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Experiencing the Traditional Delicacy of Whale Meat in the Faroe Islands

Jul. 23rd, 2013 | Comments 14 | Make a Comment   
Whale, whale blubber, mutton sausage, dried mutton and dried fi
Photo Credit: bumihills | Shutterstock

The Faroe Islands are a chain of 18 islands in the North Atlantic Ocean, northwest of Scotland and right between Iceland and Norway. The people of the islands have a true Viking heritage, with Norwegian and Celtic backgrounds. You can get there by taking the Faroese airlines, Atlantic Airlines...and financially, it makes sense to make a grand trip out of it by flying from Reykjavik, Iceland (other flight origin options include places like Denmark and Norway). If you prefer the sea to air, there are also car ferries that will take you to the Faroes from Iceland.  In such a rarely remarked upon part of Europe, what do the people there eat? I first heard about the Faroes on Animal Planet's show Whale Wars, where its rather insufferable protagonist, Paul Watson, challenged the right of the islanders to eat what they've been eating for 1,000 years — the Pilot whale. You might be surprised to find that out that quite a few cultures consider whale a delicacy. The Pilot whale (which is quite small with a strong flavor) is what people mainly eat in the Faroes; there are several varieties of whale that people all over the planet enjoy.

Photo Credit: Katarina Hoglova | Shutterstock

While traditional restaurants can be great, you should definitely try out an in-home meal once or twice. In Søldarfjørður, a certain Mr. and Mrs. Hansen have what they call a "home visit" for lunch or dinner at their house — a private experience, though during busy times, there may be other diners present. In what was once the family's work shed (people in the Faroes do a lot of meat and fish drying) is the charming dinner space for visitors, where you will find vintage family photos and a large dining table. If you wish, you can also dine privately in their garden with a stunning vista of mountains and the sea. Make arrangements in advance for dinner, which will probably work out to be about $50 US per person. Additionally, they can arrange hiking in the nearby mountains, fishing, and even sheep farming!

The Hansens' son-in-law, Bogi Simonsen, serves as their translator and is a good advertisement for eating whale: athletic, proud and good-looking. He is quick to share stories of how whale harvesting and eating isn't something they thought of to do for tourists, it's serious survival food and a gourmet snack. At big events like weddings and major anniversary parties, they pass around whale like we pass around raw oysters. Dried whale meat and blubber are often served in little hors d'oeuvres pieces and is considered a treat amongst these hearty Viking descendants.

Whale harvesting isn't regulated, per se, in the Faroe Islands, but 500-year-old traditions and the local police keep things in check. For example, it's never sold in stores. Instead, the meat is given away — first cuts to the whalers, then to widows, orphans, the poor, hospital residents, then finally, to the remaining local residents. I asked if whale meat was ever used in combination recipes, like casseroles or perhaps an omelette. The answer? "Never!"

Photo Credit: Tamar Alexia Fleishman, Esq.

Dried whale is made by squeezing out the moisture from the long tubular loin cut for a few months. I heard that people in the southern islands of the Faroes, where it's incredibly remote, have more time and patience in drying the whale meat — it's supposed to be "the best."

Bogi told me that they eat the whale with bites of boiled potato, making a taste similar to that of a strong clam chowder. Dried whale has a beef jerky texture, but with a much stronger-than-anchovy flavor. The dried whale blubber has an oily, fruit roll-up texture. I really recommend trying it with the accompanying potato because when I tasted the whale without it first, the flavor simply was not for me.

Photo Credit: Axel Lauer | Shutterstock

Another common thing on their traditional appetizer platters is different forms of mutton. Mutton, providing more meat than a lamb, is prevalent in their way of life. The Hansens make their own dried mutton — like prosciutto — and fatty sausage, with a sharp onion flavor. This, you eat with homemade rye bread. While featuring bolder flavors than we are normally used to, mutton is fairly accessible to our palettes. Both whale and sheep have a strong odor, which you start to recognize when you pass people's drying sheds.

Yet another mainstay on their appetizer plates is dried fish, which is very accessible. The taste is pretty subtle as I've eaten anchovy crackers from Asian grocery stores in the States that were stronger. Dried fish is like Triscuits with a slight fish flavor. It's common in other places, such as Iceland, to spread them with a little butter.

