Iceland Diaries: Food

Despite being one of the most popular tourist destinations over the last couple of years, not much is being said about the food in Iceland. When I was doing my due diligence (read: trawling the interwebs) for the trip I barely found any information on what people eat in this country. This alarmed me, because more than half of my travel enjoyment comes from eating, and so in the interest of sanity we brought several giant bags of junk food with us.

This proved to be not as necessary as we thought (still finished everything though), because Icelandic food wasn’t as bad as the people of the internet made it out to be. Or maybe I’ll just happily eat anything. It’s one or the other. My husband’s a finicky eater, though, and he didn’t complain nor wrinkle his nose too much, so I suspect it’s the former.

Meat Soup

Icelanders are one of the world’s happiest people, and so are their sheep (incidentally, there are also more sheep in Iceland than people). Because of the absence of any natural predators in the island, they are free to graze and frolic about in the hills (by they I mean the sheep, although I guess it could apply to people, too). This combination of happy sheep + clean air + clean water make for really, really good lamb meat - the best in the world, according to our lovely tour guide. “New Zealanders might protest, but they are wrong.” Baa ram ewe.
The traditional Icelandic meat soup suffers from a fate not dissimilar to the Philippines’ very own sinigang: it photographs horribly (read: not instagram-worthy). Going off the descriptions - slow-cooked lamb with root vegetables - I thought it would be something like goulash (I swear like 85% of why I love Prague can be attributed to that one gorgeous bowl of goulash), but instead I get chunks of meat and vegetables floating about in a cloudy broth.



When I plopped the bowl down the table my husband looked at me with a face that said “yeah, you’re going to have to eat all of that”. Of course ten minutes later and he was practically licking the bowl clean. Don't judge a dish by it's plating (except in MasterChef, maybe).



Hotdogs

The one dish to eat in Iceland, according to Condé Nast. Also the cheapest, at around 3 USD each. It’s mostly made of (happy) lamb meat, which gives it a distinct flavor, but I suspect a lot of my enjoyment was from the bed of crispy fried onions the hotdog is nestled in. We tried it in a random petrol station an hour or so from Reykjavik, and also in the famous Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur stand (only queued for five minutes!), and I honestly cannot tell the difference.



Fish

I’ve always been powerless to resist a giant slab of char-grilled steak, but thankfully Abe likes his fish (waiters often switch our orders because we defy stereotypes - hah). Not the fermented type, mind you, but fresh off the Arctic waters - so good I actually skipped my steak one time!



Fries

I’m convinced Europe is doing something to its potatoes that it’s not sharing to the rest of the world because every single city I’ve been to has awesome fries. Is it because we call them French fries? If we started calling it pomme frites will you let us in on the secret? Pretty please?



Rís Buff

So this looks like the most unremarkable snack - chocolate-covered marshmallows with rice crispies, but I guess there’s really something in the water in these parts (the best-tasting water - ask any Icelander) because it’s seriously, seriously good. The concept is pedestrian, the box is meh, but one bite and I guarantee you’ll be a convert. It makes me sad to not have this in my life right now.
P.S. Sweets are 50% off on Saturdays. Not kidding. Crazy, right?



While I endeavor to try all the local food I possibly could (I tried horsemeat sashimi in Japan once because I told my colleague I can eat anything and I am now Khaleesi, I guess), there are a couple of things I skipped. First is whale meat. Admittedly I am curious. And as controversial as whale-hunting is, I know minke whales still have a relatively healthy population. However, I soon learned from our tours that Iceland has no whale-hunting tradition. There is no traditional whale dish, and the locals don’t even eat whale meat - it’s all for tourists, and that is not something I am willing to support so I passed.

Second is licorice. It’s ubiquitous in Iceland, but I just can’t get on board. I still have bad memories of mindlessly munching on a giant bag of assorted Haribo candies and accidentally biting into a giant licorice bar *shudder*.

Last but not least, Skyr. It’s the Icelandic version of a cultured dairy product. To me it’s like cheese and yogurt had a baby - it sounds like a good idea, but it only left me confused - it’s not salty enough to be cheese and not tangy enough to be yogurt, and so it kind of awkwardly sits in the middle. A lot of people like it though, and I did manage to learn to love sushi and green tea, so there’s still hope. Maybe on our next trip :p
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