April 24, 2019

Skata – a disgusting Christmas tradition?

by Águsta Björg Þorsteinsdóttir
Skata – a disgusting Christmas tradition?

Putrefied skata or “skate” is a part of many Icelanders Christmas traditions. The thing about skata is that you either hate it or love it, there is no in between. It’s not only the taste that is acquired – but also the smell! The taste and smell can be described as astringent and the scent of skata permeates your clothing – well and just your whole body!  This smell fills the air on the 23rd of December when most people go to a skate-feast, so if you are doing some last minute Christmas shopping and stand in line behind a smelly person, don’t judge – it’s the smell of Christmas.

3 Frakkar

Photo by 3 Frakkar Restaurant

Most people go to a skate-feast at a family member’s house but more and more restaurants have started to offer the debatable delicatessen as well. In the olden days, people ate skate the day before Christmas so they really would appreciate the Christmas dinner…

So eating a skata is partly the enjoyment of the meal but also the act of eating it is an important piece of the experience. Every year the family starts by speculating – will the skate be putrefied enough? This means, will it be that strong that you lose your breath each time you but a bite in your mouth and will the skin of your tongue burn off? The laughing when somebody coughs or gets teary-eyed makes the whole affair just perfect!

The skata is served with potatoes, beets, rye bread and a lot of butter. Some people replace the butter with “hamsatólg” or “hnoðmör” which is melted lamb suet – personally, I find it weird to eat wish that tastes like lamb….


  • Don’t try to drink red wine after eating skate – or anything with a delicate taste!
  • Don’t wear your best clothes to a skate-feast! Wear your sweatpants and then throw everything immediately in the 
    washing machine
    and yourself in the shower.

Bon appetite!


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