiting a good Lebanese restaurant.

And as several have remarked, Ethiopian food, is outstanding and very social since it is typically shared amongst friends at the same table. The vegetarian options are also savoury and make for a good Lenten catharsis.

#8 Comment By Alex (the one that likes Ike) On June 13, 2018 @ 6:05 pm

Besides European and Mexican cuisines? Japanese butajiru and Philippine kare-kare. Though when I cook the latter myself, I prefer to use more… venerable cuts than the oxtail.

#9 Comment By Mark B. On June 13, 2018 @ 6:16 pm

Dear mr. Dreher,

Liver pâté sounds very neutral and even sympathic (by not wasting an organ from, let’s say, a cow). I love it myself too, espescially when the liver comes from a certain birdlike creature that lives in France and eats grass, when in the wild.

I will say no more…I know you love France and visit it regularly.

If you ever visit my native country the Netherlands, do get one of our raw fermented herrings (Hollandse nieuwe). I do eat one a day at least.

[NFR: Oh, I’ve been to the Netherlands many times, and love it very much. But I’ve never been able to bring myself to eat herring. Raw fermented fish — a bridge too far. I’ll stick with the pannekoeken and the rijsttafel. — RD]

#10 Comment By Heidi On June 13, 2018 @ 7:11 pm

Did anyone else here see the episode of Alton Brown’s old cooking show where he shows you how long to grind the coffee beans? He raises his eyebrow and says, very seriously, “you must count to FIFTEEN!” I still count to 15 when I’m grinding but my husband upped the ante by (stick your nose in the air while reading this next part) only using a non-electric bean grinder. Electric grinders being so low-brow don’t you know…but then, if I’m in a real pinch, I’ll drink gas station coffee as long as there’s plenty of cream and sugar to cover the bitter. Normally I drink coffee black and burning hot.
Rod, maybe you should have a separate good eats blog; maybe an extension of From Your Table? Seems like you have some serious foodie-readers.
Happy hiking in the Azores. And please. Being skinny is so overrated. We expect many From Your Table posts.

#11 Comment By Ryan Booth On June 13, 2018 @ 7:16 pm

Rod, you’ve already written about your need to go to Mexico and eat some of the complex dishes that Mexico is famous for (not the Tex-Mex you’re used to).

I echo everyone telling you to eat in Peru. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it. And it’s not all the same, either. The Amazonian food in Iquitos or Tarapoto has some real differences with the cuisine that you’ll get in Chiclayo or Lima.

As far as Iceland goes, I will tell you that, if you like lamb, you’d enjoy that place very much.

#12 Comment By Hound of Ulster On June 13, 2018 @ 8:49 pm

One of the best days I have ever had was a Sunday after Pascha about 2 years ago. Went to church back in my hometown in NY, then hopped on the bus and subway to go to a Byzantine music offering given by the men’s and women’s sections of the GOA Byzantine choir at Holy Trinity Catherdral in Manhattan. I had brunch at a Persian restaurant about a block and half away called Persepolis. The food was wonderful, filling without being heavy, with a glorious ice cream topped with traditional style Persian sherbet chased with a mint tea made with real mint leaves, which was followed by a beautiful celebration of Byzantine liturgical music. This being a very wealthy parish, the spread after the music was really good too. Fellowship and food were wonderful on so many levels.

#13 Comment By Brendan from Oz On June 13, 2018 @ 9:18 pm

If you want to taste the best Australian produce, dine in Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo or Beijing. True for lamb and beef (although our live-animal exporting for Halal reasons is a disgrace) as well as the seafood that never makes it to market on our shores, but is flown snap-frozen to Asia.

I suspect the same is true for Thailand and Indonesia.

The quality of food available here, although still good, just isn’t the same as it used to be. Globalism at work again.

#14 Comment By Alex On June 13, 2018 @ 9:19 pm

I don’t understand all the hate for ouzo.

Or actually I do – y’all late drinking it wrong. You’re not supposed to drink it straight. Instead you dilute it at least in half with water (at which point it suddenly turns cloudy white – the Greeks call this “lion’s milk) and drop in a piece of ice or two.

It’s wonderful on a hot summer evening, especially alongside some cold watermelon with a bit of feta and mint.

#15 Comment By Alex (the one that likes Ike) On June 13, 2018 @ 9:32 pm

When it comes to coffee grinding, it also depends on which method of brewing you’re planning to use. For example, I prefer to brew it in an espresso machine. So it’s twelve seconds instead of fifteen.

#16 Comment By Jeffersonian On June 13, 2018 @ 9:41 pm

Any foodie travel destinations appeal to you?

I want to go back to Tamil Nadu in India and do nothing but eat. I once ate breakfast at a little hole in the wall place in Chennai that served fresh, hand-squeezed orange juice from fruit picked fresh off the tree that was an arm reach out the window, served samosas freshly made and had biryani to die for. That neighborhood also had probably the best pizza I’ve ever had– just a very simple pizza margherita but with local cheese, a naan style crust, fresh basil, and a freshly made simple tomato sauce.

I also want to go back to Korea, where I lived for four years, for some of the dishes I miss like do-sot bi-bim-bap, real ramyun, zzha-zhang myun [what we foriegners called car-grease noodles], and sam-gyup-sal.

#17 Comment By Captain P On June 13, 2018 @ 10:46 pm

High-quality Scottish food is very underrated. Real haggis is delicious, Cullen skink is what Boston clam chowder dreams of being, and don’t get me started on the steak and ale pies. With a glass of whisky and a pint of ale – can’t go wrong.

