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Life is saltfish | by hó
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Life is saltfish

"After all, life is above all else saltfish," a character in one of Halldór Laxness novels claims. And so it has been for much of Icelandic history. In the middle ages, Icelanders exported only dried stockfish but in the 18th Century salted fish, primarily cod, became increasingly important, and at times the dominant export item from Iceland. It was most often cut open and flattened, then salted and left to dry in the sun on the ground. This traditional method is displayed at the Historical Museum in Ísafjörður in NW-Iceland (where you can buy the stuff as well). The salted cod was and is largely sold to Mediterranean countries, but in Spain and Portugal "bacalao" is highly prized and considered better food than fresh cod because of the salty taste and the flaky texture of the white flesh after this treatment. I have eaten a pricey bacalao "steak" in a posh Bilbao restaurant, where it is considered haute cuisine, but in Iceland saltfish was long considered inferior food.

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Taken on July 20, 2009