Asian Food, Icelandic Style (MAG)

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marvidlThere have been fleeting moments when I wished I was a food snob. It must be exhilarating to be able to distinguish the subtle nuances of delicately flavored dishes playing with the senses.

Sadly though, my tastes are strictly pedestrian and while I do appreciate the time and effort required of gourmet cooking, I always turn to my Asian roots:Down home cooking now modified to accommodate Icelandic ingredients or remastered to cater (just a teensy, weensy bit) to the Icelandic palate.

There are a number of Asian grocers in Reykjavík. The most visible would be the Thai grocery and gift shop right across Hlemmur, the main bus station.

It’s a mixed bag of Southeast Asian cupboard basics: Liter bottles of soy sauce, a noodle aisle, dried spices and in the freezer section the occasional appearance of fresh squid, tropical fish, banana leaves and spring roll wrappers.

One would think that soy sauce, squid, fish and spring roll wrappers would be ‘regulars’ in the Icelandic corner grocery store except that a majority of Icelanders would:

1) never touch squid, 2) soy sauce is treated more as a dipping sauce and hence sold only in 200 ml bottles, 3) obviously many spices have a specialized market, and 4) spring roll wrappers are often sold in bulk at Asian shops. 

This haul of Asian ingredients is supplemented by supplies from the regular grocer’s.

There are five-kilo bags of rice in Asian shops but I have learned to compare prices and discovered that a kilo bag of Basmati rice is much cheaper in good old Bónus supermarket.

Iceland’s answer to a low-cost mecca, Bónus also has a respectable array of fruit and vegetables such as string beans, ginger and mung bean sprouts. If you’re lucky, there might even be an occasional coconut. Here is also where I get my tofu.

There is a wider selection of exotic ingredients in Hagkaup (a high-end supermarket).  Here, they have a respectable selection of sauces, grains, nuts, lentils and beans. In their freezer section, I even found frozen, ready-to-roll sushi ingredients.

Sushi is pretty popular in Iceland. Sadly, it also defined as the end all and be all of Japanese cuisine. There are sushi bars, but no Japanese restaurants with teriyaki, sashimi or tempura. But I digress.

So, armed with that knowledge, how about trying your hand at a good old Asian standby? Called kínarúllur (and sometimes vorrúllur) in Icelandic, it is what the world knows as spring rolls.

To Filipinos, we call it lumpia (strangely enough, it is called the same way in Dutch but spelled loempia). Basically, it’s anything that can be wrapped and fried or steamed.

Substitute pre-packed salads such as garðsalat or veislusalat (picked up at the Icelandic corner grocery store, throw in a bit of surimi (fake crab) or maybe even humar (Icelanders call it lobster. It’s actually langoustine).

Season with a little pepper, salt optional and fry lightly. It serves up well as an appetizer and looks good enough for anyone to think you spent hours cutting up everything to size. And it tastes authentically Asian too.

Marvi Ablaza Gil – raintribe@gmail.com

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.