04 May 2006

Cuisine from the inside

Everyone's always going on about hákarl and skata, harðfiskur and sviðasulta in the guide books and trip reports, but the fact of the matter is, we're not all sitting around up here eating it on a daily basis. Just to give you an idea of the daily experience, here are a few tips:

  • Jam goes with meat. Not just the lamb-and-mint jelly of my childhood, but thick, smooth rhubarb jam with lamb, berry jam with meatloaf (also not the kind of meatloaf I once knew, but a peculiarly smooth, bouncy type), and of course, the Swedish meatballs with jelly we just had for lunch today, smothered in brown gravy.
  • Peppercorns are a major feature. This week alone, I have had three meals that featured peppercorns- a green peppercorn sauce with lamb on Monday, ocean catfish with pepper sauce on Tuesday, and the gravy today had whole peppercorns punctuating the flavor. It's on pizza too.
  • Eggs are fancy. They're to be sprinkled in soup, and on sandwich day in the cafeteria at work, you're the odd one out if you're not layering your sandwich with egg slices.
  • Which brings me to sandwiches. These are not your slab o-cheese, tomatoes and mayo between two bread sandwiches I had in school. Sandwiches here are single slices of bread, feature red and yellow peppers, lots of mayo-based "salads" (that's another issue... salads are not what I thought they would be) and are to be consumed with a fork and knife. Pick up that silverware folks, and dig in!
  • "and then it was time for coffee", wrote Halldór Laxness in Independent People, after a brief description of a wedding ceremony. The coffee description was many pages longer. This is still true. When there is a pause in conversation, it is probably time for coffee. After any event you go to, there will also be coffee. This is a well-caffeinated nation.
  • Vegetables and fruit ARE part of meals here, although a lot of the produce comes from somewhere else, especially Holland and the US. We've got a bag of carrots from California in the fridge right now. The stuff that is grown in Iceland is proudly emblazoned with a flag, and is better than the average produce from an American grocery store. Seriously, great tomatoes here. I eat tons of them.
  • Cheese where I grew up was always cheddar, if you didn't specify otherwise. Here, it's gouda, the un-aged variety, and it comes in any fat percentage you want. For the extra-chubby variety (30%), try the Gotti. J and I love the rolypoly schoolkid mascot on it. If you really love him, go to the pool at Selfoss, where they have a larger-than-life statue of him in the kiddie pool.
  • However, this is not the ONLY kind of cheese we have. Want Norwegian brown goat cheese? There's a locally produced variety of it, along with dozens of other cheeses- feta, cheddar, spiced havarti, mozzarella? Got it, and it's made right here.
  • There are no sausages here, other than a universally-disliked type with a smoky flavor that resembles hangikjöt. There is salami and pepperoni too, but I cannot find a good hot italian sausage, the kind that they grill on Lansdowne street at 2am, and serve up with fried onions and peppers in a big soft bun. I miss those.
  • With the exception of the sad sausage issue, I haven't missed anything else. All those cargo ships are doing their job well, and the stores have the fixings for all manner of crazy things. We do have taco shells, Indian spices, soy sauce, lots of Italian stuff (I loove me some tortellinis), even sauces from Africa. It may not all be available in every grocery store, but it's still here, on the Land somewhere. Icelandic recipes 60 years ago may have always been the same five ingredients assembled in different ways, but it's not the case here anymore.
  • Finally, since this has become an issue in J's blog, let me re-iterate that skyr is NOT yogurt. It is, however, excellent in the plain variety with a drizzle of maple syrup. Especially on pancakes.
And now, time for coffee.

Ship sighting: A Faroese ship called Lómur is coming today. The name means "loon", which I like, because there is a special kind of loon that lives here, and is different from the type I've seen in New England. Someone else thought it was a cool ship too- here's a Faroese website of someone that's built a model of it. Click the image of the boat for more under-construction photos.


cK said...

Lovley. I adore culinary posts. Thanks.

The whole sandwich scene reminds me that in Copenhagen and southern Sweden we were always eating open-faced sandwiches. (My mother used to bill open-faced grilled cheese as almost a delicacy. I loved it. I've always been easy to dupe.)

