Smoked Puffin - Gastro Obscura
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Smoked Puffin

This controversial meat is ingrained in ancient Nordic culture.

Iceland is home to the world’s largest puffin colony. It’s also the only country where people can legally hunt the wild seabirds, which are locally known as lundi. Puffins spend most of the year living on the ocean, but come ashore to mate in summer. Icelanders call the seasonal hunt that ensues lundaveiðar (pronounced LOON-da-veyth-ar). 

Hunters don’t use guns to take down puffins mid-flight. Rather, they attach giant nets to the end of long poles. Then, they station themselves cliffside, wait for unsuspecting birds to swoop by, and scoop them into the net. This tradition is not new; Nordic coastal culture has relied on seabirds for at least a millennium. Archaeologists uncovered seabird bones in the middens—or waste dumps—of Viking settlements. A 13th-century Icelandic law book even dictates landowner hunting rights (including restrictions on catching birds in close proximity to eggs). 

In recent years, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) added Europe-dwelling Atlantic puffins to their list of endangered species. Contributing factors include climate change, introduced predators, diminished food supply, harm from fisheries, and over-hunting. Puffin remains legal to hunt, and restaurants in Iceland continue to serve it, as well. Often served smoked, the tender, dark meat has qualities of game bird and salty fish all rolled into one.

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