From Iceland — Global, But Make It Local

Global, But Make It Local

Global, But Make It Local

Published September 11, 2020

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Photo by
Art Bicnick

A comprehensive guide to independent, international grocery stores in Reykjavik

If you are a new Icelander craving a taste of home, or chances are mainstream stores don’t quite cut it. But fear not, as Reykjavík’s local supermarkets bring the world to your doorstep. The produce is fresh, varied and seasonal, all year around. And if you’ve lived here long enough, you know this is manna from heaven.

Afrozone

Mon to Sat: 10-18.30
Lóuhólar 4

Catering to a diverse clientele with overlapping interests, Afrozone is both a supermarket purveying West African food products as well as a hair care one-stop shop for Afro-textured hair. Patience Karlsson is the vivacious proprietor and a superb Ghanaian cook herself.

Here you can pick up all the ingredients for fufu with Ghanaian peanut soup. From the cassava flour, to red palm oil (please read Yewande Komolofe’s excellent piece, ‘The problems with palm oil don’t start with my recipes’ before you @ me) and peanuts in all its avatars—shelled, whole and roasted are all jostling for space with spice mixes and pastes.

A small but fresh selection of fruits and vegetables arrive like clockwork and if you aren’t fast, they’ll run out of fresh okra and the juiciest sweet summer mangoes, as I’ve learnt the hard way. Oblong egg-shell like aubergines, smooth bottle gourd, bright orange scotch bonnets and habaneros, long brown cassava roots, plantains by the dozen (once you’ve tried fried sweet plantains, there’s no going back), tender coconut and whole jackfruit all regularly make an appearance at Afrozone. I’d also factor in extra time in your shopping trip for a chat with Patience; it’s always a good idea.

Dai Phat Asian Supermarket

Mon-Sat: 11-20, Sun: 12-19.30
Dai Phat, Faxafen 14

If there was one jealously guarded supermarket, it’d be Dai Phat. Newcomers are intimidated and regulars comforted by the sheer range of ware here.

The observant shopper will notice that the aisles are loosely arranged by cuisine, with Korean at one end and Thai at the other, and Chinese, Vietnamese and a smattering of Indian in between. Chances are you will invariably leave with an ingredient or product you didn’t know existed and will come to love.

It’s best to build a pantry of soy sauces (dark, light, sweet and sticky), black vinegar and coconut vinegar for dumplings and fiery vindaloo. Be sure to pick up at least two jars of Lao Gan Ma crispy chilli oil, as old Chinese legend has it that failing to do so would invite bad luck—with 2020 going the way it has, well, you’ve been warned. There’s also a universe of instant noodles, fermented Korean chilli pastes and a wonderful selection of dried foods, from papery white teeny shrimp to cloves of dried lily buds (both add a delightful crunch).

From the freezer, choose from chive pancakes, dumplings that surpass your feeble attempts at home (wrappers for the masochistic home cook are also available) and tropical fruit and veggies to free you from the horrors of Bónus’ melons.

The coolers are another doorway to shattered notions. Yes, fresh coriander really is that citrusy fragrant. Yes, the roots and stems are to be devoured. Sawtooth coriander is a thing. Shimeji and enoki mushrooms do not cost your kidney. Taro mochi exists and it will change your life.

And regulars, relax. As you can see, I haven’t spilled all the beans.

Fiska

Mon-Sat: 11-18, Sun: 12-17
Nýbylavegur 6 and Lóuhólar 2-6

The grand daddy of all things Thai, Fiska has long been importing the whole spectrum of Thai curry pastes, sauces and condiments alongside an equally abundant selection of frozen seafood. They were definitely one of the pioneers in addressing the lacuna in the limited grocery selections.

A firm favourite with both restaurateurs and home cooks, what makes Fiska tick are their rotation of inventory and hard to beat pricing. Their initial Thai selection has expanded to a decent Indian, Japanese and Korean pantry. In their original Kolaportið outpost circa 2013, they even sold handmade fresh Vietnamese noodles!

From chapati flour, to fresh Thai basil, Fiska’s coolers, freezers and shelves beckon.

