Subscribe

Eating across Iceland

It is hard to know where to start when writing about our recent trip to Iceland, but we certainly would not have even thought of exploring the food scene had we not gotten a healthy measure of culinary education on Northern European cuisine from Petaluma’s Stockhome restaurant over the past few years. From chef/co-owner Roberth Sundell we have learned that Scandinavian cuisine is something worth seeking out and certainly made our trip to Iceland that much better.

Rye bread ice cream at Cafe Loki. (Houston Porter/for the Argus-Courier)
Rye bread ice cream at Cafe Loki. (Houston Porter/for the Argus-Courier)

Ice cream for breakfast

We landed in the early morning hours of Saturday, July 31 at Keflavik Airport, Iceland’s main international airport and a solid 40-minute drive south of the capital city of Reykjavik. With time to kill before check-in we stumbled into Café Loki, which is where Iceland’s much-loved rye bread ice cream was invented. Along with a pancake with skyr and caramel sauce, smoked trout and cottage cheese on house-made rye bread and “meat soup,” we also thoroughly enjoyed their one-of-kind house-made ice cream. It is hard to describe other than that it tastes like vanilla ice cream with chocolate nibs in it, and we loved it. However, the servers promised me that the only thing that was added to the ice cream was crumbled rye bread. We liked it so much that we returned two more times for more, once by accident and the other time on purpose.

Icelandic service and sticker shock

Credit cards are preferred to cash in Iceland, and you usually pay on your way out of a restaurant, not at your table. And if you have a healthy “must visit” restaurant list, reservations are nearly always recommended. Restaurants (and drinks) are pricey, to say the least, but we found that fancy restaurants were about on par with similar restaurants at home, so that is the route we went. But think twice before trying to visit Iceland “on a budget” because missing their great food would have been heartbreaking to us now that we know how good it is.

Walking food tour of Reykjavik

We had booked a walking food tour through Wake Up Reykjavik and were led through the culinary delights of the city by Tinna Líf Jörgensdóttir. She is an enthusiastic and knowledgeable young Icelander who can trace her family line all the way back to the original settlers of Iceland, over 1,100 years and 31 generations ago. Tinna’s introduction to Icelandic food was wonderfully informative, and ended not only being quite tasty, but probably set the tone for what we could expect for the rest of our stay. With so many of Iceland’s tourist industry employees hailing from other parts of Europe, Tinna actually gave us our first and only real cultural introduction to the island, its people, and its history.

Marinated pulled lamb and gravlax made from arctic char at Fjallkonan. (Houston Porter/for the Argus-Courier)
Marinated pulled lamb and gravlax made from arctic char at Fjallkonan. (Houston Porter/for the Argus-Courier)

Lamb and artic char

Tinna started us out at Fjallkonan, a site where the Danish kings falcons used to be housed, and named “Lady of the Mountain,” the female personification of Iceland itself. We tried and were impressed by our two dishes – marinated pulled lamb and gravlax made from arctic char. Both preparations were excellent with us comparing all other lamb dishes throughout our trip to this one. If you want a taste of gravlax closer to home, hit up Stockhome, which makes an excellent version of their own.

Icelandic hot dogs

Next up on our tour was Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, Iceland’s most famous hot dog stand, and a staple of downtown for decades, and named the best hot dog in Europe in 2006. Tinna shared that this was a regular stop for her family after returning from out-of-town trips. Hot dogs are very popular in Iceland, helped in part by the huge influx of American soldiers stationed there during WWII.

Large skillets arrived with delicious and healthy portions of house-seasoned arctic char and Icelandic “Plokkfishur,” a fish mash of sorts at Messinn. (Houston Porter/for the Argus-Courier)
Large skillets arrived with delicious and healthy portions of house-seasoned arctic char and Icelandic “Plokkfishur,” a fish mash of sorts at Messinn. (Houston Porter/for the Argus-Courier)

Fish mash and dark beers

After everyone was genuinely impressed with our first two stops, which says a lot considering one was at a hot dog stand, we moved on to stop number three, an excellent restaurant called Messinn, which is well known for its fish dishes. Large skillets arrived with delicious and healthy portions of house-seasoned arctic char and Icelandic “Plokkfishur,” a fish mash of sorts. Several of also Krummi stout, from Viking, which unlike so many other stouts these days, was not overdone. It went excellently with the fish dishes.

