It’s hard to know where to start writing about our recent trip to Iceland, but we certainly wouldn’t even have thought of exploring the food scene if we hadn’t had a healthy level of culinary education over the years in the Northern European cuisine of Petaluma’s stockhome restaurant the past few years. We learned from Chef / Co-Owner Roberth Sundell that Scandinavian cuisine is something special and it certainly made our trip to Iceland even better.
Ice cream for breakfast
We landed in the early hours of Saturday July 31st at Keflavik Airport, Iceland’s main international airport and a solid 40 minute drive south of the capital, Reykjavik. With the time we could kill before check-in, we stumbled into CafÃ© Loki, where Iceland’s popular rye bread ice cream was invented. In addition to a pancake with skyr caramel sauce, smoked trout and cottage cheese on homemade rye bread and âmeat soupâ, we also enjoyed the unique homemade ice cream. It’s hard to describe except that it tastes like vanilla ice cream with chocolate tipped tops and we loved it. However, the waiters promised me that only crumbled rye bread was added to the ice cream. We liked it so much that we came back twice, once by accident and the other time on purpose.
Icelandic service and sicker shock
Credit cards are preferred to cash in Iceland and you usually pay on the way out of a restaurant, not at your table. And when you have a healthy must-visit restaurant list, reservations are almost always recommended. Restaurants (and drinks) are expensive to say the least, but we found fancy restaurants to be on par with similar restaurants back home, so we went this route. But think twice before trying to visit Iceland “on a budget” as missing out on the great food would have been heartbreaking for us now that we know how good it is.
Reykjavik walking tour
We had booked a walking food tour through Wake Up Reykjavik and were guided through the culinary delights of the city by Tinna LÃf JÃ¶rgensdÃ³ttir. She is an enthusiastic and knowledgeable young Icelander who can trace her family line 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 not only ended up deliciously, but probably set the tone for what we could expect for the rest of our stay. With so many people working in the Icelandic tourism industry 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 char
Tinna started us in Fjallkonan, a place that once housed the Danish king falcons, and was called “Lady of the Mountain”, the female personification of Iceland itself. We tried and were impressed with our two dishes – marinated pulled lamb and gravlax arctic char. Both preparations were excellent as we compared all other lamb dishes to this one during our trip. If you want to try Gravlax closer to home, check out Stockhome, which is an excellent version of its own.
Icelandic hot dogs
Next on our tour was BÃ¦jarins Beztu Pylsur, Iceland’s most famous hot dog stand, which has been an integral part of the city center for decades and was named Europe’s best hot dog in 2006. Tinna shared that this was a regular stop for her family after returning from trips out of town. Hot dogs are very popular in Iceland, aided in part by the large influx of American soldiers stationed there during World War II.
Fish mash and dark beers
After everyone was really 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 known for its seafood dishes . Large pans came with delicious and healthy portions of home-spiced char and Icelandic “plokkfishur”, a type of fish porridge. Also some from Krummi Stout, from Viking which, unlike so many other stouts these days, wasn’t over the top. It went perfectly with the fish dishes.
The dreaded fermented shark
At Iselnski Barinn (Icelandic Bar) we finally encountered fermented sharks that we knew were inevitable on an Icelandic food tour. It wasn’t to our liking, but they were friendly and served us small bites, along with Einstock’s Icelandic wheat beer to wash it down. Another Icelandic delicacy was the dried fish with butter and fermented shark. Tinna told us that snacking on dried fish on road trips with her family was like eating beef jerky as Americans.