As I had mentioned in one of my posts, my family went on vacation in early June. We chose Iceland after reading descriptions of the country’s unique geology and culture, thinking that it would be an exciting change of scenery; the amazing island did not disappoint. However, maybe one of the most surprising aspects of the trip for me, was a sense of familiarity during some of our outings.
For example, when I saw the photo that my husband took of my daughters and me from the top of the hill in Iceland’s Krýsuvik hot springs (above), I felt like I had a part in a Mexican version of “Night at the Museum”, shrunk into a figure in the diorama of the “Altiplano Mexicano” (Mexican North-Central Plateau) at the Natural History Museum in Mexico City; the shades of mossy green and mineral red, the dark mountain ranges in the background, the steam from the hot springs, all very much alike. Some descriptions in tourist information websites corroborate my point: “ … The water springs from a rocky outcropping at the top of the ravine, and there are several hot spring pools for dipping.” This paragraph could be describing the geothermal shallow pools in Iceland, but was taken from an article titled “The best hot springs in Mexico” referring to pools in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. Another one goes like this: “ … starkly beautiful rock formations and petrified waterfalls created by hundreds of years of dripping water over-saturated with calcium carbonate and other minerals …” describing Mexican basaltic waterfalls, such as Salto San Anton (left), but which equally applies to Icelandic falls, such as one near Seljalandfoss (right):
And of course, I must include a food story, with apologies to my daughter and her vegetarian sensitivities, for when I saw the scene below by a roadside near Reykjavik, I started wondering how lamb was cooked in Iceland (after the mandatory “aaawww”, of course):
Icelandic sheep are so cute! And apparently one of the purest breeds in the world, thanks to the isolation of the island. During the summer months, they are allowed to roam free, eating wild vegetation, while their owners tend to their fields and store hay for winter. Sometime in September, all the ranchers work together to gather the sheep, a process called Réttir (corral) that “ … can take a few days up to a week, since the sheep are scattered all over. The sheep are fast on their feet and have little flocking instinct, so they tend to spread out and can be found anywhere, except on the glaciers.” (in “Everything you need to know about Icelandic sheep”). The sheep are literally “earmarked” when young, so the ranchers can efficiently identify and sort their animals at the corral. In the Icelandic kitchen, lamb may be roasted, smoked, cured or boiled in soups, stews, and Svið. This last dish was originally prepared to avoid waste, but has become a traditional Icelandic recipe: a lamb’s head is singed to burn the wool, halved, boiled after removing the brain, and then served mostly intact. In the olden days, people made it a point to leave the ears alone, due to the superstition that when they were removed, the eater would be accused of feasting on a stolen lamb, since the proof of origin would be missing. Svið’s history has two common themes with Central Mexico’s traditional barbecued lamb (Barbacoa): first, the no-waste approach, since a whole lamb, including the head, was cooked; secondly, it was common to see the cooked lamb’s head displayed at barbacoa stands in old Mexican markets, as proof that a young lamb had been prepared, and not an old ram, or a goat (or worse.)
While in Iceland, I tried lamb in smoked pâté on Rúgbrauð (steamed rye bread), and also a sausage with mixed meats (always including lamb), in the iconic pylsur (hot dog), the Icelandic way, in a soft bun with ketchup, spicy mustard, remoulade, and onions (both fried and raw). After our travels, back at home, I felt motivated to cook Mexican barbacoa (a modern version, without the head), but I needed to do a little research to modify the technique and ingredients for my Canadian kitchen. I will be sharing my findings and recipes in a future post.