Eating In The Embassy: Cuisine From A Land Of Glaciers (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Eating In The Embassy: Cuisine From A Land Of Glaciers

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:09
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I’m Rebecca Sheir and this week we are going out in the cold. In this part of the show we're actually going to focus on food, starting with Eating in the Embassy. Our ongoing series with the local food blog, Eater D.C. This time around we're heading to Northwest Washington, inside the House of Sweden…

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:26
Great place, by the way.

MR. ERLINGUR ERLINGSSON

00:00:28
Yeah, quite nice.

SHEIR

00:00:28
…to the embassy of Iceland or one door down, I guess I should say.

ERLINGSSON

00:00:32
So the embassy is literally next door. And the way it works is that we made a lease with the House of Sweden so we'd have two units.

SHEIR

00:00:37
We're in the unit that's set up as a residence for this guy.

ERLINGSSON

00:00:40
My name is Erlingur Erlingsson. I'm counselor at the Embassy of Iceland in D.C. I've been in D.C. for about nine months.

SHEIR

00:00:45
And today, Eater D.C.'s Missy Frederick and I are here to taste some Icelandic cuisine. Though, the way Erlingur explains it…

ERLINGSSON

00:00:52
We don't have a strongly developed concept of Icelandic cuisine.

SHEIR

00:00:55
See, the Vikings first settled Iceland in the 9th century.

ERLINGSSON

00:00:58
And they were migrants from Norway. So that's sort of our origin and a lot of our culture is very Norse.

SHEIR

00:01:05
After the Vikings, Iceland was independent for a while.

ERLINGSSON

00:01:07
And then there was a civil war in Iceland in the 15th, 14th century.

SHEIR

00:01:10
Then Iceland came under the rule of Norway.

ERLINGSSON

00:01:12
And then Norway came under the rule of Denmark. And so we became a Danish holding for several centuries.

SHEIR

00:01:17
So Erlingur says his country's cuisine is kind of a conglomeration of all these Scandinavian cultures. But, all the same, the island nation of 320,000 people does serve up plenty of things it can call its own. Like the first item Erlingur serves me and Missy.

ERLINGSSON

00:01:32
Harofiskur ysuflok, which literally translated is hard fish. And you traditionally use haddock that gets hung up and dried outdoors, preferably. So I just refer to it as just another jerky or something like that.

SHEIR

00:01:44
Now, when you bite into the fish jerky it's kind of hard to chew.

ERLINGSSON

00:01:49
It takes a minute for it to sort of reconstitute. Yeah, you have to work on it.

MS. MISSY FREDERICK

00:01:54
A bit tough.

ERLINGSSON

00:01:55
It's not a first-date food.

SHEIR

00:01:58
But eventually, it softens up and this really potent, salty, fishy flavor kicks in.

FREDERICK

00:02:03
I like it more than I would have expected hearing the phrase fish jerky. I'll give it that much for sure.

ERLINGSSON

00:02:08
Okay. We'll rethink our marketing.

SHEIR

00:02:11
Another Icelandic item Erlingur has us try…

SHEIR

00:02:12
That is so tasty and the texture…

FREDERICK

00:02:15
Great texture, yeah.

SHEIR

00:02:16
…is on the sweeter side. It's called skyr.

ERLINGSSON

00:02:18
It's essentially like an Icelandic relative of Greek yogurt. Technically, it's a cheese, sort of a filtered dairy product and it has sort of a medium-thick texture.

SHEIR

00:02:27
Skyr's been around since the Vikings and has three times the protein of regular yogurt. And speaking of protein, Icelandic cuisine is loaded with the stuff, mainly because Iceland…

ERLINGSSON

00:02:37
It's about the size of Ireland and I think it's quite close to the size of Virginia.

SHEIR

00:02:41
…doesn't have a lot of great cropland.

ERLINGSSON

00:02:43
Mostly the interior of the island is volcanic deserts and mountains and glaciers and stuff.

