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.
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.
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.
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.
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.