From Iceland — A Bareknuckle Trolley Ride Through Iceland’s Supermarkets

A Bareknuckle Trolley Ride Through Iceland’s Supermarkets

Published October 24, 2012

A Bareknuckle Trolley Ride Through Iceland’s Supermarkets
Ragnar Egilsson

You are riding a blue light of compassion after communicating with the crystal flower at the bottom of the crawling man-lake of Ungh-Fwak. You have travelled the maggot wastes of Khwæ-lak as the three red suns licked the blisters on your shoulders. With nothing but the last of the kwa-koo roots to sustain you and the caterpillar men fast on your heels, you pray to the thousand-elbowed god that commands Tau Boötis x. What are those strange lights ahead?
Alrighty, so you’ve had your first magic mushroom trip in Iceland! It seems you’ve shat yourself in three places and haven’t eaten in two days—maybe it’s time for a spot of sensible grocery shopping?
As a connoisseur of terrifying food, you are probably standing in front of one of the downtown Bónus stores (the discount ones with the drunk pig in the logo)—either at Hallveigarstígur 1 or at Laugavegur 59. Or possibly at one of the hilariously expensive 10-11 convenience stores staffed by security guards.
First you will be greeted by the fruit and vegetable section and you’re thinking “Fantastic, I’ll get a banana then.” WRONG! The bananas are either green or black. Red peppers are green, green peppers are white. You have found yourself in a topsy-turvy land where nothing is what it seems! Red Icelandic potatoes, leeks and mackintosh apples are normally a safe bet, but you should escape this place immediately (unless it’s a Wednesday which is when they get a fresh shipment).
Remember to pick up hot dog buns in the bread section right after the fruit and veggies. You will also be able to find decent additive-free whole-grain breads (but the bakeries in Iceland are awesome and you should visit them).
Next will be the meat/dairy section. There are no coolers in Bónus except for this walk in freezer so you should dress warm.
Beware of meat that says “reykt” (smoked) or “salt“ (brined) anything—those usually require more advanced cooking techniques than your drug-addled mind is capable of. But Icelandic hot dogs are awesome despite being lightly smoked—get some of those. There are some other forms of tubed mystery meat on offer, such as “bjúgu”—large logs of fatty forcemeat in plastic casing that are always boiled and eaten with bechamél sauce and pickled sweet red cabbage (get some of that in the canned section later). The weirdest type of mystery meat will probably be “sviðasulta” which is jellied sheep head meat (head cheese or Sülze in German).
Icelandic supermarkets don’t offer raw sausages so forget all about that. No minced lamb either, but plenty of “nautgripakjöt” (cattle meat), which is usually any old thing they threw in the grinder. Make sure to get some lovely smoked salmon or trout but be aware that “grafinn” or “grafið” refers to meat or fish that has been lightly cured (not smoked)—lovely stuff in its own right but tastes different.
Raw milk was recently made legal but you will find nothing but pasteurized stuff here. Cream and butter are cheap and tasty. Icelandic butter is a must buy and comes salted (silver packaging) or unsalted (green). Icelandic milk comes in three main categories: blue (whole milk), yellow (semi-skimmed) and white (skimmed). Be careful not to buy yogurt by mistake as a lot of the yogurt comes in large carton containers.
Quick yogurt primer: AB-mjólk is a type of thick yogurt-ish thing, based on whole milk, but a bit thinner and a little sour. Súrmjólk is buttermilk. Anything labelled “létt” is skimmed or low-fat. Skyr is the real winner here and make sure to buy a lot of it. It is high in protein and low in fat, but make sure to check the sugar content. Skyr is technically a type of cheese, but it’s more like yogurt in consistency and is eaten as such.
You won’t find any high quality, affordable cold cuts or ham, and the watery pink crap called “skinka” (also a local term for women that use too much foundation or self tanners) should be avoided at all costs. Cheap pâté spreads are available and are not a terrible choice. Novelty choices include Swedish tubes of caviar (normally creamed and smoked cod roe) and “Mysingur,” which is with whey and caramel but tastes nothing like any caramel I have ever tasted. Some people swear by it. I don’t.
Not much to say about the canned stuff other than to not be fooled by Ora’s lovely old timey design as most of their products are inedible.  
There’s lots of frozen stuff, which you probably won’t be interested in after going through the meat chamber of endless winter.
The candy section will be frighteningly massive. Enter at your own risk as Icelanders are fond of strange combos like liquorice and chocolate. Try the whipped egg white (Americans should think marshmallow fluff) in chocolate called “kókosbolla.” I love that shit.
Make sure to get the expensive toilet paper because your tuckus will thank you later. Lines at the register are aggressive and be prepared to fight your way out – you’ll regret not buying some bjúgu and using them like nunchuks.

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