Why North Africa Is Our New Culinary Friend - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Why North Africa Is Our New Culinary Friend

Why North Africa Is Our New Culinary Friend

Published February 19, 2010

Ragnar Egilsson

I know we Icelanders tend to think of Muslims as the people who only
came here to steal our Westman Islands and custody-battled children,
though it’s not like our ancestors didn’t do their share of kidnapping.
Anyway, now it’s time to put our kidnapping sacks to good use and
plunder each other’s culinary traditions (I’m sorry Algeria, I guess
you pulled the rotten shark straw). Let North Africa light up our
malnourished souls in the coming months, after everyone has lost their
jobs and become The Road-style cannibals roaming Ísafjörður looking for
tender toddlers.
It’s a common misconception that religion is the main divide between
Scandinavia and the Middle East, but we can skip and hop over that
puddle in the next 10 years as the coming generation embraces consumer
culture and starts doodling deities left and right. No, the real
problem is going to be the cuisine. We like our cinnamon on sweet rice
puddings—they like it in lamb stews. This savoury vs. sweet divide is
not to be tolerated any longer.
It’s stranger how a culinary culture coming from the sandy equator has
pioneered the use of the perfect winter spices (cinnamon, cloves,
cardamoms) and the Christmas pudding essentials (dried apricots, figs,
dates, raisins), even the perfect precursor to a heavy winter meal
(gargantuan amounts of black afghan). And yet snowy winters are hardly
the scourge of the Berber countries and Christmas is just a Thursday.
Berber food is based on core food items that are readily available in
Iceland: lamb, root vegetables and grain. The only thing missing is the
assortment of spices (saffron, coriander, cumin, cardamoms, etc.),
nuts, dried fruit and couscous. Here’s where it gets really sweet.
According to Icelandic customs law, tea, coffee, spices, most
cereals/grain, nuts can be brought into the country without much
limitation. So the trick is to stock up when you go somewhere that has
a good Arabic neighbourhood or genuinely cheap (I’m looking at you
Bónus—you drunken swine) supermarkets that sell in bulk. A kilo bag of
almonds will never be cheap, but it will be a fraction of what it costs
in Iceland and will last you a while.
This oversupply of lamb is due to ridiculous subsidies, I know. But the
fish is running out too, so we’ll need to embrace a cuisine that
incorporates these two main protein sources along with root vegetables
and preserved, easy-to import side items (a nation that pickles its
lemons should become our immediate allies).
Young people in Iceland seem to have an undying love affair with
Italian cuisine. I get it, pizza is good, pasta is good, pesto is
great. The problem is that Italian cuisine has three rules: 1. Quality
ingredients 2. Quality ingredients 3. Mama Mia! And you won’t find
those ingredients growing or grazing in Iceland’s arid landscape. The
reason Italian cuisine works so well is because it’s in Italy. Hell,
Iceland can’t even get the tomato right, what hope is there then?
Pasta takes ten minutes to cook—couscous is essentially ready in a
third of that time. Couscous also has approx. three times the calorie
count, three times the protein and three times the fibre.
Restaurant Saffran has already started a methadone program for weaning
the basil addicts out there with their amalgam of Arabic and Italian
food (although someone needs to slap them for that tahini-less muck
they dare call Hummus), and people are losing their tiny Viking minds
over it. Iceland is ready to go cold turkey.
A good first step for home cooking would be harira, since it’s
basically an Icelandic meat soup with some fancy spices. Then you can
move on to tagine, which is mostly onion, carrot and lamb. Chermoula is
the perfect marinade for baked fish.
And although Ghee (clarified butter) is more likely to be found further
south near Egypt, it would fit Icelandic cuisine well. Olive oil is
expensive, boiled butter that can store forever at room temperature is
a much better fit for Iceland (also healthier).
There are probably few places Icelanders would think they have less in
common with than North Africa, so for all your xenophobic bastards out
there: Hah! I told you immigration would pay off in the long run! Now
go find someone with dark hair and a funny accent and ask him how to
make tabouleh. If he answers “che cosa?” then you know he’s Italian and
feed him to the roving cannibal gangs of Ísafjörður immediately.

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