Eating Eurovision – one continent under a groove: 25 food bloggers try to eat the cuisine of all 25 finalists in 25 hours within the confindes of the M25! This challenge was thought up by food journalist Andrew Webb and I discovered it through London Food and Drink Bloggers. When the 25 Eurovision finalists for tonight’s song contest were picked on Thursday night (just think how bad the 17 entries who don’t get to sing tonight must be…), we each lucky-dip-picked a country.
My challenge was Iceland and I had 25 hours to find out about Icelandic cuisine. This is a country with a population of about 320,000 people, so it’s no wonder it was hard to find Icelanders, let alone their food, in London. I began my Friday morning at Portobello Road, where there were rumours of Icelandic meat being sold…
Here at Kingsland, The Edwardian Butchers (140 Portobello Road, Notting Hill, London W11 2DZ, Tel: 020 7727 6067) I asked friendly butcher Hayden Field if he could help with the Icelandic quest. He was pretty surprised, as he had stopped stocking Icelandic smoked lamb four years ago. His description of it did make my mouth water though: leg of lamb, salted for two weeks and then oak-smoked. It sounds like one of the food traditions of this North Atlantic island that would be most akin to English taste buds.
Some of those dishes I’d love to try include: blueberry soup, moss/lichen soup, velvet pudding and sheep’s head jam. I’m not so sure about puffin in milk sauce – aren’t they endangered species? ‘Nuked fish’ and ‘putrified shark’ just sound wrong. Fruit and vegetable dishes include pickled beetroot, red cabbage, stewed rhubarb and caramelized potatoes – hearty, richly coloured, heavily cooked foods. Puddings, pancakes, cakes, doughnuts and biscuits seem popular. I particularly like the sound of wedded bliss and pepper cookies. Icecook (formerly Jo’s Icelandic Recipes) is a great recipe blog.
The antipodean lady at the Icelandic embassy was as helpful as possible, but with only eight people at the Icelandic embassy, two of whom aren’t from Iceland, there doesn”t seem to be much native banqueting going on. There was some Icelandic chocolate for sale there at £1 a bar, but unfortunately it had run out. She suggested water and yoghurt (skyr) from Whole Foods on High Street Kensington. I thought she said yoga at first, which led to some confusion. She also mentioned Icelandic cod in Waitrose, but I’m not quite sure what she meant by “but that might be a bit smelly for you.” “They have to bring food with them when they come back from holiday,” she said sadly. “Lamb is a particular favourite.” She was the second person to mention Kinglsand butchers.
I rang up Nordic Bar (25 Newman Street, London W1T 1PN, Tel: 020 7631 3174) to see if they served any suitable food or drink. Manager James Dutton had a rummage around and discovered some snacks. So I said I’d pop down later that afternoon. In the meantime, I rang The Warwick (1-3 Warwick Street, London, W1B 5LR, Tel: 020 7734 4409), which was rumoured to be the meeting place of the Icelandic Society (unfortunately I couldn’t find any details on this mysterious group). The barmaid at The Warwick didn’t know if they had any Icelandic customers and they certainly didn’t serve any food, but there was a Scandanavian party on tomorrow night – I wonder if that’s something to do with Eurovision.
I sent out Facebook and Twitter pleas for help. Predictably, the Facebook query received a supermarket response and went something like this:
– Iceland’s fish fingers are boss. They used to do something called a ‘crackpot’ which I loved but they discontinued it. True story.
– What on earth is a crackpot?!
– Its an ice cream pot…was mint ice cream with layer of choc on top you had to crack to get to the ice cream. WAS SIIIICK.
– Sounds amazing. Maybe I’ll end up making that…
– Yes I went, they eat lots of herring and cod, go to Ikea and buy their Scandinavian food, which is basicaly the same thing.
Hmmmm. On Twitter I’m now following Bjork, the Republic of Iceland and someone called LaughingPuffin. But no food tips unfortunately.
Another bike ride away and I was down at Nordic Bar. There were plenty of photos of Iceland on the walls…
And a sort of glacial feel to the decor, with a veritable Aurora Borealis of cubic, colour-changing lights and animal furs on the walls. The place was empty bar a raucous hen party yelling at some poor man to get his kit off and three men perched at the bar. “It’s not usually like this…” said one of the bar staff. I’m not sure if she was referring to the screaming hens or the three besuited men who offered to take me to a Spanish strip party. Bill, aren’t you doing Spain?
Here I am with some Icelandic snacks: snowflake-shaped crisps and popcorn-shaped popcorn. They taste much like English crisps and popcorn. James also gave me some exciting chocolate lollipops. My dad, who likes to think of himself as a viking, particularly liked the viking ship:
Continuing on the snack theme I decided to bulk up my catch of popcorn, crisps and chocolate with a fishy snack. Iceland is known for its fish: fresh, dried, salted, pickled, smoked, not to mention nuked and putrified. Cod, haddock, halibut and herring seem to be the main fish eaten. Hayden the butcher talked of dried fish snacks, which are eaten with butter. Yum. I went for British honey flavoured hot smoked mackerel from Sainsbury’s, served on Scottish oatcakes. Oats are quite Icelandic – see Wedded Bliss cake.
I served this with some caraway-infused vodka, which was actually rather tasty. I put a good shake of caraway seeds into a tumbler of vodka and within about a minute the alcohol had taken on the flavour. This is an imitation of the national drink Brennivín, also known as ‘Black Death”.
This morning I refreshed myself with some Icelandic water from Nordic Bar. It tastes remarkably like my tap water. Great novelty value, but I don’t think it’s environmentally sound…
So, thank you Andrew for the challenge, and GOOD LUCK TONIGHT ICELAND! The music isn’t quite my cup of tea, but I think Yohanna might be a winner.