Thanks Miss Helga Sigurðardóttir for Matur og Drykkur

What's in a name?
What's in a name?

Magellan and I have been watching the TV series The Bear, the name chef Carmen Berzatto (Bear-Zatto) gives to the family restaurant he’s revamping in Chicago. His nickname “Bear,” and that of his siblings (Mikey Bear, Sugar Bear), references the animal’s characteristics while paying homage to Chicago’s football team. It made me think about restaurant names.

Like Caffé La Tana, one of our small, hometown favourites. (Tana being Italian for “den”.) Blue Water Café, good name for our best seafood restaurant. AnnaLena, honouring the chef’s two grandmothers.

Today’s blog is about our favourite restaurant in Iceland, Matur og Drykkur, (“Food and Drink”). Straightforward name, right?

Except Matur og Drykkur is named for the title of a highly influential cookbook from 1947 that’s still shaping culinary traditions.

The author of this 520-page cookbook, the grand lady of Icelandic cooking, was Miss Helga Sigurðardóttir. Born in 1904, Helga was the first headmistress of Iceland’s Húsmæðkennarskóli, (“house-wife schools”) that were established in many regions throughout the country. In a food history of Iceland, Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir tells us about Helga:

She wrote several popular cookbooks before she published Matur og Drykkur, which soon became the Icelandic kitchen bible and remained in that position for decades. This is the epitome of Icelandic-Danish cooking, the comfort food modern-day Icelanders feel nostalgic about but rarely cook themselves; flour-thickened sauces, the Sunday roast leg of lamb, pork roast with crackling, lemon mousse, prune compote, fish salad with mayonnaise sauce, meatballs in brown sauce with jam, and Danish apple charlotte.

Taking the name of Helga’s most famous cookbook for their restaurant, Chef Gísli Matthías Auðunsson, Albert Munoz, and three sisters, Inga, Elma, and Ágústa Backman, opened Matur og Drykkur in 2015. The restaurant has another book connection. Located in the Grandi area with a view of Reykjavik’s harbour, Matur og Drykkur is inside a former fish factory that’s now the Saga Museum, the place showcasing Iceland’s historical books, The Sagas.

Magellan and I saved this restaurant with its runic emphasis on local traditions and seasonal ingredients for our last meal in Iceland, a Sunday dinner. The laidback but chic atmosphere is totally welcoming. While there is only a tasting menu, you have some choices within it. Let’s dig right into the delicious food, free from pomposity or tedium, that we ate.

We have more than enough masterpieces. What we need is a better standard of ordinariness.

How true. This quote from another famous cookery writer, Jane Grigson, reflects the philosophy of Helga Sigurðardóttir and the food in her namesake restaurant. Goodness in every mouthful.

Here’s what one of the staff at Opna, the book’s publishers, said in 2009 about the newest release of Helga’s cookbook, Matur og Drykkur:

It’s been a long time since I’ve experienced a similar reaction to a new release…One woman […] walked out with seven copies. She wanted to make sure that all of her children would get a copy of their own so that she could keep her book to herself. Now people are nurturing their roots, growing their own vegetables and so forth. Then they go back to the basic recipes.

There are about 1300 recipes in total, for soups, porridges, meat dishes, poultry dishes, fish dishes, herring dishes, sauces, potato dishes, side dishes and puddings, cold dishes, salads, Icelandic autumn food, egg dishes, buttered bread, sweets, party drinks, cakes and bread. In addition, the book contains special chapters on medical food, hot and cold drinks, measures and scales, and a detailed nutrition table. This book is not only an obvious housewarming gift and summer gift for girls, but it is a best friend gift and an essential gift for every good wife and housewife.

What’s in a name? If you were opening a restaurant in your hometown, what name would you give it?

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Matur og Drykkur They have a sense of humour, too.

Rögnvaldardóttir, Nanna. “A Little Food History.” 2014. Nanna is an award-winning author of Icelandic cookbooks, Matarást (Love of Food) and Matreiðslubók Nönnu (Nanna’s Cookbook) and one in English,
Icelandic Food and Cookery.

2 Responses

    1. Thanks Veda. We’ll always remember the fun we had on Haida Gwaii, what a good sport you were with your broken arm and George’s amazing poem. If you two opened a restaurant, what would you call it?

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