It’s in the Air: The Sweet Smell of Reykjavík’s Asian Foodshops - The Reykjavik Grapevine

It’s in the Air:  The Sweet Smell of Reykjavík’s Asian Foodshops

It’s in the Air: The Sweet Smell of Reykjavík’s Asian Foodshops

Published September 2, 2005

Filippseyjar
(Philippine Islands)
At the corner of Hverfisgata/Barónsstígur
Before she opened the shop in 1996, Maria Priscilla Vanoria used her trips to Denmark and other European countries to buy Asian food, which was, back then, unavailable in Iceland.
“When more and more of my Asian friends asked me to bring something, I began to order whole boxes of food from Denmark,” Maria says.
Starting a business was eventually the only way of meeting the great demand for Asian products. Today, most supplies come directly from the Philippines, Maria’s country of birth, and Thailand. However, some products, especially Chinese and Korean items, are being imported from Holland – and we are not talking cheese.
Apart from selling food and souvenirs, Filippseyjar is most definitely the only place in town where you can rent Thai and Filipino videos.
Although “business is constantly going up and down,” as Maria says, Filippseyjar will celebrate its 10th anniversary next year. A great achievement for a small shop. So what is the secret behind the success? Maybe it is the outstanding service the shop provides the Asian community with: customers can get free counselling and help with Icelandic bureaucracy – filling out applications for work permits and the renewal of passports, for example.
Sælkerabúðin
(The Gourmet Shop)
Suðurlandsbraut 6
A dim light reflects on the waxed checkered floor as a radio plays mainstream rock in the background. Enter Ning de Jesus. Ning is not the main character of the next Al Pacino movie, and this scene does not take place in a spooky American restaurant, but in Sælkerabúðin in Reykjavík.
Ning opened the shop in 2000, after he had established other all-Asian businesses, including the Chinese restaurant next door. For Ning, who also comes from the Philippines, The Gourmet Shop is not only a name but an agenda.
“I only choose the best there is on offer,” he says, meaning high-standard products demanded by the Asian community in Iceland. The selection of products is truly exquisite: dried coconut strips with honey and sesame seeds, guava and tamarindo juice as well as all kinds of sushi ingredients, to name just a few. All sorts of different seafood items and fresh vegetables are flown in from Bangkok every week.
On a recent visit, two members of staff stack up products, another one is standing behind the counter – business seems to go well at Sælkerabúðin. Are there plans to expand sometime soon?
“It’s in the air,” Ning says, smiling, and the air fills with the sweet smell of Chinese food.

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