1) My grandmothers pancakes. In Iceland, pancakes are thin and lacy, served simply; sprinkled with sugar and rolled up. My grandmother was a master pancake maker and, as an added attraction, her kitchen was something of a hub for the local housewifes to meet for coffee and gossip. Faulty presidential candidates and who had illegitimate kids all over town (often, these seemed to go together) were popular topics for discussion. Meanwhile my grandmother scurried around; pouring coffee, frying pancakes and making sure everybody was happy. Some of my best childhood memories come from that kitchen, the warmth and the feeling of belonging is something I hope I’ll manage to pass along to my own children.
2) Blacked fish fingers and clumped spaghetti. I have always been an adventurous eater, but I hate repetition. My middle sister eats everything but is totally uninterested in food. My youngest sister, on the other hand, is extremely picky and the only dish we’d all eat as kids was fried fish fingers with spaghetti. I used to vary the proportions between ketchup, soy sauce and fake lemon juice (I’ve no idea what that actually was, but it came in plastic, lemon shaped bottles). Lets just say that cooking isn’t my dads strongest side, but fish fingers were a dish that he almost could pull off. I remember removing the blackened outer crust of the fish fingers, separating the spaghetti strands with my fork and thinking that the day I’d do my own cooking I’ll never ever eat fish fingers again. And no, I don’t.
3) Pears gratinée with goat cheese and peanut butter. My mom, on the other hand, is a very good cook. She marches to her own beat and goes where no cook has ever gone before. Her pears gratinée are an example of this. It’s very easy to make; half pears, scoop out the pips. Lay a generous dollop of chunky peanut butter in the hollow of each pear. Then a thick slab of goat cheese. Bake in the oven until cheese is browning and voilá – a side dish that goes with anything!
4) Apfelstrudel. The first time I ever went abroad (that was not going to Iceland or Norway visiting relatives) I went with my family to violin camp in Austrian. I made a point of ordering only menu items I didn’t recognize and soon enough, I hit the jackpot. Apfelstrudels are pastries filled with apples, nuts and rum dunked raisins, sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon and rolled up in filo dough. The pastries are served warm, with whipped cream on the side and no other apple pie I’ve ever had has been anywhere near as good.
5) Home Made Ice Cream. When I turned 15 I got an ice cream maker for my birthday. One recipe that I came up with back then, and that I was especially proud of, is mixing 50% plain yogurt and 50% home made jam. Freeze this in the ice cream maker and you’ll end up with the freshest, easiest most fool proof ice cream ever. If you have no idea how to get popular, consider getting an ice cream maker!
6) Escargots in garlic butter. Violin training payed off. I got accepted into the top youth orchestra of my town and we got to do a mini tour in France and Belgium. While traveling, I discovered that if there is an age limit for buying wine in France, nobody seemes to care. I also discovered that the weirdness you might end up with in France when ordering only unknown things from menus were in a different league from Austria. But escargots turned out to be an excellent choice. Shiny, slimy, slippery snails, drenched in garlic butter and served with pieces of crusty baguettes to suck up every last drop of fat. And then a big carton of white wine to go with it. Heaven!
7) Yam pla duk foo. I went to Thailand as an exchange student and in order to greet me upon arrival, my entire class came by my host family. Together we prepared enormous amounts of yam pla duk foo, which is a salad of based on minced and deep fried catfish, making it very crispy. The fish is tossed with green, exteremely sour, shredded mango, peanuts, raw onions and chili. The result is a divinely delicious blend of flavors and textures. And also, when saying that you’re ”eating catfish” (gin pla duk) in Thai, that’s also slang for fellatio. The female equivalent is ”gin hoy”, which literally means ”eating clam”, just saying.
8) Som Tam. The Thai people are masters of enjoying life. There is a phrase ”sabai sabai” that is very hard to translate but the essence of it is ”absence of anxiety or pressure”. When you’re in sabai sabai mood you feel all relaxed and happy, not a care in the world. A good way to sabai sabai is to go on a tour, typical destinations are the seaside or waterfalls in the jungle. And whenever Thais go on these kind of tours there will be food vendors present, selling Som Tam. Som Tam is green papaya salad, consisting of shredded green papaya (which has similar texture and taste as cabbage, minus the funk). The papaya shreds are pounded in a clay mortar with lime, chillies, garlic, dried prawns, lime juice, peanuts and sometimes tiny salted crabs, thrown in with shell and all. My own (Icelandic-Swedish) family would never consider going anywhere if there wasn’t a purpose with the trip, like visiting relatives or violin cramming. The Thai way of traveling was such a revelation to me, going somewhere in order to relax and feel good, who would have known how much fun that could be? So whenever I think about som tam Iäm a few steps closer to the bliss of sabai sabai.
9) Kanom Jeen. A few years later I took my husband (then boyfriend) to Thailand. Upon getting into Bangkok I explained that the back alleys usually are the best places to eat. He looked very skeptical so just for making a point I stopped at the first little food place we passed. It turned out they were serving kanom jeen, white noodles coils usually topped with fish curry. At every table there were heaps of different kinds of fresh herbs to help yourself from and stir into the noodles. After that first meal of kanom jeen my husband was fully converted and there have been no further questions about the appropriateness of eating in Bangkok back alleys.
10) A Japanese Banquet. In Japan we got invited to join a group of Swedish ex-pats for a weekend at a seaside club. There was some kind of a package deal involved and on one of the nights there was a traditional Japanese, >10 course, banquet served. There were only seafood and vegetarian dishes, everything exquisitely prepared, highlighting seasonal fare, showing even the lowliest little fermented bean from its best and brightest side. This might very well have been the best meal of my life and meanwhile, all around me, the ex-pats were going ”Japanese again?”, ”Can anyone help me ask if there will be tempura?” and ”I really hate Japanese food”. The girl in front of me ended up ordering French fries and ketchup. I really don’t know what to say about that.
11) Beef Pho. While I’ll forever love Thai cuisine, my husband prefers the freshness of the Vietnamese. Beef Pho is a noodle soup, served with thinly sliced, almost raw sirloin and a big heaping of fresh leafy herbs and onions on top. My husband is fond of making this from scratch, boiling marrow bones and spices for hours to get the broth right, heating the bowls so the soup will be the right temperature at serving. Needless to say, his pho is perfection. I sometimes order other noodle soups, just because I love a good noodle soup, but they never even come close. The picture is my own.