SHEIR

00:02:48
So the country produces a lot of dairy, fish and something Erlingur says he's been missing ever since he came to the States.

ERLINGSSON

00:02:54
I do miss the lamb. I think our lamb is quite special. So all our sheep, which were originally brought over by the Vikings when they settled Iceland, they're not penned in, they're not restricted in terms of movement. So they're practically like wild sheep in that sense.

SHEIR

00:03:08
And while you can serve Icelandic lamb roasted or grilled or smoked, one of Erlingur's favorite ways to eat it is a little faster.

ERLINGSSON

00:03:15
Iceland even has its own fast food. There's a hot dog stand in Reykjavik, known as the town's best hot dogs or Baejarins beztu. And they're lamb hot dogs, in a soft white bun, usually with both raw onion and roasted onion, ketchup, mustard and then a mayonnaise relish.

SHEIR

00:03:33
Unless, that is, you're the 42nd president of the United States.

ERLINGSSON

00:03:37
Bill Clinton, when he was in Iceland in 2004--I was working actually for the U.S. embassy at the time, in Reykjavik. So we're doing a walkabout. And my deputy chief of mission, then decided, oh, we should stop there and have a hot dog. So, you know, there's a famous order at that hot dog stand. You can have a hot dog only with mustard, which is known as The Clinton.

SHEIR

00:03:53
Okay. So we've covered a few different Icelandic foods. Let's turn now to beverages, specifically boozy beverages. Interesting thing about alcohol in Iceland, prohibition started in 1915 and basically didn't end until 1989.

ERLINGSSON

00:04:08
But then since then, we've sort of come a long way. Beer initially was all imported. And now we've got a lot more microbrewery-style things going on. And they've done pretty well, in competitions. Even internationally they've gotten some awards.

SHEIR

00:04:18
The can Erlingur serves to me and Missy contains one of those award-winning brews.

ERLINGSSON

00:04:22
Egils Gull, literally means Egil's Gold. So that's like their premium lager.

ERLINGSSON

00:04:35
And we'll do sampling portions.

SHEIR

00:04:36
Great.

ERLINGSSON

00:04:37
But there's more.

SHEIR

00:04:37
He also busts out a bottle of what may be Iceland's most famous drink, Brennivin, called the Black Death, sometimes.

ERLINGSSON

00:04:45
That's another word for it.

SHEIR

00:04:45
You make Brennivin from fermented potato mash and caraway seeds. And with an alcohol content of 37.5 percent, the stuff is strong. That's why, legend has it, it was developed to wash down something Icelanders have been eating for centuries.

ERLINGSSON

00:05:01
Hakarl, which is Icelandic for shark. Iceland used to be extremely poor until the middle of the 20th century. And so we were obliged to eat whatever we could get from the sea and on the hoof in Iceland.

SHEIR

00:05:11
So with plenty of sharks in the sea, Icelanders began using the animals for oil and meat, which they'd cure and then ferment for months and months and months.

ERLINGSSON

00:05:22
And, yeah, some people like to say the reason for Brennivin is you take tiny bites always of the shark and you need to wash it down and to sort of get the flavor quickly out of your mouth after you've had it.

SHEIR

00:05:32
Now, we're not eating any fermented shark here in Erlingur's apartment, but after our little feast of Icelandic goodness, what else to do but finish it off with a shot.

SHEIR

00:05:40
Bottoms up.

ERLINGSSON

00:05:43
Skáli botn, it' like toast to the bottom.

SHEIR

00:05:45
…of Black Death. That'll warm you up.

FREDERICK

00:05:47
Yeah.

SHEIR

00:05:52
We have plenty more about Icelandic cuisine over at metroconnection.org, including a recipe for white chocolate skyr pie. Plus, I actually paid a visit to Iceland not too long ago and you can see a few photos from that trip on metroconnection.org, too. We have all kinds of food up there. Like those hot dogs Erlingur mentioned. And also, geyser bread. You actually cook this stuff in the ground, no joke. And trust me, it is delicious. You can find all that and more on metroconnection.org.
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