Christmas eve dinner in Iceland’s Eldhús in March?

“Icelanders went from Stone Age to modernity in one jump.  That’s why we believe in Elves, Trolls and ghosts but at the same time are a very modern nation.” Pétur is answering the question of why Icelanders seem to act so spontaneously about so many things whereas Europeans would discuss in detail, plan and then go ahead. Icelanders seem to be a bit like Nike:  Just Do It.  

Today is the first day of the 12-day journey around Iceland with our little red house of food – Eldhús.  We want to invite tourists to experience Icelandic dinner in a typical Icelandic grandma’s kitchen in special locations around the country.  Four Spanish people showed up for the dinner on the first night: Marta, Orestes, Pepe and Paula.  We thought it would be appropriate to surprise them…

Our special guest for the evening is Pétur Ármannsson, an Architect and Scholar who specialises in corrugated houses. He joined us for dinner and explained just why there are so many corrugated houses in Reykjavik. It was really interesting – even for me as an Icelander – to hear that this corrugated iron was the poor man’s building material.  It was used to build sheds or barracks in the early days. Later Pétur told us that this material had great significance as it helped to protect homes from fire, which meant that it had great value in the old days.  And don’t forget that it rains horizontally in Iceland sometimes so houses needed to be protected from leaks.  Foreign architects are totally surprised when they see one of the most beautiful old churches in Reykjavik is built from this material.

On every location there is a local volunteer cooking for the guests and tonight’s Chef was Bjarni, who is the Chef of Harpa’s kitchen -  the new Reykjavik concert hall and conference center.  Bjarni chose to cook fried salted cod with fish tongues and cheeks.  Fish tongues and cheeks!  This reminds me of my grandfather.  It was his favorite dish.  I remember sitting in front of him in my mother’s Eldhús in 1972, watching him eating this strange food I could not imaging eating myself.  “This is the best part of the fish you can cook”, he said.  He knew the quality of the food and I was young and stupid and of course didn’t listen.  I was staring at his big nose instead and he had this typical huge tobacco nose.  Regularly a brown drop fell from his nose on the dish and at that point I hid my face in my hands: “Grandpa – your nose …”

Tonight the focus was not on anyone’s nose.  I was busy watching my Spanish dinner guests enjoying the meal and describing it as so fresh and delicious with a unique  taste.  “The fish is so pure and fresh – it has a special taste that I have not experienced before”, said Marta.

Today fish tongues and cheeks is one of my favorite dishes. You can find this dish in the best restaurants in Reykjavik and of course in Eldhús – The Little House of Food.  

We were all laughing about the fact that we were sitting in a tiny little house floating on the pond in the middle of Reykjavik.  “It feels so much like home, and the salted cod is a typical Christmas eve dinner in Spain”, Marta says laughing..  “This is really expensive food in Spain – 24 Euros per kg!”

We had a great time tonight in Eldhús and we got very sentimental in the end.  We all felt like we had a special bond.  So of course we thought, let’s be a bit Icelandic, let’s not talk too much about it, let’s just do it.  So we all hugged and cried and no, I´m not joking.  It was just a wonderful 2 hours and I am looking forward to meeting the next group of people coming to Eldhús tomorrow.

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Harpa—the Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Center—is too new to be in guidebooks. But as Iceland’s latest attraction, it’s a sign that this country, which essentially went bankrupt during the global financial crisis, is crawling back onto its feet. To the Blue Lagoon, where tourists discover the joys of soaking in warm, mineral-laden seawater, and to the island’s strange but beautiful terrain, Harpa adds a cultural dimension to Iceland’s appeal.

The Stunning Architecture of Iceland’s Harpa - The Daily Beast
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