Iceland’s food culture has been blossoming over the past few years. Fine restaurants have moved beyond churning out the same “Nordic fusion” plates, and the varieties of street food have also expanded. Unfortunately, there is still one glaring omission: corned beef.
For the unfamiliar, there is no corn in corned beef. It’s a salt-cured beef brisket, so named because it is packed inside large-grain “corns” of salt, which tends to turn the meat pink. It became wildly popular in Europe after the Industrial Revolution because of its tendency to stay unspoiled for a very long time.
Since those olden days, it has become a staple of delicatessens across North America and Europe; so much so, that certain sandwiches cannot be made without it. The Reuben, for example, is comprised of corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Thousand Island dressing on rye. Any other kind of meat and it’s not a Reuben, it’s some lesser, inferior sandwich.
The absence of corned beef is especially perplexing when one considers traditional Icelandic cuisine. Like corned beef, foods such as saltfish, or any part of the lamb, cow or pig soaked in whey (súrmatur) were also created so as to last a long time without spoiling. Unlike súrmatur, corned beef actually tastes good.
Comedian and former Reykjavík Mayor Jón Gnarr once speculated that the reason why Icelanders love junk food is that colonial times culturally conditioned us to enjoy eating garbage. The culture has been shifting for a long time now, but corned beef still remains something else missing in Iceland.
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