Lena Hansen could make her fortune if she'd only can and sell her fish soup. Made with redfish and secret ingredients — I detected tomatoes, cream, hot sauce and chopped veggies — it puts most bouillabaisses to shame. It's rich, mild, sweet and addictive comfort food. Pure, cold water is the beverage at the house, by the way. I don't know if they'd go for BYOB or not, but beer would be great with this meal — especially when you consider the several excellent microbreweries on the islands.

Photo Credit: Diana Taliunfaroe | Shutterstock

The Faroe Islands are where some of the world's tastiest fish are caught. I tried a saltwater catfish caught that day by a friend of the Hansens', as well as locally farmed salmon. Both were excellent. The catfish was very tender and softer than cod, while the salmon was nicely cooked and seasoned with a seasoning salt. A gravy boat of fish sauce was served with the meal — creamy mild and delicate, seasoned with garden-grown scallions. It went well with the fish, though the fish was so fresh it didn't really require a sauce.

I don't know if vegetarians or vegans could thrive on the Faroe Islands because with the harsher climate and winds, it's hard to grow vegetables. Potatoes and a couple of root veggies, like carrots, can thrive but not much else. The only native fruit on the Faroe Islands is rhubarb! Rhubarb requires quite a bit of sugar to make it palatable, which is something to keep in mind. Lena Hansen makes a crustless cobbler with garden fresh rhubarb and an eggy custard cream, made with her own chickens' eggs.

Needless to say that if you decide on an excursion to the amazing Faroe Islands, you really need to check out the Hansen's private "home visit" to ensure a tasting of all foods the archipelago has to offer.

Start planning by contacting:

Garðavegur 27, Søldarfjørður, Faroe Islands
Phone number: (+298) 217841
Email: lena@e-post.fo

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14 Comments on this Article

merrell commented on November 20, 2013

Times change. Slaughtering sentient creatures to continue a tradition that is outmoded and is now potentially hazardous to the humans that consume whale mean is just plain crazy and inhumane.

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diane commented on November 20, 2013

Why would anyone want to come to your country to experience the so called culture of eating Whale meat ? Its totally disgusting how you kill these intelligent beings I'm sure if people witness the true horror of what you do to them they would condemn you all as demons of the natural world ...How dare you promote yourselves as friendly and accommodating human beings ...and plead with people to try Whale meat ...Its barbaric and totally unneccessary to eat the meat at all ! ... get into the 21st century its not the 1600's anymore and the world has more respect than you think for these beautiful mammals ....any country that eats whale meat should be condemned they are being slaughtered at an alarming rate ! Until you stop this evil carnage no one will come to your shores ...How dare you ..SHAME ON YOU !!!!!

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Jean Karlsson commented on November 20, 2013

Why havent you mentioned the manner in which these whales are caught-- at least 50 boats intimidate them and scare them and herd them to the shore and You are forgetting to mention entire family units of whales are dragged to the shore by their flukes and brutally murdered. 1st with a spike shoved through their blowhole, and then have their throats slit. Pregnant whales, juvenile whales and babies are murdered. I have seen footage of children taking part in this. This is not tradition! This is murder and greed. These whales are intelligent in the highest regard and are instrumental in the survival of marine wildlife. Not to mention, the recent facts of whale meat being toxic to eat , because of the levels of mercury in their flesh, amongst many other chemicals deemed extremely unsafe for humans to digest. You are no longer vikings as that era has long ended! With every continued "grind" (the drive and slaughter of these pilot whales) comes more shame on your country. The pilot whale in itself is classified in the DOLPHIN family so why dont you just say Dolphin meat? Recently a pod( a close family unit) of 80 were herded to the shores and brutally murdered. Pregnant females had their stomachs cut open so their dead calfs could spill out onto the ground. Instead of having such pride of this "whale meat" you should really have shame! The world is becoming more aware of your practices and taking note of the barbaric slaughter and not looking at it as tradition. Instead they are looking at it with anger and remorse! SHAME ON YOU!

