Northern Delights

23.7.2004
Words by Robert Jackson
A new book joins the ‘Lost in Iceland’ brigade this year, which has a refreshing take on a area of growing interest - Icelandic food. It seems that fine food restaurants have never been more prolific, nor busier, in Reykjavík, and Erna Kaaber´s ‘Northern Delights’ is well worth a read, particularly if you would like to understand something about the development of restaurant dining in this country. The tradition of Icelandic hospitality is at its core; Kaaber refers to its inclusion in the ancient Book of Settlement.
Fire is needed by the newcomer
Whose knees are frozen numb
Meat and clean linen a man needs
Who has fared across the fells.
In the introduction to the book Kaaber traces the history of dining and hospitality when, in 1809, guests were treated to a feast of sago soup with red wine and raisins, followed by salmon and tern´s eggs (who was brave enough to collect them?) all washed down with cognac. Here, too, is the history of some Reykjavík´s most famous eateries. The narrative is laced with interesting detail and colourful characters; the communists and Kommakaffi and the journalists and actors at Prikið, all feature.
The second half of the book is a tour of the famous restaurants containing more anecdotes and history . They’re all here. Siggi Hall, Vox, Einar Ben, La Primavera, Listasafnið and others. And what makes it so good is that for the cash-strapped reader (which undoubtedly you are), Kaaber gives each restaurant’s signature dish accompanied with photos, which themselves are good enough to eat. So even if you can´t afford to actually visit these places, a quick visit to the supermarket and an evening of determined work will enable you to eat off Humarhusið´s lemon grass lobster tails, pig out on Apotek´s creme brulee or, if you are truly getting into the spirit of the country, The Three Frencheman´s whale steak with peppered gravy.
If all this proves too much for you, then Kaaber completes the tour of Reykjavík´s best with a visit to the world´s most famous hotdog stand, Bæjarins Beztu. So if your souflée won´t rise and you´ve incinerated the lamb, seek solace in the way we lesser mortals do, with a brace of ‘Eina með öllu’ - that´ll sort you out.

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