#18 Comment By Quizman On June 14, 2018 @ 12:27 am

//Yeah, I’m sure my problem with African food is that I simply haven’t been exposed to enough of it, or heard it talked about. I’m eager to try it.//

It is too diverse a continent for one life to be able to do justice. I came across a Somalian food channel on youtube (run by a Canadian Somali couple) whilst I was searching for the perfect Egyptian recipe for foul mudammas (fava bean stew). I was blown away by the various recipes and have tried many. Lovely stuff, much of it can easily be attempted at home. The channel is called [5].

Try their variations of [6]

Or charm your family with this easy to make [7]

#19 Comment By Frank On June 14, 2018 @ 2:26 am

Yeah you are completely wrong about Iceland. I went across the whole island. The fish and lamb are amazing, lamb stew is good in a pinch, I tried Reindeer burger and whale sashimi style. I went to an amazing, high quality buffet in southern Iceland. There are so many good quality eats there. And they have done great things in craft beer since beer has only been legal there for a few decades.

Check out Andrew Zimmerman’s Faroe Islands program. The food there is a step down from Iceland but definitely not all yucky. Some of it looks damn good.

African food is really regionalized. It is like saying “European” or “Asian” food. It varies greatly south of the Sahara.

I don’t know how the food is in Azores but it may be a lot of fruits and veggies and perhaps even a step down from what is on offer in Iceland. I don’t remember the food being that notable when Bourdain went to the Azores…

#20 Comment By mrscracker On June 14, 2018 @ 6:51 am

Captain P,
I found everything delicious in the UK when I visited.
The best cup of tea was in Scotland.
I’ve heard that British food got its bad rap because of the rationing and effects of WWII.
My only complaint was that kippers were hard to find.
I’ve never eaten haggis but they sell ponce locally, a Cajun version:


#21 Comment By Nicholas Jagneaux On June 14, 2018 @ 9:17 am

Earlier on in the comment hajaxavier warned against eating things *simply* because of a Yuck factor. Although I don’t follow his (her?)advice, I have to agree.

In Evangeline Parish (Louisiana), October is squirrel season. We take it very seriously, even getting a day off of school for opening day. And, of course, we cook a nice squirrel sauce with our kill.

My Belgian in-laws and friends invariably refuse to try the squirrel, citing the Yuck factor. Of course, they’re wrong. It’s delicious, especially in the sauce. Well, needless to say, the smell and look is too much to resist, and they’ll end up eating and enjoying. But, they have to overcome that Yuck.

#22 Comment By brteacher On June 14, 2018 @ 2:30 pm

Frank, your comment is hilarious. You claim that the negative picture of Iceland painted by Bourdain is wrong, and then you say that the Azores are a step down from Iceland, because Bourdain wasn’t that impressed with the food he got there.

#23 Comment By mrscracker On June 15, 2018 @ 12:13 pm

Nicholas Jagneaux ,
I tied to post a comment about squirrel & how good it is but it disappeared into cyberspace.
But, yes. Absolutely.

#24 Comment By Rick On June 16, 2018 @ 12:49 am

Puffin in Iceland. Probably the most delicious bird I’ve eaten.

Think salmon and rare duck breast. Incredible.

#25 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On June 16, 2018 @ 4:53 pm

Jefferson Smith,

I’m ethnically Tamil and was in Chennai last October (my grandfather was in his last illness and passed away in January).

The kind of Indian food you get in people’s homes is really really very different from what you’ll get in restaurants, and I’ll venture to say if you haven’t had the opportunity to sample southern Indian food in someone’s home then you’re missing out on a lot of Southern Indian cuisine. Probably the case for most cuisines, really.

Some of the commonest staple vegetables on South Indian tables are things like okra, pumpkins, chayote (Rod probably calls it “mirliton”). As well as of course the tropical vegetables that don’t ever even make it to US markets, like moringa leaves and fruits. I remember eating some delicious sautéed okra and a chayote and carrot dish when I was in Chennai, but those are the kinds of things you never see in an indian restaurant, even one of the few that specializes in Southern indian cooking. Restaurant food is also a lot more greasy / heavy than the “home” style of cooking.

As you note it’s also interesting to see what India has made of foreign cuisines, like the aforementioned pizza. “Indian Chinese” cooking is its own distinct style that, like US Chinese cuisine, probably has little in common with what you’d actually see in China.

#26 Comment By Rob R On June 17, 2018 @ 7:38 am

South Indian! The best breakfast in the world may be dosa with sambar and rasam.

Fish sauce is made from fermented fish, as is Japanese bonito. Malaysian food is made with belacan, fermented shrimp paste. And hopefully I’m not spoiling anyone’s appetite, but salami, pepperoni, and summer sausage are all fermented.

#27 Comment By VikingLS On June 17, 2018 @ 7:48 am

“Haggis gets a bad rap — it’s actually quite tasty. And I say that as a very nonadventurous eater.”

I second that. I usually get Haggis for the Paschal feast and share it. Everybody who has tried it has said they liked it.

#28 Comment By VikingLS On June 17, 2018 @ 8:26 am

““Indian Chinese” cooking is its own distinct style that, like US Chinese cuisine, probably has little in common with what you’d actually see in China.”

Jennifer Lee touches on the national variations of “Chinese” food in her great Ted talk “The Hunt for General Tso” [9]

I want to put a plug in for Russia as a culinary destination. In addition to Russian food, which is quite good, there are great central Asian restaurants (even a couple chains of them), good Turkish food, and, thanks to sharing a border with China, very good Chinese food. Russians are also REALLY into Sushi, but I’ve never been able to get over the gag reflex (and I have tried repeatedly) when it comes to Sushi, so I can’t comment on the quality.