You are probably going to be hearing a lot of griping about Icelandic food trends in this mini-column, so I want to start off on a positive note.
I was hanging around my aunt’s garden this weekend (as you do) and was flabbergasted to find that, not only is she growing the largest strawberries I have ever seen outside of a greenhouse, but she’s growing a bevy of beauticious bright pink raspberries. Apparently everyone is doing it and I completely slept on it. And this was in addition to the usual carrots, kale, redcurrants and parsley in her growbox.
This led to a big discussion about the other things people have started to grow outside of greenhouses in Iceland. We now have barley growers like Ólafur Eggertsson with Eyrarbú in Þorvaldseyri and Júlíus and Jónatan Líndal in the far north of Skagaströnd, Haraldur Magnússon at Belgsholt in Melasveit and others. These must getting close to supplying all the barley needs in Iceland as, come to think of it, I don’t remember seeing imported barley in over a year. I even came across a barley breakfast cereal made from local grain (www.byggi.is).
Then there are the apple farmers, such as mad scientists Jón Guðmundsson in Akranes, experimenting with the outdoor cultivation of apples, pears, plums and cherries and Sæmundur Guðmundsson at Hella also with pears and apples as well as blackberries, huckleberries and other strangers to the Icelandic berry flora (no relation between the two men as far as I know). Both seem to be aiming for a commercial scale and the outlook seems good. Finally there’s Á-Vöxtur, an interest group advocating fruit cultivation in Iceland that’s working in collaboration with The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation.
Not to mention our many enterprising marijuana farmers, although I think they are still greenhouse bound for obvious reasons.
It’s tempting to lay this on global warming but it’s just as likely that these are due to access to new cultivars better suited to Icelandic climate and a growing interest in diversification among Icelandic growers.
Having come back to Iceland after living abroad, it’s a pleasant surprise to see this rising trend in locally grown fruits, grains and veggies spilling out of the greenhouses. From the micro to the macro, whether it’s my aunt one-upping me with monster berries to the farmers experimenting with new ideas on a commercial scale, the rewarding feeling of eating vegetables you have grown yourself can be extended from the individual to a national level. Not that this is necessarily rooted in patriotism. The slow food movement and the localvores have a tendency to nationalism and neo-luddism that can be a little off-putting. I’m not celebrating this for some obscure patriotic yeah Iceland reasons, but simply because it raises quality by not relying on damaging import procedures. This is a great thing because it results in better food. And who knows what the future may hold, I’m no expert but climate-wise I can’t see why we couldn’t experiment with pumpkins, sweet potatoes, courgettes—all of which I’ve seen grown with success in cooler climates.
For those who don’t feel like trolling the local restaurants but are similarly underwhelmed by the selection at their local pink piggy or yellow coin supermarket, here’s a quick list of suggestions for raw ingredients.
The cheapo markets may sell pig fodder vegetables but you have some recourse. Melabúðin (Hagamelur 39), the favourite from the west side of Reykjavík, a neighbourhood store that consistently offers fresh and healthy looking produce. The warehouse Stórkaup (Faxafen 8) isn’t too bad either when it comes to vegetables, despite appearances. Otherwise you are best served at the pricey vegetable section at Hagkaup or Nótatún (many locations). General organic food can be found at Yggdrasill (Rauðarárstígur 10) and Maður Lifandi (Borgartún 24 and other locations). For pulses and grains, the Grandi location of the chain supermarket Krónan has been fairly consistent as far as variety and price goes.
For pre-made stews, marinated cod, fish balls and the rest you could do worse than Hafið (Hlíðasmári 8), for people on a budget the frozen wholesaler fiska.is is your friend who are also to be found in the wonderful produce section at the Kolaportið flea market. Or you can use the walk back from the Laugardalslaug pool to drop by Fiskbúðin at Sundlaugavegur 12, a friendly neighbourly operation. Fylgifiskar (Suðurlandsbraut 10) is still a great option for high-end fish and seafood as well as some pre-marinated choices. The cheapest traditional fish store seems to still be Litla fiskibúðin in the town of Hafnarfjörður (Miðvangur 41), although it’s tiny and the selection is nothing to phone home about.
For meat you can try Kjötkompaní (Dalshraun 13, Hafnarfjörður), which has a decent selection of meats and Kjötbúðin (Grensásvegur 48) offers a wide selection at comparatively good prices. For the more adventurous I definitely recommend Háls í Kjós (www.hals.is) or any of the farms selling prime organic cuts straight from the farm, with tenderloin, rib eye, porterhouse, beef tongue, jerky and more. A full list of farms that sell directly to consumers can be found at www.beintfrabyli.is.
Raw sausages and quality pickles were next to impossible to find in Iceland until immigrants came to the rescue. For sausages and pickles you have a number of small Polish neighbourhood stores to choose from, such as Mini Market (Drafnafell 14) but the best place for cured and uncured sausages remains Pylsumeistarinn (Hrísateigur 47). On the same corner you have the farmers market Frú Lauga (Laugalæk 6). This is a fixed location for Frú Lauga but they do branch out to downtown Reykjavík on occasion. Great ground beef chuck, lamb, assorted smoked meats along with beets, blueberry jams and rhubarb straight from the source and mostly organic.
Home and wild grown foodstuffs
Not that you’d need to buy your rhubarb—see if you don’t know an Icelander with a surplus in their garden and take a tip from Icelandic kids and dip it straight from the ground into a bowl of sugar. Or use the chance the first weeks of September and go out picking blueberries and mushrooms. For mushrooms, www.nature.is gives tips on edible varieties and www.berjavinir.com lists good spots for wild bilberries (Google Translate is your friend here). Growing veggies outdoors is also an option in Iceland—potatoes, kale, carrots and rutabagas all do well here and herbs prosper in our warm colourful huts when there’s sunlight to be had. If everything fails, the coastline and rivers of Iceland are teeming with fish only to happy too be eaten by you (www.nat.is/nateng/angling_in_iceland.htm) and you can always grab a gun and head out east to bag yourself a reindeer or goose (www.huntingiceland.com).
That’s it for now but please let Grapevine know of any hot produce procuring tips we probably definitely have missed!