REYKJAVIK – the taste of whale

I hoped to see whales and puffins while in Iceland, but I wasn’t expecting dead ones to land on my plate.

Restaurants in Reykjavik are keen to tell tourists they serve Icelandic cuisine. This includes lobster and lamb, but also minke (sometimes translated as ‘mink’) whale and puffin dishes.

Whale steaks seemed the most popular, though an upmarket seafood place also listed ‘minke whale sashimi’ among their appetisers.

After some discussion at our table it was agreed that in the interests of scientific research we would eat a whale. Not a whole one – just a little bit.

One of our number ordered it. This is what it looked like.

Even all that brown sauce doesn't improve it.

I don’t know whether Iceland’s whales and puffins are endangered species. I can’t explain why I cheerfully eat sheep and chickens but am inclined to gag at the thought of eating whales and puffins.

If they could express an opinion, the sheep and the chickens of Iceland would probably be all for the eating of whales and puffins.

Icelanders, along with Norwegians and Japanese, claim that irrespective of ecological considerations they should be allowed to continue whaling because it’s a ‘tradition’ in their culture.

All cultures have traditions – slavery, foot-binding and flushing new kids’ heads down toilets for example.

Maybe reducing whale numbers makes Iceland a better place for fish and seals. Maybe losing a few puffins means gaining a few gannets. These are separate questions.

We shared the whale. I can now report that the meat is dark and very tough. The chicken tagliatelle was far better and so was the lamb.

Now I know that nobody needs to eat whales. I won’t be doing it again. The taste is nothing special and I’d rather see them alive.


Filed under Travel- Europe

12 responses to “REYKJAVIK – the taste of whale

  1. Fiona Gillies

    Hear hear

  2. I have to say that it doesn’t look all that good. I ate reindeer under protest and I refused bear in Finland. I think I would give the whale a miss.

  3. Agnès

    I think even ‘tripes’ in France are beter than whale….

    • Agnes, one good thing about French cuisine is that it isn’t wasteful. Every part of the animal – brains, kidneys, liver and stomach lining – can be eaten, and can taste good if cooked well.

      Icelanders are practical people, surviving in a harsh climate. They too know how to use a whole animal, with traditional cooking and preserving methods.

      But in the modern world, they could survive very well without eating whales.

  4. Riley Walsh

    Speaking as someone who has had whale on multiple occasions, this is ridiculous and untrue. It is true that the whale population needs to be supported if we are to hunt them, but the meat is the most delicious steak I have ever had, not to mention indescribably tender. It is one thing to dissuade people from killing a species with facts,. It is another to outright lie.

    • Riley, thanks for the visit and comment.

      I have eaten whale only once, so I freely admit to being no expert. However, I can assure you that it was absolutely true that the one steak we were served in that one Reykjavik restaurant was very tough and not particularly tasty. Maybe they keep the good whale steaks for themselves and serve the rubbish to curious tourists like me.

      I’ve had tough beef steaks and tender ones too, so I’m interested to hear that somewhere out there there is edible whale meat. There must be, I suppose, otherwise why would anyone defend whaling so vigorously? I also understand the anachronism of my being fine with eating some species of animals (cows, sheep and kangaroos) but squeamish about eating others (cats and koalas for instance) and I know that my objection to eating whale is largely cultural.

      But I also particularly dislike the hypocrisy of whaling for ‘scientific purposes’. If there were a ban on selling the ‘by-products’ of the research for human consumption, the scientists would quickly decide they didn’t need to kill quite so many of these beautiful animals.

  5. I disagree with this. Puffins is one of my favoured animals and I would hate to see them like that. And whales? Well, they don’t need to be killed. They are already growing endangered and this is just another excuse too kill them! It’s cruel too even IMAGINE a puffin or whale kept in slavery then being killed in what-ever horrible way they do that in! And why do they choose the puffin and whale when they have seals and lots of fish? It’s not like the two animals are delicacies or anything particularly tasty…
    Thanks for reading ~

    • Thanks for the visit and comment. Having recently seen puffins in the wild I agree that I don’t want to see them on the menu. I’d also feel reluctant to eat seal meat – one of my favourite animals.

      But I recognise that this distaste is due to my own cultural prejudices. I’m fine with eating chicken and small amounts of lamb, pork or beef.

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