Published July 25, 2003
Iceland’s relationship with sweets has long been a strange one. For the most part it seems we tend to think of blatantly commercial, 100% American brands of sweets and cereals as somehow distinctively Icelandic. General Mills´ Coco Puffs (or Kókó Pöffs, as it’s affectionately known) is so ingrained in our culture that a whole generation of people, now in their late twenties, grew up on it. The bugle shaped snack “Buggles,” pronounced böggles (like Muggles from the Harry Potter books) is, despite appearances to the contrary, treated as if it were an old Icelandic delicacy from the fifth century, and then there’s Prince Polo, the Polish wafer biscuit which has inexplicably melted its way into the affections of Icelanders and I would need the whole article to truly do its impact upon Icelandic culture justice.
The sale of M&Ms and Skittles was banned in Iceland from the mid 70´s until the mid 90´s, due to the 1976 controversy that arose about the type of food colouring used in the red pieces. This meant that the only means we had of obtaining that much coveted confectionary was to buy it duty-free. Anyone coming from abroad was therefore obliged to bring back a bag and would rise to high status within his family for as long as the candy lasted. Even though M&Ms are now widely available it still holds a special place in our collective sweet tooth and people rarely fail to bring a bag through customs.
We have the same quirks when it comes to soda, particularly Jolly Cola and Spur. An unremarkable soda really, Jolly Cola is a Danish brand and still widely available there and in the Faeroe Islands, where it’s their biggest seller. Spur, however, is much rarer and only spoken of in hushed tones – legend has it that it can still be purchased in remote towns in the south of Portugal, under heavy guard by the ferocious natives, indeed some of those who have gone looking for it have never been seen again.
Ever since the US Army first came here, showering children with Juicy Fruit chewing gum and the like, we have milked a part of our national identity from foreign brands of sweeties. Why is this? Quite possibly, it has to do with the limited variety available to us through the years. When there are only so many types of crisps and cereal to choose from, people are likely to get attached to the few brands they can get. Or possibly, being a nation that still eats pickled ram’s testicles and sheep heads, we just don’t have a clue when it comes to edibles.
Iceland’s brightest moment was, no doubt, when we discovered the combination of chocolate and liquorice. On their own they are fine, but together, the experience is truly mindblowing. “Draumur” and “Kúlu-súkk” are excellent examples of this beautiful tradition. I am convinced that this is what Iceland will go down in history for.
The liquorice fetish can also be found in Scandinavia, but is absent in most other parts of the world. To think that these poor people might never know the joy of drinking coke from a bottle with a liquorice straw! This obsession of ours with liquorice might explain why Icelandic has an abundance of metaphors for bowel movements.
No discussion about liquorice would be complete without mentioning Blue Ópal. These small liquorice pills actually contain a small dose of chloroform. This is the reason for the pleasant smell and the slight burning sensation in your mouth when you eat a bunch at a time. It is reputedly illegal in Holland (of all places), but is held in high regard at an underground cinema in Amsterdam, the owner regularly making trips to Iceland for the sole purpose of buying blue Ópal. What he probably doesn’t know is that the dose is insufficient for any anaesthetic effect.
For more information about liquorice you can have a look at http://www.licorice.org/. Or go to my hometown of Hafnarfjörður where they have the Apollo liquorice factory. There, you can buy a huge bag of irregulars for loose change. Which should put the b into your bowel movements.
In closing I would like to point out the yummy website www.nammi.is. There, foreigners and Icelanders overseas can order all sorts of Icelandic delicacies like: Blue Ópal, Malt&Appelsín, dried fish, Bleikt & Blátt (the only Icelandic semi-porn magazine), hotdog mustard, miniature Icelandic flags (sigh) and of course good old Icelandic Coca Cola.
SPECIAL ICELANDIC SODA RECIPES FOR SPECIAL OCCASIONS:
There are at least two known kinds of Birthday soda. One is made by taking every soda brand in the party and mixing them all together into a nectar of mysterious pleasures. The other is the accidental Birthday soda where crumbs from the birthday cake are slobbered back into the bottle creating sludge at the bottom of it. It may or may not interest you to know that it is from this sludge that the Icelandic band Botnleðja also known as Silt) takes its name.
Malt & Appelsín
No Christmas or religious holiday in Iceland is complete without this beverage. It is comprised of non-alcoholic malt extract and orange soda and is brown in colour. Mixing Malt & Appelsín, also known as Christmas ale, has been an established custom for more than 40 years and shows no sign of letting up.