Stay with me as we cover white supremacy, Sesame Street, skyr, biomedical ethics, NBC vs PBS, and more. And it all started because of pad thai. No wonder I reference Seinfeld. If this stresses you out, we’ll be back to our normal shorter posts tomorrow. But there are some killer awesome links in here my friends.
We’ve thrived in our first week here. But as we’ve adapted and reconfigured, observed and experienced, I got to thinking.
I’m a wee bit not excited about some of Iceland’s culinary traditions. There’s singed sheep’s head & putrefied shark. Maybe if they just skipped the adjectives at the beginning? Yes, yes, it’s important to sample some national fair. In Iceland I’m reading that as a particular emphasis on their dairy delights. Many guides say to zero in on those as affordable eating options when so much imported food rocks your wallet. I say zero in because they are delightful. My new love is skyr…a cheese/yogurt hybrid. I love this stuff. It’s thick and creamy and wonderful. I eat it for breakfast every morning. I am sad when I get to the end of it. (You, lucky folk, can get it in the states. Or, more specifically, I know you can get it at the Jewell by our old apartment. It’s smaller than the containers here and not actually made in Iceland but it’s close.)
Two of the other three best things (assuming skyr has safely secured a spot) I’ve put in my belly thus far aren’t Icelandic. I’m sorry temporary home. I love you, I just can’t like whale (athough, most Icelanders also skip the krill-eaters and only defy the idea of banning whale hunting because their strong sense of independence makes them cranky when outsiders nosey in). And, back to favorites.
We’ve spent a few mornings working at the cafe C is for Cookie. There isn’t a Sesame Street connection anywhere in the place. Instead there are rat stuffed animals everywhere. I don’t get it. It’s owned by a Polish couple and recently garnered “Best Coffee” from the Grapevine. And oh. Oh, oh, I love their lattes. I may or may not drink two lattes when we are there partially because I like the way they change up the designs in the foam. We collectively also love their pancake treat. Brett asked, it is Icelandic (you’re welcome temporary home). So, while not particular to this cafe, I’m grateful they introduced me to the pönnukökur in all its umlauty goodness.
The other best belly pleaser to date has been the pad thai from BanThai. While I didn’t take a picture of it (I am assuming pad thai is a familiar enough thing and it’s not like it had hearts and swirls all over it like my latte), I did take a little video of the “Tiger’s Cry” appetizer.
If you want to hear 30 seconds of sizzle, turn it up for full effect.
The pad thai was yummy (which makes sense because BanThai’s lunch joint is called YummyYummy.) Citrusy and fresh. The owner talked with us about how he refuses to give people knives or chopsticks (even though he said he has a stash of chopsticks) because, well, that’s just not how you do it in Thailand.
I think it’s a real sign of my own naivete what I am continually surprised (and overjoyed) by the number of Thai restaurants in Reykjavik. There are nearly a dozen. Now, in context, that’s about the same as in our old neighborhood, Lincoln Square, alone.
But for a tiny volcanic rock up near the Arctic Circle, I think they’re rocking it. I guess if folks are going to emigrate to Chicago they may just as well wind up in Iceland (yes, I realize this is not totally an easy sell but the social services are so much more generous. That Apple Place from the naming post? Social Insurance Administration, a pretty interesting look into how this country cares for its people).
But we did get into a discussion of immigration while at BanThai. Is there a strong community of Thai folk? Are they well integrated into the society at large? What do ethnic politics look like in a place that is overwhelmingly homogeneous?
All I knew is that I’ve read there are relatively large Polish and Thai populations (northern European/Scandanvian immigration isn’t really a big deal and doesn’t show up in articles). So I poked around a bit. I was sleepy, so it didn’t dawn on me to try the Icelandic census information (although I tried today, not easy). Leaving out that gem, most of the websites I could find that gave details on immigration to Iceland were missionary websites, looking to reach the “least reached” people (reached by Jesus, not internet access because Iceland has the most connected population in the world), and white supremacist groups hailing Iceland as some kind of last haven of whiteness. Stay calm, carry on. And no, I won’t provide the links.
From my incredibly limited research efforts, it appears there are about 600 Thai people in Iceland. I’d hazard to guess most are in Reykjavik, although from what I can tell there are 3 or 4 other Thai restaurants in the country, depending on what exactly I google. (Sidebar: Upon discovering this I tried to convince Brett that we should totally eat in every Thai restaurant in Iceland. He seems less excited by the ability to brag that we’ve eaten in every Thai restaurant in Iceland.)
Now, while neither missionaries or white supremacists are groups I generally build my connections around, there are two that rattled around in my head in regards to our new home as I walked around this week.
First, to missionaries. While I balk at conversion efforts of any kind (or, in fact, most types of zealotry including sports superfandom and wearing the concert t-shirt while at the concert) I think any genealogist or fan of that show on NBC or the oddly similar PBS show would admit that the Church of Latter Day Saints deserves some props for their geneological efforts. A lot of props.
That idea of tracing lineage is incredible pertinent in Iceland because most folks of pure Icelandic stock can trace their roots back to the 8th and 9th centuries thanks to Ari the Learned’s Landnámabók, or Book of Settlements, which traces the Nordic immigrants to Iceland. Today we went to the Culture House and saw manuscripts of the books and family trees and such as well as an excellent photo exhibit aptly called “Icelanders”. I even bought a postcard which looks like this map (but ours shows boats!).
Now, that very ability to trace ancestry feeds the white supremacists who, based on the site I scarily wound up on, herald Iceland as some kind of haven for pure white stock. They believe Iceland is this last bastion of white-ness (Whatever the hell that is. I totally stick out here and I’m disastrously white). Accordingly, it will obviously survive the nuclear holocaust they are predicting and turn into some kind of Narnia for fans of Stuff White People Like.
The connection, then, is that the idea of “purity” feeding the excitement of the crazies also caused a fairly big controversy in the last decade in far less crazy circles. Please pardon my layman’s approach at this. Because the population size is small but not insignificant, and genetic variation is supposedly limited among native Gaelic/Nordic Icelanders, and the country is relatively isolated, medical researchers began eyeing the population as a potential goldmine for genetic information which they argued could help bring understanding to a wide range of diseases. While understanding disease is good, the intrusiveness of the Icelandic government in selling the information to a single company, who then owned that information even if you later opted out (you had to opt out, there was no opt in), understandably worried many citizens and folks interested in the ethics of medical information. You can read more about the issue and the reaction here (although, hell, I don’t know enough to know if that’s a good site.) Here’s deCode’s version of all kinds of things. You can also trace much of the coverage in scientific press through Berkeley. AND!! This showed up in the NY Times yesterday. Ah, sweet confluence.
All that rigamarole is the result of a week of a freed up mind on long walks and fingers with access to ample broadband. It’s been a glorious week here in Reykjavik. Thanks for being here with us.