Iceland is famous for lots of things: regularly erupting volcanos, Bjork the magic Elf and hot geysers sending steaming towers of water towards the sky. And the kitchen is not falling behind these marvels.
Typical for a secluded island far away from everything, they have developed their very own food style out of necessity of being in a harsh environment, serving curious dishes of strange tastes and traditions. How about a piece of "hval steak" - whale steak? Hrútspungar, the testicles of rams pressed in blocks, boiled and cured in lactic acid? Rotten shark? Blood pudding? Or "svid" - a fermented sheep's head on a plate?
But what really gets the Icelandic civilization up and jumping on the lava rocks is their tremendous love of candy (called "Nammi" in Icelandic). There are five candy factories covering a population of less than 300,000 (!), and even the tiniest street vendor or the biggest mall reserve approx. 20% of their space for candy aisles and ice cream frost boxes. Maybe it's the lack of daylight in the winter time that calls for unstoppable truckloads of sugar inhalation, or maybe it's just the Icelandic tradition of being more than self-sufficient - even when it comes to candy production - but either way it's pretty unique.
And what's even more unique is the love for the magic combination of chocolate and licorice.
No other place on earth sports so many insane combinations of those two vices - which oddly enough is a taste combination that many people outside this island would prefer not to embark on. You get chocolate bars with licorice liquid caramel inside or small licorice sugar balls mixed into the chocolate or a grainy licorice texture or a whole piece of licorice melted into the centre of the chocolate bar.
Then you have licorice drops, licorice chewing gum, licorice chocolate ice cream and on we go.
I sampled two popular chocolate bars, the bite-sized Hitt and the bigger Draumur.
Hitt is not seen in that many places around Iceland and is sort of a well-kept secret. It sports a caramel bottom filling, very chewy and delicious, kinda like a Milky Way bar.
Then on top of that, a long piece of salty licorice is placed and then the whole shebang is covered with a milk chocolate glazing thereby constructing the unique sensation when biting into the bar and experiencing the mix of two very distinct flavors.
One of my favorites.
Draumar is super popular and seen in most kiosks, supermarkets and gas stations even out in the middle of nowhere. It has a pure licorice core melted into the centre of the bar of milk chocolate.
This bar is not my favorite - its licorice tastes too sweet and the lack of the caramel in Hitt to soften the taste blow, makes it hard to decide whether the fine line between special or just plain disgusting has been crossed. Also the milk chocolate has the same "quality" as the cheap, hollow easter bunnies that your aunt buys you from WalMart. Bi-product cocoa butter with skimmed milk powder... eugh.
In conclusion I would still recommend to sweet sugar fans to try out this special combo, you might like it so much you'll end up with a new hot lover in your candy cupboard.
You can buy the sampled bars and much more from the Icelandic webshop Nordic Store.