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Joe Stebbins commented on November 20, 2013

► Eating (most) species of Whale is akin to CANNIBALISM! ► It's not the 16th century anymore. We now understand these animals and the critical nature of their natural evolution. ► Science has demonstrated - irrefutably - that humans are no longer unique in possessing individuality, self-awareness, cognizant social behavior, language, culture and intellect. ► Whale 'meat' is the most toxic of all food sources in the world, packed with mercury, radiation, heavy metals; many strains of vibros, parasites and other disease. ► Do you want to be regarded as "barbarians" "psychopaths" "sociopaths" etc.? ► EDUCATE YOURSELVES - you MUST have INTERNET there by now; Google just 3 key phrases: - Cognizant Behavior - Self Aware Social Animals - Toxins in Whale Meat ► UNDERSTAND that Whales are not the same as fish ► Join the rest of the world and RECOGNIZE the International Whale Sanctions you REFUSE to comply with. ► Until then, know that an enormous and growing number of us are BOYCOTTING your entire country over the atrocities committed here.

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Lisa Alba commented on November 20, 2013

Whales are NOT oysters! They are tortured and slaughtered without consideration. This is a barbaric practice and needs to be eliminated! You need to do your homework before you post articles like this.

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Jennifer John commented on November 20, 2013

This entire article is disgusting. Aside from the fact that these animals are tortured and then slaughtered there are serious health issues involved with the consumption of their meat.

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Toni Gutierrez commented on November 20, 2013

CONSUMPTION NO LONGER RECOMMENDED: "The growing scientific documentation has, during recent years, given rise to the anticipation that the time was approaching when it would be appropriate to recommend against any human consumption of pilot whale meat and blubber. From the latest research results, the authors consider that the conclusion from a human health perspective must be to recommend that pilot whale is no longer used for human consumption (16). It is with great sadness that this recommendation is provided. The pilot whale has served the Faroese well for many hundreds of years and has likely kept many Faroese alive through the centuries. But the times and the environment are changing, and we therefore believe that this recommendation is necessary from a human health point of view." READ MORE: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3417701

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Rosco Jackson commented on November 20, 2013

Who the hell in their right mind would eat whale? plus with the toxins why would you even take the risk,a bunch of sick F#*%ers

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Kirsten Massebeau commented on November 20, 2013

Exactly! Why advertise a food that will harm generations to come. The author touts the whale meat as a delicacy when it is poison. In addition, the killing methods are inhumane, and the population numbers data deficient.

Kirsten Massebeau commented on November 20, 2013

No Vegan agenda here just stating the facts: DIETARY RECOMMENDATIONS REGARDING PILOT WHALE MEAT AND BLUBBER IN THE FAROE ISLANDS Pál Weihe, Hřgni Debes Joensen "The latest analyses show that the mercury concentration of pilot whale remains high, with an average of about 2 micrograms per gram. In the EU, the highest limit value of 1 microgram per gram is only applicable to the most contaminated species of fish. This limit is exceeded by most pilot whales." The physicians noted that mercury and PCB exposure contribute to Parkinson's disease in adults, impaired immunity in children, and compromised fetal development. "It is recommended that pilot whale is no longer used for human consumption," they warned. If you would like a link please let me know. Pilot Whale meat is deemed unfit for consumption. We are not talking about grass fed organic beef so again irresponsible can only describe your post.

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Toni Gutierrez commented on November 20, 2013

Why don't you warn about the toxins and the extreme cruelty just so you can sell this "specialty"? How irresponsilbe. www.toxic-menu.org

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Jewlz commented on November 20, 2013

Don't eat dolphins and small whales!!! They are toxic and tortured when captured and killed. Please don't support murder.

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Kirsten Massebeau commented on November 19, 2013

I find this article very irresponsible in regards to small cetacean mean meaning dolphins. 1) Pilot Whale meat who are in the dolphin family, Atlantic white sided dolphins are toxic and unfit for human consumption, the hunt is cruel and inhumane, and their population numbers are data deficient. What you are advertising is a poison food obtained through blood sport. #EndFaroeGrind

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Tamar Alexia Fleishman commented on November 20, 2013

While whale and much Asian tuna has mercury content that one should watch if one is in a frail health situation (disease, elderly, pregnant), the Faroese have been eating whale for 1,200 years. Don't foist your vegan agenda on others.

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