DESPITE having saved our pennies for years to afford a twelve-month trip to Europe for our family of four, money was tight the entire time, and got tighter in the final months. We put ourselves on a strict daily budget, which I referred to as our “austerity measures.” On the last night of the trip, a fancy dinner in downtown Reykjavik was out of the question, so we headed to a grocery store to buy pasta and tomato sauce to cook in the kitchen of our Airbnb basement suite on the edge of town.

As we unloaded the groceries from the back of our rental car, we heard an amplified voice shouting, “Do you want to go to a restaurant?” We turned around and saw a young girl, about ten, standing in the doorway of the house across the street and holding a megaphone. She repeated her question. She was blonde and barefoot and wore a yellow tank top and leggings.

We looked around and at each other.

“Is she talking to us?” asked my fourteen-year-old daughter, Sophia.

I shrugged my shoulders.

“A real restaurant?” my husband shouted.

“Yes!” said the girl. “A really real restaurant!” She sprinted across the street with a piece of paper in her hands and then handed it to me. I started to read and, like Proust biting into his madeleine, I was whisked back to my childhood, when my sister and I would play restaurant in our backyard and copy out elaborate menus by hand.

Here is what was on the paper:

Sómst menu

Stir egg - 550

Pasta with butter/oil - 550

Bread with butter and cheese - 300

Garlic Bread: x 1 = 100, x 5 = 500

Bread with Spam - 300


Crystal - 200

Water - 0

Ribena - 200

Tropi - 155

Coke - 200

Children’s Menu

Pasta - 250

Bread with butter - 199

Cut apple - 100

Cheerios - 55

The prices were in Icelandic króna, and so low that I immediately wished we had skipped the grocery store to eat our last supper at this restaurant instead. Iceland is expensive. The restaurant had to be taking a loss, selling everything so cheap.

Another girl—a co-restaurateur, apparently—appeared. She lived in the upstairs suite of the house we were staying at and had evidently alerted her friend to our presence.

I was impressed by their courage, enterprise, and near-perfect English. I was also a little jealous. My sister and I never had any customers other than our parents and the cat, and here were these girls courting strange foreigners as customers. I wondered what their parents thought of all this and noticed a dad-like figure leaving the house across the street. He looked at us and smiled before walking away down the block.

My husband, who spent his childhood weekends playing war games in the park and not putting dandelions in vases for a backyard cafe, decided not to come. He later told me that he was afraid there would be an awkward situation if we walked into the house only to find that the parents hadn’t approved the plan after all.

My curiosity, not to mention good manners, made refusal impossible. Sophia agreed, but eight-year-old Sebastian said he “might come over later.” I expect he was intimidated by these confident Icelandic girls.

Sophia and I followed the girls across the street and into the house, where they asked whether we wanted to sit inside or outside. The family dining room was modern Scandinavian design at its best: spacious, spare, and with beautifully finished wood everywhere, like if Ikea furniture were made with top-quality materials, and put together by a real carpenter instead of oneself. But because the weather was so good, we sat outside on the deck.

The “Bread with Spam” intrigued me. I hadn’t seen Spam on a menu since 2007, when I joined the queue in front of a Spamburger stand at the Albuquerque Balloon Festival. (They ran out of Spamburgers before I got to the front of the line, which is probably for the best.)

The water, at zero króna, also looked like a good choice.

“I’ll have the Bread with Spam and water, please,” I said.

Our hostess paused for a moment, bit her lip, and said, “The Spam is brown. Is that okay?”

“Sure, no problem,” I said.

“It’s brown, but it’s not old. It’s new.”

“Sounds good.” New Spam is my favourite.

Sophia ordered a sliced apple for one hundred króna.

The two girls disappeared for a few minutes.

We waited, enjoying the warm and mellow June evening, and thought back on the year’s eating. We had fallen in love with the fresh young herring in the Netherlands and the tapas lifestyle of Andalucía. In west Ireland, we discovered a passionate artisanal and locavore movement. Who knew they made an excellent chorizo in County Cork?

Iceland had also proven surprising as a culinary destination. I didn’t lose my head over the “gourmet hot dogs” the online reviewers raved about, but I adored the traditional fish stew from a highway cafe and ate several helpings of the arctic char salad at a breakfast buffet, trying to figure out how to reproduce it at home.

Soon our food arrived. The apple slices were arrayed on a pretty flowered dish and the water was iced. We hadn’t ordered the Cheerios, but they came as an add-on, served dry, on small square plates.

The Spam turned out to be liverwurst, which evoked pleasant memories of the previous summer in Amsterdam, where I sat on the patio of our local cafe and ate sliced liverwurst on toothpicks with mustard and drank cold wheat beer.

Sebastian turned up then, tried my Bread with Spam, and ordered some for himself.

“This is Spam?” he said. “Spam is good!”

“It’s not Spam. Spam is not good. But maybe Spam is the Icelandic word for liverwurst.”

I was asked to write my name down on the bill, and soon it was time to pay.

“That will be seven hundred.” I handed the girls a one thousand krona note.

“Do you want change?” said the one who brought the food. Clever, she was.

“No, keep the change.” The girls looked at each other with big eyes and big smiles.

“Okay, thank you for coming,” said the one who had held the megaphone.

“Have a good summer!” I said, as we left.

“You’re welcome. I mean… thank you!”

We walked across the street back to our house. Sophia said her apple was tart, sweet and crunchy, much better than the cheap ones we’d recently been buying. Sebastian said the restaurant was “So cute! Everyone except mass-murderers would want to go there!” This being his top rating for a dining establishment.

What do we want from our food? Beyond sustenance, I mean. For me, I think it comes down to delight and connection. Half the fun of eating stuffed mussels in Turkey was interacting with the vendors—their amusement at my pitiful Turkish and watching them feed Sebastian a few mussels by hand, gratis. Our favourite tapas bar in Seville was not the best one, but the one where the waiter recognized us and knew what we liked. On New Year’s Eve in Paris, my already-tasty dish of ham and noodles was made exquisite by the kindness of the bistro’s regulars, who generously included a tourist family in their celebration.

At Sómst, interacting with these enterprising young girls and actually being invited into their home made me feel much more connected to Icelandic people and culture than a gourmet hot dog or a trip to the Phallological Museum ever could. I briefly considered submitting a review of the restaurant to TripAdvisor, but decided against it. Sómst will remain a local secret, a great bargain, and my favourite restaurant in Europe.


© 2015 Rebeca Dunn-Krahn. Published by Little Fiction | Big Truths, June 2015.


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