What I wouldn’t leave without are Thai condiments, tamarind paste, good quality fish sauce, bags of aged and new rice (pick from jasmine, sticky, glutinous, long grain, Thai and Indian varieties) and tins of desi sweets and dried fish snacks that can elevate mundane weekday meals. I’d also keep an eye out for fresh Durian, a veritable treat even for the faint-hearted.

Heilsuval

Heilsuval, Mon to Sat: 10-16, Laugavegur 178

Given the local popularity of Mexican cuisine, you’d be forgiven for thinking there was a taqueria at every corner and that ‘Mexican cheese’ and Santa Maria seasoning existed only in the dark alleys of a feverish nightmare.

Heilsuval offers a wide variety of products from across Latin America. From Peruvian aji to Mexican ancho chilies, and from Brazilian Sazon to Argentinian Yerba Maté, Heilsuval has you covered and some.

What’s impressive is in its showcasing of distinct Latin American cuisines and cultures, Jón does not peddle the ‘any chilli will do’ trope, nor does he consider special requests for products he doesn’t yet stock cumbersome. Such is his dedication that discussions about tamales led him to sourcing speciality tamale flour!

When in Heilsuval, I strongly recommend you abandon restraint and pile your cart with chocolate de mesa (unconched chocolate roundels that are proof that hot chocolate is indeed food of the Gods), El Yucateco salsas, fresh tortillas and sodas from seemingly all of South America.

Burn your recipes for Mexikósk kjúklingasúpa and let Heilsuval show you the way.

Istanbul Market

Istanbul Market, Mon to Sat: 10-19, Grensásvegur 10

Long before MS was caught with its feet in feta nee feti, Istanbul Market has been broadening our palates, one saline block of sheep’s milk feta at a time. For everything Turkish and a slice of the Levant, this is your one-stop spot.

There are assorted peppers all year around—pale yellow wax peppers, their bellies waiting to be stuffed or fried, and green bell peppers that bear no hint of bitterness, perfect with grilled meats. Fall sees the arrival of fragrant quince, each one larger than my fist, perfect for poaching. There are chestnuts to be roasted and whole walnuts for languorous coffee come winter. Summers are for sweet, sandy grained watermelon. If sad, part their prime Bónus melons are all you’ve ever had, better prepare to be blown away.

Linger at the cooler and kaymak, gossamer thin filo and various sausages wink at you. Turn around for a variety of pickles, lentils and Turkish delight. There are silvery Turkish tea sets, and long flat swords to grill late summer kebabs. Do not leave without a bag of barberries, (essential for polov) and tubs of halva.

Miðausturlanda Markaðurinn

Lóuhólar 2
Two years ago, I walked into a nameless store after my usual haul at Fiska, drawn in by the bags of rice lined up against the wall. On asking what the name of the store would be, the young man behind the counter shook his head in dismay and wondered aloud what a mouthful ‘Miðausturlanda Markaður’ would be. Looks like his sibling vetoed him after all. The straightforward name lends to its wares well.

The no-frills store stocks dates, olives, steamed rice (for long grained pulavs and tahdig), dried fragrant herbs and entire shelves dedicated to tea. And chillies. Think gentle heat of the pul biber, smoky chocolatey notes of dark Urfa rubbed with oil and the now hard to find Aleppo pepper. A simple bowl of yoghurt, humble eggs and chopped salad become more than the sum of their parts with a sprinkle of this magic dust.

Vietnamese Supermarket

Mon to Fri: 11-18, Sat-Sun: 12-18
Suðurlandsbraut 6 and Bankastræti 11

This supermarket has consistently offered fresh produce and I often run there to assuage the deja-vú that plagues Icelandic mainstream chains (ever noticed that regardless of the season the cucumbers, bell peppers and mushrooms don’t even budge from their shelf locations?).

Yard long beans are almost always available. Fresh leafy greens are more than just kale. There are bags of moringa leaves, slender stalks of morning glory, red and green amaranth, winged beans, aubergines purple and long, round and white, fresh mustard leaves, raw papaya and fiery chillies waiting to be braised, stir-fried or pickled.

There are multiple shelves dedicated to the wonder that is rice and various types of rice paper and rice flours for every occasion (sticky, glutinous; for Banh Xeo to Banh Cuon and everything in between), plus canned goods and various noodles for every cuisine.

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