Fish pasta cabins and space-age worship

Why do you hanker after the Nordics? Is it the idea of the cold outside when you know you are on a heated building’s inside? Being buffeted by the scouring wind and rain and somehow purified by the weather and unsullied nature itself? Rushing into a cabin-like diner just as fisherman might have decades ago to partake of a cup of coffee and a fortifying roll? Would you go thousands of miles just to experience raw nature on the doorstep of a small world both civilised and cosy?

If so, make the trip to Stykkishólmur on Iceland’s Snæfellsnes Peninsula for the raw nature. And to the Fimm Fiskar restaurant in the town centre for the civilised and cosy stuff. It isn’t an opulent or flashy eatery – the menu certainly wasn’t stuffed to the hilt with entrees when we were there six months ago. But it catered for tourists and (apparently) locals alike without feeling overly touristy or off-limits. Most of all, it felt just nautical enough and just seafoody enough – simple and intimate decor, classic yet homely ‘types of fish’ pictorial reference charts on the walls, good service, carefully prepared food. And in many ways it was just like that idyllic fisherman’s cabin. Life is tough in the North – but it’s worth the huge adventure to see how human beings there can forge good company in a natural environment of barren isolation.

Fimm Fiskar translates as ‘Five Fish’ and I am sure there were at least five kinds of fish on offer in the pasta we had on the two occasions we were there. By my own admission I tend to both get greedily hungry and then suffer from ‘eyes bigger than stomach’ syndrome; even so, I really didn’t need or want much more than this compact dish of succulent white fish and shellfish in a delicate white sauce that did what such sauces should do – accentuate and capture the collective flavour of the main ingredients rather than bog them down and mistake stodge for quality filling grub.

Stykkishólmur itself appears to have been a trading post since at least the 16th century, but like a lot of far more modern settlements in Iceland, it gives the impression that it is there by accident. Human communities in the country struggle to contain the forces of nature and the inclement weather whilst remaining economically viable. It’s no surprise that so many buildings on the island resemble makeshift warehouses, aircraft hangars and scientific research bases, if they aren’t these things already  – such constructions are by definition impermanent and there’s no way of knowing how long a town or village in Iceland will last.

On a territory where humans still feel like intruders rather than masters, Iceland could in its own way challenge space as the definition of the final frontier. I talked about how heaven and earth seem to meet on the horizon of Breiðafjörður (where Stykkishólmur nestles on the south side). The main church in Stykkishólmur takes even that notion a step further – it resembles nothing less than a space station, or a chapel for a space race that has landed on Earth, established its own diaspora here and decided that it is still worth giving thanks to a heavenly God.

Where heaven and earth and space meet