Dried fish and butter at Iselnski Barinn (Icelandic Bar). (Houston Porter/for the Argus-Courier)
Dried fish and butter at Iselnski Barinn (Icelandic Bar). (Houston Porter/for the Argus-Courier)

The dreaded fermented shark

At Iselnski Barinn (Icelandic Bar) we finally came face to face with fermented shark, which we knew was inevitable on an Icelandic food tour. It was not to most of our liking, but they were kind and served us tiny bites, along with some Einstock’s Icelandic White Ale to wash it down. Another Icelandic delicacy was the dried fish with butter and fermented shark. Tinna told us that snacking on dried fish during road trips with her family was like us Americans eating beef jerky.

‘The Rock’ and more ice cream

The walk to our final stop included some history along the way, including a brief stop in front of Iceland’s very own “the Rock,” one of their very small, yet historic former jails. Iceland has very little crime, so has very little need for large scale institutions of incarceration. I suppose it is hard to get away with anything in a country where everyone knows everyone. The final food stop was at Café Loki for some treats, including the rye bread ice cream. We were thrilled to get a chance to eat it for a second time in the same day.

Pastries at Sandholt. (Houston Porter/for the Argus-Courier)
Pastries at Sandholt. (Houston Porter/for the Argus-Courier)

Croissants for the road

The next morning, we visited two well-known bakeries (Braud & Co. and Sandholt) grabbing some pastries from Braud for the morning and stocking up on more substantive breakfast breads and sandwiches from Sandholt for our impending road trip around the island. This was the morning of Sunday, Aug. 1, the start of our trek around the “Ring Road” for the next 11 days. (Stay tuned for the story of that culinary adventure around Iceland’s backroads.)

Some of the options at Sandholt in Reykjavik. (Houston Porter/for the Argus-Courier)
Some of the options at Sandholt in Reykjavik. (Houston Porter/for the Argus-Courier)

Back for croissants

Throughout our 11-day road trip around the island, we keep thinking about their croissants and coffee, so Sandholt was the natural choice for our first meal back in Reykjavik on Thursday, Aug. 12. The French toast (topped with nougat butter and fruit) and eggs and toast (and side salad) were top-notch, but it was the Shakshouka eggs with sausage that stole the show. A North African dish made from a spiced tomato base, this dish would not have caught our eye had it not been for a recent brunch we had enjoyed at Petaluma’s Café Bellini, where chef/owner Mike Shatnawi introduced us to Moroccan eggs, his take on the same dish. With the wide selection of fresh baked goods, pastries and sandwiches to go, as well as an excellent breakfast and lunch menu, with plenty of hot and cold drinks to choose from, Sandholt was a dead ringer for Petaluma’s Della Fattoria, both for its quality and its creativity.

Summer beer

After breakfast we walked around the city a bit before finding our way to Barion Bryggjan, a multi-tap down in the harbor, where we tried an excellent light lager called “sumarlegt bragd,” which directly translates to “summery taste,” and an equally impressive American Pale Ale called Systir from Viking Brewery.

View from the helicopter tour over Iceland’s currently erupting volcano, Fagradalsfjall. (Houston Porter/for the Argus-Courier)
View from the helicopter tour over Iceland’s currently erupting volcano, Fagradalsfjall. (Houston Porter/for the Argus-Courier)
Icelandic ice cream from Omnom Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop. (Houston Porter/for the Argus-Courier)
Icelandic ice cream from Omnom Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop. (Houston Porter/for the Argus-Courier)

Ice cream and chocolate

After an incredible helicopter tour over Iceland’s currently erupting volcano (Fagradalsfjall), we figured it was a good time to try some more Icelandic ice cream, this time at Omnom Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop. We had tasted their delicious single-source chocolate bars from a local shop back home and were excited to now try their ice cream, even though it was soft-serve. However, they must be using a special blend of particularly creamy dairy in that machine because this was the creamiest soft-serve we have ever had and with highly inventive toppings, such as honey roasted corn flakes and liquorice chocolate-covered raspberry gummies — was a true delight to devour.

