[iceland] eat the world to learn the world.

okay, this title is a little disingenuous. we cook more than we eat out in iceland.

i take a v60 filter, a hand grinder, and a baby cast iron and fish spatula (and apron) with me to iceland. the v60 is one that doesn’t require paper filters, and we use it pretty much every day because we’re coffee drinkers and we need coffee all day. i use the baby cast iron to fry eggs, make grilled cheeses, cook bacon, and i scrub it with salt and a wet paper towel and don’t really give a shit because it’s cast iron — it’s meant to be worn, to be beat up, because it’s built ti withstand shit.

that makes me think about bodies, about fear and a love for speed because i love to drive fast, and i love the exhilaration and adrenaline rush that comes from it. on our last night in iceland, we go for a midnight ATV ride and we drive up and down rocky mountain paths, up and down zig-zag, potholed roads, and i feel my body tensing each time, afraid of being flung off the ATV or whatever.

i tell myself to relax, to trust the machine, to trust my body. i tell myself to let go.

in iceland, i watch my cousins go scampering up and down rocks and mountain paths made slippery by water and/or gravel without fear, and i envy them that. it’s not the fearlessness that i envy, but the ease they have with their bodies, the faith they have in the strength and ability of their bodies. i grew up hating my body, wanting to disappear it, despising it for its size and weight and heft, and i never felt that lightness my cousins seem to have, flying down these paths like their bodies are made of air, like they’re unbreakable and light and free.

it’s only recently that my body has started to feel less cumbersome. part of it is that i've physically lost weight, not intentionally but more consequentially, but most of it is that i've ceased to see it exclusively as a burden, as something to be rendered invisible.

that's not to say that i'm suddenly free of the body dysmorphia and body hatred that i've carried for most of my life. i still struggle with my body, and i still struggle with eating, with food, with limitations. it's been a learning curve, learning to trust my body, to listen to its needs, to know that my body will tell me when it's hungry, what it's craving, what those cravings mean. my body will tell me when my sugar is about to drop or spike, when it's dehydrated, when it's exhausted and needs to stop and rest. similarly, my body will lean the way it needs when i take a turn on my ATV; it will support me as i scramble up rocks after my cousins; and it is capable of so much more than i think it is. maybe i should trust it more and let go.

my aunt packs two giant duffel bags of food and brings them with her. she's made a ton of 장조림 (jang-jo-reem, braised beef cubes, served cold) and 고추장보끔 (go-chu-jang-bo-kkeum, sautéed red pepper paste with beef and mushrooms), and she brings kimchi — yes, kimchi — and rice and so many packages of ramyeon.

when my aunt and uncle leave, it's on me to feed everyone. it's not like i've been assigned this task; it's simply one i like to assume because i like food and i like to cook and i like to feed people.

i cook a giant pot of spaghetti, using spaghetti sauce from a jar, something i haven't done in years, something i won't do again unless i have to. (i love terrible pre-packaged food, but spaghetti sauce is not on that list.) i make it with onions and mushrooms and steak meat, left over from when my aunt makes 김치찌개 (kimchi jjigae, kimchi stew), and i cook two boxes of spaghetti noodles at one time, rinse them off, and stuff them into sandwich ziploc bags. we eat cold spaghetti for meals the next few days; we eat it hot when we have a kitchen in a hostel.

when i cook rice, i place eggs on top of the rice, and we peel them in the car, leave the shells in the emptying cartons. on windy, rainy days, we set up our burner stove on our table in our camper van and cook ramyeon, and we eat it directly out of the pot, adding cold rice when the noodles run out. in the mornings, we boil water in a pot, pour it into mugs for coffee and hot chocolate, and my little cousin becomes an expert at balancing the v60 over the narrow mouth of our thermoses. i make grilled cheeses on my cast iron; we hand around a container of skyr; and we end up eating the entire pound of smjör butter over our two weeks, smearing it on slices of sourdough rounds we buy in bakeries in reykjavik and akureyri.

