16 October 2005

Food mysteries

One of the things that has always mystified me is the unusual selection of food products in the grocery stores here. There's plenty of national pride in the dairy section, and the Sláuturfélag Suðurlands can always be relied on for a good meat product, but what about the canned goods, the shampoo, and the laundry soap? When I started to look at things, the variety was astounding. I've seen drinking straws from Greece, our favorite spicy bottled sauce, Nando's, is from South Africa (this one always makes us hum "Fernando" as we cook). The green peas are from Kenya, the canned tomatoes all have English prices printed on the labels, we buy Italian cornflakes, and panty liners have Arabic instructions. When I started to see Eastern European packaging for the shampoo, I had to find out what the deal was.

Most of the people I had asked had never thought about it. Much like I didn't spend much time thinking about what was available at the local Stah Mahket, these are the products they grew up seeing so they hadn't thought of it as much of a burning question. I finally found the answer last week, and it's not too unexpected. Turns out the deal is that most countries require that products sold in the stores there be labled in the local language. Iceland's market is so tiny that they don't have similar requirements, just stating that there be labels in either English or another Scandinavian language. This has meant that occasionally we've had to cross-reference certain products in an attempt to figure out if it is exactly what we want. Laundry products are one of those challenges, since there are so many similarly-packaged liquids that perform different functions. After learning the Danish words for "fabric softener" and "hand washing soap" I am starting to understand why so many Icelanders can read so many other languages. It's the only way they can keep their clothes in order.

Actually, it takes me back to my first trip here a year ago, when I bought some tempting looking spinach balls at the store. When I turned the package over when I brought it home, J and I were lost in the sea of crossed o's and a's with circles on the top. I found a phrase with numbers in it, so I figured it must be the time they had to cook and followed the "instructions" for dinner. When I asked an Icelandic friend about it a few days later, turns out I was reading how many months they could be kept in the freezer, and the cooking instructions didn't have any numbers in it. The meal turned out great anyway, so I guess it wasn't much of a liability after all.

Ship report: Guðmundur is getting scraped down, and there's been a lot of fishing boat activity in and out of the harbor today. I've also got to get down to inspect the boats at the shipyard next to where Guðmundur is- these are all much smaller boats that make much slower progress. They're also not so conveniently close to the road, so a quick drive-by isn't enough to be able to see the names.

No comments: