A Wintery Week in Iceland: The Food

Now let’s get to my favorite part of pretty much, well, everything. The food. The mostly delicious, very seafoody food of Iceland.

I was not sure what to expect when it came to Icelandic food, although I did a bit of research beforehand into Reykjavik restaurants. I wanted to treat myself to a nice dinner out my first evening in Reykjavik. Because that’s what I do. There’s nothing quite like sitting in a fancy restaurant eating expensive food. Alone. I eventually settled upon Fiskfelagid, Fish Company.

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I was intrigued by the “Nordic fusion” menu, with recipes featuring global flavors made with Icelandic ingredients. The restaurant was cozy after a cold walk from my hotel, despite the sunshine still pouring through the windows.

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I began with an amuse bouche of Arctic char (very similar to salmon) and a hearty bread with citrus and dill butters.

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I followed this with the coconut fish soup – flavors of Fiji made with langoustine and monkfish.

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It was warm, tasty, yumminess. Seriously, I could have eaten just that and been perfectly content.

It was almost impossible to choose a main course, but I eventually settled on the flavors of Ireland – Arctic char served with a flavorful and colorful combination of pan-fried Icelandic lobster, scallops, apple chips, and melon balls, topped with dill vinaigrette (dill must grow like a weed in Iceland – it was in and on everything) and beer foam. 

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I enjoyed every single bite. So much so that I couldn’t even order dessert I was so pleasantly full. That is like a once in a lifetime event.

Of course, it is not like I had gone the whole day without eating. My first meal in Reykjavik had been the previously discussed Bakari Sandholt for an early, post-flight breakfast.

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And no trip to Reykjavik is complete without a stop at Baejarins Beztu Pylsur for what is perhaps the world’s most famous hot dog. I recommend ordering a hot dog, with the unique flavor derived from the addition of lamb, the classic way: ein med ollu (one with everything) – ketchup, sweet mustard, fried onion, raw onion, and remoulade made with sweet relish.

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It may not look like much, but it was delicious!

But the good eatin’ didn’t end in Reykjavik. Throughout my trip, I got to enjoy the best that Iceland had to offer. Delicious seafood, lamb, and skyr. One of my favorite stops of the trip was a cheese shop. Burid specializes in otherwise hard-to-find cheeses from around the world and all of the various things that can be served alongside.

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And upstairs there is a cheese school. The owner of the shop is passionate not only about cheese, but about the food history of Iceland. And she was hilarious.

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While we nibbled on cheese deliciously paired with Icelandic bread, fruit, vegetables, and even smoked lamb, we learned about the mostly gross and unvaried diet of Icelanders throughout much of the country’s history.

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There were simply no resources. And there was lots of winter. Which meant almost nothing could grow and anything that could grow or be killed had to be somehow preserved. Skyr, actually a cheese rather than a yogurt, was, and is, a staple of the diet. Served at any/every meal, usually with something sour or pickled (see the above mentioned lack of resources and winter), it is a surprisingly flexible product.

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Dessert was an absolutely incredible skyr parfait. The skyr was mixed with cream and topped with birch syrup, graham crackers, and strawberries. I may have licked the cup clean.

Although Icelandic food may have been, well, less than delicious for centuries, thankfully there have been improvements. Like global commerce and modern technology that has allowed geothermal power to fuel greenhouses that grow actual produce.

One of my favorite meals was a langoustine feast. Caught near the restaurant, the sweet shellfish are not exported – they are only available in this small seaside town.

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Just imagine the smell of garlic and butter. My mouth is watering as I type.

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It was obviously terrible

There was so. much. seafood. I ate seafood at least once a day – a fish soup, a salmon appetizer, a feast of crab and clams and prawns, a salmon and egg sandwich. It was all so good.

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When I was not eating seafood I was eating skyr. With breakfast, in a smoothie, just because.

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And then there’s Icelandic lamb, supposedly some of the best in the world. My last night in Iceland I had the opportunity to enjoy some served, as it often is, with potatoes and a béchamel sauce. Yum!

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Of course, the less palatable (at least to non-Icelanders) traditional foods are still available. Things like horse, fish flakes, and hakarl, which is fermented shark. Oh, and they eat puffins. Keeping up my tradition of eating gross things and taking pictures, I documented, with the help of one of my new friends, me trying harkarl. You are welcome.

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Feeling bad about my life choices and contemplating whether or not downing the rather strong Brennivin liquor would take away the horribleness of the hakarl. Spoiler: It didn’t. Shockingly, a drink called “black death” kinda just burned.

There were so many new and wonderful and, yes, not so wonderful, foods to try in Iceland. I didn’t even get to try Icelandic pancakes (ponnukokur) or black licorice (although I did bring chocolate covered licorice back for my office – it was a rather divisive choice of candy either staunchly hated or thoroughly enjoyed; I told them it could be worse) or birch beer. Food is one of my favorite ways to explore a new place and Iceland most certainly did not disappoint.

 

 

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