From Iceland — Street Food, Family-Style

Street Food, Family-Style

Larissa Kyzer
Words by
Photo by
Magnús Elvar Jónsson

Published June 20, 2014

(The Soup Wagon)

Every day 11-21, weekends at Lækjatorg after 22
What we think
Like amma used to make, just faster.
Meaty-juicy-hearty comfort in a bowl.
Entirely depends on the weather.
Friendly and efficient.
Price for 2 (no drinks)
1,600–2,000 ISK

Less than two weeks old, Súpuvagninn (“The Soup Wagon”) is Reykjavík’s newest food truck, focusing (almost) exclusively on kjötsúpa (“meat soup”), what food historian Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir has called “the national soup of Iceland.” Owned and managed by brothers Gabríel Þór and Benjamín Ágúst, staffed by their sister, and located, for good measure, in Mæðragarður (“Mothers’ Garden”), Súpuvagninn’s family approach to street cuisine gives Icelanders and tourists alike a taste of amma’s (“grandma’s”) home cooking on the go.

On the first afternoon my companion and I arrived at the white wagon, its sides cheerfully decorated with grinning carrots and other anthropomorphised veggies, it was actually closed. “We sold 70 soups before 1:00 PM,” read a handwritten sign. “Uppselt! Sold Out! More soup in 1.5 hours.” We were too peckish to wait for the next fresh batch, so we returned the next afternoon instead, this time to find a welcoming scent wafting through the window. The menu options are pretty basic: you can get large kjötsúpa (1,000 ISK) or small kjötsúpa (800 ISK) and, on occasion, there are also grilled bagels with cream cheese (650 ISK). Those in search of a quick and filling family dinner will also be happy to know that take-away buckets serving five are available for 3,500 ISK.

Despite its ubiquity, there’s no set-in-stone recipe for kjötsúpa, and most households have their own personal takes on the dish. Generally speaking, however, it’s made with lamb (there are some recipes which call for beef or even pork, but these would hardly be considered prototypical), potatoes, swedes, carrots and a mix of parsley and herbs. It’s not uncommon for a handful of rice to be added to the broth for thickening, and many recipes also use cabbage, leeks, celery and in newer variations, even chopped broccoli, cauliflower or kale.

Gabríel Þór says that he and his brother tested 90-odd recipes before settling on theirs, which they then asked a “respected chef” to taste-test for them. What they ended up with is simple and classic: lamb, carrot, potato, celery and onion, with a just enough rice to round out the broth. And where some local shops sell rather meagrely rationed kjötsúpa portions, the helpings at Súpuvagninn are generous, with nice meaty chunks of tender lamb and substantial wedges of veg bobbing in the amber-coloured broth. (You can get an extra helping of meat added to the soup for 250 ISK, but this will only be necessary for those feeling particularly carnivorous.) The broth is where the soup particularly shines—it’s rich and a bit oily (as the best lamb broth is), tasting very much as though the meat has had a good long time to simmer and suffuse the liquid.

Our two small soup portions (800 ISK) were served up in deep Styrofoam bowls with more smiling veggie stickers and were enough for a light lunch, but for the extra 200 ISK, I’d be more likely to get a big serving all for myself next time.
I wouldn’t have minded a buttered roll to complement the soup either, but while bread may be added as a menu option in the future, Gabríel Þór says its omission was intentional, since it’s easier to eat soup on the go if you’re not trying to juggle a roll at the same time. A vegetarian soup option would also be a nice addition to the menu in the future.

On the strength of their early success, the brothers are also exploring catering options and expect to expand in the next few months. And there’s no reason to think these efforts won’t be equally rewarded—Reykjavík is, after all, a city where a hot and hearty bowl of soup can be equally appetizing on both a summer afternoon and a chilly winter evening. We’re looking forward to Súpuvagninn year ‘round.

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