When in Iceland try the Dim Sum. (Houston Porter/for the Argus-Courier)
When in Iceland try the Dim Sum. (Houston Porter/for the Argus-Courier)

Dim Sum and Sichuan pepper beer

For our first dinner we went a bit rogue and decided to go for Asian, or at least Reykjavik’s version of Asian. Dragon Dim Sum offered a limited but creative menu of dumplings, with four of the eight options being vegan. If you suffer at the hands of spicy food though, make sure to let them know so they can tone things down. It was here that we tried RVK breweries Drunken Monkey, a rice lager with yuzu fruit and Sichuan peppers, brewed specially for Dragon Dim Sum.

Brew Dog’s smoked celeriac burnt ends. (Houston Porter/for the Argus-Courier)
Brew Dog’s smoked celeriac burnt ends. (Houston Porter/for the Argus-Courier)
Brew Dog’s famous Lambstrami and beers. (Houston Porter/for the Argus-Courier)
Brew Dog’s famous Lambstrami and beers. (Houston Porter/for the Argus-Courier)

“Lambstrami” sandwich

Our second dinner and beer tasting of the evening was at Brew Dog, which is an international multi-tap. Their beer selection was excellent so as usual, we opted for a flight in order to taste multiple beers from multiple makers. But what had brought us here was their “Lambstrami” sandwich, with the lamb brined for six days and then smoked over Icelandic birch. We also ordered the smoked celeriac burnt ends, having tasted and liking the celeriac dish we had recently ordered at Petaluma’s Street Social restaurant. These were two of the most creative and delectable dishes we had while in Iceland.

Silli Kokkur was the the 2021 European Street Food first prize winner. (Houston Porter/for the Argus-Courier)
Silli Kokkur was the the 2021 European Street Food first prize winner. (Houston Porter/for the Argus-Courier)

Then came our much-anticipated lunch at the Silli Kokkur food trailer, the 2021 European Street Food first prize winner. Translating loosely to “silly chef,” the owners are known for expertly serving up what they hunt, and certainly had a Viking look to them. In fact, when we asked about their sourcing, the Silly Chef’s wife happily announced that she was right in the middle of preparing for her next hunting trip. The menu was simple – just two burgers, one of goose and one of reindeer. Goose is abundant locally and actually appeared on more menus than chicken and reindeer, which is the same animal as caribou, which we hunt here in North America. Both burgers were excellent and well worth hunting down Silli Kokkur on the outskirts of Reykjavik. Much to my surprise, I loved the goose.

Matur og Drykkur did not disappoint. (Houston Porter/for the Argus-Courier)
Matur og Drykkur did not disappoint. (Houston Porter/for the Argus-Courier)
Matur og Drykkur did not disappoint. (Houston Porter/for the Argus-Courier)
Matur og Drykkur did not disappoint. (Houston Porter/for the Argus-Courier)

Michelin mention

Matur og Drykkur is excellent all around, which explains its Michelin “Plate” status. It has some of the most creative Icelandic-inspired dishes of our trip and an appropriately attentive serving staff, who when engaged, were clearly knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the menu and its connection to Iceland’s culture.

Lava restaurant at Blue Lagoon was the last meal before heading home. (Houston Porter/for the Argus-Courier)
Lava restaurant at Blue Lagoon was the last meal before heading home. (Houston Porter/for the Argus-Courier)

Soaking before flying

Prior to our flight home, we visited the Blue Lagoon to soak in their thermal pools and visit Lava restaurant for lunch, where we had some excellent lamb and fish, our last in Iceland, along with another serving of celeriac, which is quite popular on the island. The food and service were excellent, making it the perfect conclusion to our stay in Iceland before boarding our flight home, which ran into a major snafu upon our layover in Seattle.

Other than the island’s namesake airline failing us miserably, our culinary experience in Iceland was one of the best we have ever had. The capital city was a big surprise, for both its beauty and its culture, but we also never expected the food and drink to be so good. It was a great primer for what we would experience along the 800-mile Ring Road around Iceland, and back into the lesser visited spots off the main tourist route.

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.
Send a letter to the editor

Our Network

The Press Democrat
Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Sonoma County Gazette