The taco lovers of Iceland have been riding a rollercoaster of emotions over the past 10 years as they’ve gone from having barely any tacos to being blessed with a spattering of devoted taco spots, albeit blipping in and out of existence.
Enter MB Taqueria
One such place is MAT BAR, the beloved neighbourhood bistro. In late 2019, after wowing us with some wonderful vegan tacos, two of the MAT BAR crew capered up the block to open up the offshoot MB Taqueria.
“We love tacos, so the taco thing happened pretty organically,” co-owner Egill Pietro Gíslason explains. “Based on the success of the tacos at MAT BAR we were looking to spread out and this place was small and perfectly suited for tacos.”
His partner, cocktail specialist Siggi Sigurðsson, comes straight out of the Danish high-end cocktail environment. Despite the place not seating more than 25 people in a pinch, Siggi has committed to what is probably the most extensive fixed tequila cocktail menu in the country and makes a vibrant tepache in-house.
“I just think that if you want to do something, you should do it full-on,” Siggi says. “If you’re doing a Mexican restaurant you must have a decent selection of tequila. Most of our stuff is specially imported exclusively for us, but we are definitely hoping some of these brands take off.”
The ‘pylsa’ approach
The current MB Taqueria consists of three types of tacos (fish, veggies, meat) and at the time of our visit, they featured Al pastor pork, ceviche-like prawns and sautéed zucchini. You get a short stack of tortillas, with each filling on a separate plate, along with a generous accent of seeds, nuts and herbs. This way, customers can assemble tacos to their liking and punch them up with a selection of hot sauces that range from the from reasonable to murderous.
“We wanted different levels of spiciness for people, with at least one real scorcher,” says Egill. “Some people take the ‘pylsa’ approach and put a bit of each sauce but I wouldn’t recommend that for most people. But everyone loves The Hot Ones so it’s also good entertainment.” My dinner companion opted for the hottest sauce and the entertainment value was palpable as his face alternated between the reds and yellows of the murals behind us.
Red & yellow
The tacos themselves are all made on the spot, based on a special recipe that would seem to owe as much to Gothenburg flatbread as it does to Pueblan maize.
“We experimented with a number of recipes, using combinations of oats, barley masa, and polenta and we definitely try to use local ingredients whenever we can,” says Egill. Sourcing those ingredients is no small feat in a place with Iceland’s geographic limitations.
“What’s been nice to see is the influx of non-Icelandic farmers trying out new varieties,” adds Siggi. “There is a lot of energy available in Iceland and it’s great to see people build on that. We even have people growing good chillies but it’s still not at the scale where we can rely on it completely.”
Glances at the tradition
MB Taqueria feels in step with the current gastronomic movements of acids, nutty flavours, vegetables and mindful engagement with the food of other cultures. They cast admiring glances at the tradition, and are grounded in research, rather than the exoticizing one sees too often. “We’re not trying to be fully Mexican, as we’ve never been to Mexico and aren’t making traditional Mexican food, says Egill. ”Also it’s nice to be able to give it a local twist and make something that’s quite Mexican but not quite Mexican.”
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