Culinary travels to Iceland!

I just returned from a bucket list trip to Iceland.  It was enchanting and magical and, well, odd, that being said I now have a better understanding of Bjork.  But let’s stay on track… Being a health conscious gal, I took notice pretty quickly of what they were eating and drinking and, well, just how they ‘roll’.

Observations and experiences in totally random order…

  • Sitting in a basic, not fancy restaurant, checking out the menu, eyeing the lamb entree–  At the bottom of the menu it read “Icelandic Lamb, Roaming Free since 864”.  864?  I’ve never seen a label in the states date back that far and it made me wonder, what were the lamb doing before 864?   I felt happy and content knowing Mary and her little lambs have been roaming free for that long in the land of ice and snow.  (Insert bad ass, Led Zeppelin riff here)
  • Very few birds, and that includes chickens on the menu.  As you drive out of Reykjavik and to the country, it’s pretty barren and it doesn’t stop, just miles of nothing and then we realized– no birds, hadn’t seen a one, for like a really, really long time. We saw some ducks in the city, but that was pretty much it.  Where were/are they?  Chickens also seem to be very uncommon on a menu, as are eggs.  We had eggs once, a hotel breakfast at the new and amazing Foss Hotel in Hof.  The yolk was so orange I thought I was looking at a sunset, I might see that color on a free range, totally roaming, no antibiotic, no stress $9 carton of eggs here, but there it seemed like an every day occurrence and at a breakfast buffet no less!

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  • Menus are small and to the point, much like the Icelandic people.  And prices are out of this world all throughout Iceland.  More expensive then New York City, and more expensive then Zurich and even Toronto!  Our running joke was ‘everything costs $20’.  A bowl of lobster soup, $20.  A local Viking Stout Beer, $20.  A personal spread of 4 Icelandic tapas the size of an ‘amuse-bouche’, $20.  And so on and so on.  Common items on menus are Langoustine Soup (Lobster Soup), Arctic Char, lamb and burgers, we even had a Reindeer burger for not $20, but $35!  Vegetables ‘might’ include tomatoes, yellow, red and green peppers, cabbage, but that’s pretty much it.  You could certainly hit up one of the fancy restaurants in the city and have more variety, talk about expensive though, you’re looking at $40-60 USD per entree, it costs to import!
  • hotdog-build-1opens IMAGE file Although rotten shark is the national food of Iceland, the locals do not eat it, it’s really just for tourists.  But the Icelandics do love their hot dogs or “Pylsur”!  And they are damn good!  I’m told that it’s a mix of pork, beef and lamb.  Someone else is trying to convince me there is horse in there as well, thanks KJ Malone!  I can’t even think about that though, I guess just call me an omnivore hypocrite.  Hot dogs make a great meal anytime or a snack after a rambunctious night of drinking in Reykjavik.  You can have raw or fried onions on it and any number of sauces.  Somehow it hits the spot and with the cost of food in Iceland so high, it’s easy on the wallet too.
  • With hot dogs on the mind… In some small towns, there isn’t much, if you are lucky maybe one restaurant. In most small towns the ‘hub’ of community happens at, you guessed it, the gas station.  It’s the community store where you get pants or maxi pads, it’s also the place where you get lunch, commonly ‘American grill’ fare, and keep in mind these gas stations look exactly like they do here, not the cleanest or prettiest.  That being said, I actually had a wonderful lamb sandwich with mushrooms and tomatoes topped with a Bearnaise sauce.  It was tasty and again cost effective!  But yes, there was the moment of concern on my face when I told my partner in crime, “I just ordered a lamb sandwich from a gas station”.
  • Icelandic folk love to drink and Happy Hour is commonly advertised on sandwich boards to go from 11am-8pm.  Really? Who is drinking at 11am?  Their signature drink is Brennivin, sort of like a vodka infused with cumin.  They also love their beer and things American, the Lebowski Bar and the Chuck Norris Grill sit proudly on the old town streets of Reykjavik serving up drinks and grub until the wee hours.  On wintery weekends, we were told most Icelandics drink at home first to start the night off… because the cost of alcohol is so high.  Remember, we had $20 beers!  They then head out around midnight, party until 5am and end the night at hot dog stand to soak up the party in their belly.
  • One night in the middle of nowhere, we saw lights, bright ones and thought we had came across, you guessed it, the Aurora Borealis AKA the Northern Lights.  After standing there like fools for 40 minutes and witnessing a lack of dancing light.  We realized it was not the Northern Lights at all, but what was it?  We drove and followed the light.  Probably a good ten minutes later, we found it!  A farm?!  The terrain is cold and rough and not conducive to crops, so all the farms are oversized greenhouses lighting up the plants for up to 17 hours a day, the government gives grants to these farms since the cost is the equivalent of powering a small village of $3,000 people.  Of course, they certainly do not export any of these vegetable since farms are so few and far between.  The best part, no pesticides are used because bugs or rodents just don’t exist in Iceland.  So they are ‘naturally’ organic.

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  • There are tons of hot springs and geothermal pools, it’s a great way to deal with the unbearable cold and the water is healing to the mind and body.  All the water is natural, it comes from deep within the Earth and is full of silica.  Silica makes your skin undeniably soft, is great for hair and nails and is good for detoxification.  The geothermal pools are one step away from heaven and are just fabulous! Interesting side note: the homes use this same water, which is actually a good and bad thing. We stayed in many different hotels and AirBNB’s.  For the most part, the water is beyond belief, so clean, clear and has this glacier quality I can’t explain, so tasty!  But some homes, namely our last AirBNB where we slept in a child’s room, very strange and unexpected actually.  The shower water and drinking water was completely full of silica, so there’s a lot of that rotten egg smell.  Ewwww.  Needless to say, it did not make for a nice shower or drinking experience!
  • And lastly, the bread, the bread, the bread!  Freshly baked everywhere and is so good.  If it’s true that New York has the best pizza and bagels because of the water, you can only imagine what the bread is like in Iceland with glacier water!


Bucket list, check!

Christina Martin

Tao to Wellness

Berkeley, California