The Icelandic Pantry at Borough Market
If you’re after something different to do this weekend, hop on the tube to London Bridge to check out The Icelandic Pantry at Borough Market. Today and tomorrow the enclosed section of the market next to the street food is playing host to a whole spectrum of suppliers and artisan producers from Iceland, bringing the unique and historical flavours of the North I so fell in love with when I visited Iceland to London.
For a taste of Iceland that you can practically use in your kitchen every day, a really accessible product they have on offer is Icelandic salt. A little harsher than European sea salts, it is strong, Nordic and I imagine delicious with fish. Apparently with tourists and so far at the market the black volcanic salt has been the most popular, but in Iceland the locals like the birch smoke (and interesting flavour) and the arctic thyme (bloody delicious and beautifully herby). The Icelandic people are also obsessed with liquorice root, and their liquorice salt is rather curious, and makes an interesting salt for sweet applications.
Probably one of the most loved foods in Iceland (when I was wandering around Reykjavik there was not a single store that did not sell it) is Skyr, a thick, creamy, Greek yogurt like dairy product made from the by-product of the cheese making process. I ate it in Reykavik in a pool of cream and served with brown sugar, but don’t worry if you don’t get a chance to pick it up at the market – you can now get it in most supermarkets.
If you’re one for a pre-dinner drink but you don’t always want something boozy, I was really intrigued by this wonderfully refreshing drink of Icelandic herb and berries, made with the whey, yet another by-product of Icelandic cheese production. You can’t tell there is dairy in there until the nice and cloudy aftertaste, not quite creamy, but evocative of dairy. I don’t think you’ll ever have tasted anything like it.
The vendor that won the most of my love (marked by the fact it was the only place that inspired me to buy some food to take home on the train with me) was the marinated herring. Generous chunks of raw Icelandic fish were generously marinated in curry and mustard sauces, as well as a wonderfully sharp meets sweet treatment that perfectly compliments the fish: sugar, salt and onion. This is the tub I took back with me (£5 for a rather great amount), and I’m looking forward to it as an alternative aperitif with pre-dinner drinks.
Omnom chocolate, made in Reykjavik with the most wonderful geometric packaging has the most imaginative flavours. For something a bit classic, go for the wonderful dark chocolate, cherry and almond. If you want something simple and cream, making the most of Icelandic dairy, get the classic milk. If you want a flavour of something truly Icelandic, go for the salted liquorice milk bar.
Do you remember that delicious bakery I visited for pastries in the middle of Reykjavik (Iceland’s exciting and metropolitan capital, by the way)? That was Sandholt who have also taken up residents at the market for The Icelandic Pantry. Stop by for cookies, Icelandic jams, blueberry and liquorice sodas, and Icelandic doughnuts.
Another throwback to my Iceland trip last year, do you remember when I spent the morning in Suðureyri, Iceland’s most sustainable fishing village where I tried Harðfiskur, Icelandic Hard Fish which (while being absolutely delicious) had a texture a bit like fibre glass and you needed to soften with a sledgehammer before you could eat it? You’ll be able to try that at the market too, if you were curious.
Finally, I really recommend you try some Icelandic jam. They’re really into those berries that grow in cooler climates like blueberries (obviously), and rhubarb, as it is one of the few fruits that absolutely thrive in the climate. They’re also big on all things preserving in Iceland, for that time of year where it is dreadfully cold and dark for pretty much every hour of the day (I visited during the Summer, when it was pretty much daylight 24/7!) To mix things up a little, they love spicing their jams, so while all the base flavours may start to get familiar, every jar is different. This rhubarb is spiced with vanilla, cinnamon and cloves.
Even if you’re a little bit familiar with Nordic food, there is so much you’ll discover at The Icelandic Pantry that you’ll probably have never discovered unless you’ve visited their proud nation. Even if you’ve just got a spare half hour over lunch today, or tomorrow while the market is open for the weekend rush, stop by and try something new. I’d love to hear about what you discover!