Skata – disgusting or delicious Christmas tradition?

Culture and Culinary Tours

Putrefied skata or “skate” is an integral part of many Icelander’s 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 must be acquired – but also the smell! The taste and smell can be described as astringent and the scent of skata permeates your clothing – well, let’s just be honest, the scent can permeate your whole body!  The unique smell of skata 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.

 Skata icelandic christmas tradition

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

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

Traditionally, 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 fish that tastes like lamb….


  • Don’t try to drink red wine after eating skate – or anything with a delicate taste! The strong flavour simply ruins the 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. Trust me!

Bon appetit!