The sandwiches in Copenhagen were massive. They were like a piece of thick bread hidden beneath a salad and eight pieces of blackened chicken.

In Skane, it was pretty much the same. Huge sandwiches at lunch, though they'd sometimes add a second slice of bread atop, the piece just floating there, dwarfed by all the vegetables. (Skane is Sweden's most agrarian province, so plenty of righteously fresh veggies.)

Gjetost is a gift of the gods.

ECS said...

cK: My dad was the same way about open-faced sandwiches! Especially hot ones, with roast beef and gravy (actually, those WERE pretty good). I've never had Swedish sandwiches but there's a Danish sandwich place here. Only time I've ever seen a sandwich (open-faced, naturally) topped with an eggshell that contained a raw yolk drizzled with port wine.

There's actually even a locally made spready-cheese thing that tastes just like gjetost. It's on the dairy shelf next to a bunch of desserts, so I bought it, thinking that's what I was getting, and then tried to eat it with a spoon. Much better on a cracker with a few cucumber slices.

Angel said...

Life without sausages? I couldn't face life without sausages E- On the days that I am lucky enough to have some around I often fry one for me, and one for the dog. Probably why all my pants no longer fit.....

My favorite sandwiches have tended to be the huge kind from my childhood- My dad's warm meatloaf with mashed potatos and gravy on top sandwich, and the huge, dripping beef french dips with onions that sell in Downtown Los Angeles- mmm sandwich.

You are making me hungry girl!

sb said...

My favorite is an open faced Danish sandwich with shrimp, slice of lemon, and a piece of some green stuff, garnish I believe, leafy ?! (sorry I don't know how to cook or even make a sandwich)
The bread should be white, danish made, buttered with real butter, greenland shrimp on top, mayo on the edges, lemon to squeese, and all of this should be enjoyed with a nice cold Carlsberg or a Tuborg.
Man! That is delish!

ECS said...

Angel- yeah, the sausage thing is a bit grim, but I hear there's a Polish store in the next town away that might yield up some kielbasa. I'll just have to eat tons of them when I go to Italy in June (won't J love it when I come rolling off the plane?)

Sirrý- I had that sandwich when J had his egg-stravaganza at Jómfrúin! It reminds me of brauðterta here (layers of thinly sliced squashy white bread with shrimp, mayonnaise, parsley and eggs). I would have objected to this combination strongly as a child, since it contains all my least-favorite items (boiled eggs, mayo, and squashy white bread), but somehow it all works together magically well.

tsduff said...

Jam with meat: so THATs why my Sweetie always goes nuts for the jam :-) He has it on Pönnukökur, kleiner, toast, in meat casseroles, you name it. I have a Danish geneology, which might explain my own cravings for fish in just about any form, lamb, rich cheeses, cream, butter and pickled things. All this sandwich talk has really got me hungry! Guess I'll go grab a taco to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

Mo'a said...

Great post and right on. I still like sulta with my gravy. I have lived here in the US for more years than I care to mention and I still like my sandwith open face and to eat it with a knife and a fork when it is messy....a friend of mine could not believe it when I ate a hamburger with a fork and a knife after taking the top part of the bun off. The brown whipped cheese you mentioned was my generations equvalent to peanut butter.
To answer a question you had in another post.....Whole Foods does sell a lot of the Icelandic products that they have....I have to be sure to buy the lamb as soon as they get it inn so that I don't miss out....their promotion is very clever all about no hormones, free range etc. Pushes a lot of buttons here.

Farbror Willy said...

Are the "universally-disliked sausages" bjúgu?

If it is, then in the bjúga's defence, I think "universally-disliked" is a bit harsh. Bjúgu with kartöflumús is perfectly edible. This was a typical tuesday-night meal when I was a kid.

However, it's not like it's something I pick up at the supermarket at present day :). My sources in the meat industry say it's partially made from meat that wasn't good enough to be used in pylsur (and the stuff they make pylsur of is probably bad enough already).

Can't imagine young people nowadays eat that much bjúgu, so eventually it might disappear from the market.