30 August 2012

Fiskisúpa

The menu at Fjöruborðið restaurant proclaims that "people risk their lives in bad weather en route to the village of Stokkseyri for just a few spoonfuls" of their lobster soup.  I would.
Fish soup, or fiskisúpa, in dozens of permutations, is one of the Icelandic staples.  Served in waterside restaurants and mountain inns, with curry or tomato, langoustine or cod, buttered bread or cous-cous, fiskisúpa could be called the national dish (if the actual national dish wasn't, unfortunately, hákarl).
The version at Fjöruborðið is probably the island's most decadent.  Chock full of tiny "lobster" tails (really, northern langoustines) and butter, it's fishy, extravagantly creamy and about the best thing I could imagine eating.  We sat in awe as the North Atlantic crashed against the southern coast, seabirds wheeled and the steam rose from our bowls.
At Fimm Fiskar, in Stykkishólmur, I got my first taste of modern fiskisúpa.  Fragrant with citrus, spiced with curry, sweetened with coconut milk, their version of the soup was a surprise.  It turns out that Icelanders love curry; we have no idea how this happened, but cumin and curry are in everything, fish soup included.
Fimm Fiskar, a small and tidy bistro on the Snæfellsnes peninsula, stocks their broth with bell pepper,* shrimp, lobster and cod.  It's rich without being creamy.  The spices give off a heady vapor that smells as much of the south seas as the north.
*Another unexpected but common fiskisúpa ingredient.
The town of Rif, further out on Snæfellsnes, doesn't have much.  There are some fishing docks, a few corrugated-tin buildings and a tiny cafe, Gamla Rif.  The cafe was opened by two women whose husbands fished for cod on the open seas.  The fish soup is the only savory dish on a cake-filled menu.  It's full of toothsome bits of cod - "the only fish we have in Rif," our waitress said.  Also, lots of curry, fish stock, tomato and pepper.
Also, fascinatingly, canned peach.  "We use it to sweeten," the young woman said.  "We also put in some of the syrup."  The soup wasn't overly sweet, and had a raw seashore smell, something like kelp mixed with onions.  Served with coarse, homemade bread, followed by a slice of rhubarb-outmeal tart, it was one of the best lunches we've had.
My first experience with icelandic fish soup was also the simplest.  At the traditional-food bastion Búðarklettur, in the town of Borgarnes, we sat by big windows in a crowded dining room.  The soup was uncomplicated cod and tomato; rich with sea salt, safron and herbs; only slightly spiced and hot enough to scald the lips.  The fish was chewy and flaky at the same time - the perfect cod texture.  We had landed at Keflavik airport only a few hours earlier and were still agog at the island's crags and bays.  To my airplane-dulled tongue, this bowl of soup tasted more like the ocean than sea-water itself.
On a wind-whipped evening by Lake Laugarvatn, I had the most elegant fiskisúpa of our stay.  Lindin restaurant is a genteel place in an unlikely locale.  The food is delicate and far-reaching (minke whale on the same menu as reindeer burger), their fish bisque uses a broth of arctic char from the lake and dollhouse-tiny, tender shrimp.  The dish owed as much to Lyon as to Reykjavik, and was served with a caraway-flecked roll.

No comments:

Post a Comment