for lunch, we make sandwiches in the van, and i smear mayo on a slice of sandwich bread, top it with a slice of gouda and some sandwich meat. we eat our sandwiches with these norwegian chips i immediately get obsessed with, buying another bag in another flavor every time i run out (ultimately, we eat 4 bags of these chips). when we do eat out, we look for fish because the fish in iceland is so good; we eat fish and chips three times. i eat lamb kebabs twice.

and, then, i eat a lot — and i mean, a lot — of hot dogs.

i eat a lot of hot dogs in iceland. here's a small sampling.

icelandic hot dogs have a snap to them that american hot dogs don't, and they're made with more lamb than they are beef, which isn't a surprise given that sheep outnumber humans 2:1. they're served in soft buns with ketchup, mayo, icelandic mustard, fried onions, and raw onions, and they are delicious indeed, not too salty and delightfully balanced.

when we arrive in stykkisholmur, off the ferry from brjanslaekur, we stop by a hot dog truck that crumbles up doritos and creates variations on the hot dog using them.

maybe it sounds disgusting and horrifying, but they're great — crumbled up doritos add a nice crunch and a subtle flavoring — and i think maybe it works because doritos in iceland are also less saltier, less intensely flavored than they are stateside. (of course, i tried doritos in iceland.)

and it’s funny because my cousins don’t know what to make of my fascination with shitty processed food. hot dogs are one thing, and spam is another (one of my cousins tries spam for the first time ever in iceland) (my aunt brings spam), but my little cousin in particular can’t seem to wrap her head around my love for really, really shitty instant mac n cheese, especially given how much i love to cook and love good food.

my father finds this weird, too, wonders at my love for cheap, greasy street tacos, but i don’t know — some foods are meant to be cheap and disgusting, and, as much as i love gourmet mac and cheese, i do love the instant shit that coagulates and turns a questionable shade of almost green as it cools. 

that sounds more disgusting and horrifying than doritos crumbled onto a hot dog, doesn’t it? i love it, anyway. i don’t like gourmet tacos, though. tacos should be greasy and cheap and simple.

when i travel, i allow myself one fancy dinner, and, in iceland, i make a reservation at resto. here are notes.

the seafood soup is delectable, creamy but not heavy; i could eat a giant bowl of this. i eat goose for the first time, and the server tells me to be careful of any remains of shotgun pellets, which is something that alarms me after i've cleared my plate, thoughtfully chewing the goose and wondering what i think of it, if i like it. (i'm not sure that i like goose.) when i'm thinking about goose while waiting for the next course, i think there's something nice about that note of caution, that, as consumers, as eaters, we should remember that food comes from somewhere, that it doesn't simply come prepared on our plates. animals are slaughtered for our meat; people labor for our produce; and it's too easy to forget the cost involved.

next is a hand pie, hot and crispy on the outside, warm and rich on the inside. i don't eat the olives because i'm still not an olive-eater (i'm not the keenest on briny flavors), but i love the bitter crunch of what i want to call radish but am fairly sure isn't radish. i don't know as much about food as i wish i did, and i'm clearly a terrible note-taker.

the main course is langoustine, which is something i've never heard of. the tiny lobster tails make me wonder, "did the dish come with lobster?" because the body of the langoustine has a soft, fish-like texture. the tails, too, are more fish-like than lobster-like in texture, but, as it goes, a langoustine is a norway lobster, and it's smaller than typical lobsters.

and then for dessert, there’s ice cream — or, at least, ice cream is the dessert i pick. by then, it’s late, almost eleven pm, and i’m exhausted because i have my fancy meal my first night in iceland, and i’ve barely slept, so i’m thinking dessert will be kind of whatever. it’s fig ice cream, though, and it. is. so. good. i don’t know why i had doubts about dessert after the fabulous tasting menu that preceded it.

resto gets a thumbs-up from me. thanks to my friend for recommending it!