The Skyrs The Limit
For all you food adventurers out there considering going to Iceland, I highly recommend it!
The flight is only 7 hours from the west coast and relatively cheap. The people are friendly and the sites are amazing, as Linzi has covered in an earlier blog post.
I think the one thing that we didn’t quite have a grasp of before traveling to Iceland was the food situation. After doing some research I got the idea that whale, puffin and lamb were the staples of the Icelandic diet; and after visiting, I don’t think that much is true. All of the major cities in Iceland are on the coast and therefore they have all been traditionally fishing villages. The cold waters off the coast of Iceland provide for some delicious fish options, such as cod, haddock, salmon, herring and halibut. Although they do eat a lot of lamb (not many cows in Iceland) seafood is their main staple.
We started and ended our vacation in Reykjavik, with a small jaunt up to Akureyri to catch the northern lights. The food options in Reykjavik seemed more varied and available, which makes sense as it is a much larger city. Reykjavik has a variety of restaurants, food kiosks and shopping centers. Our hotel apartment host gave us some places to try; his favorite being Sjávarkjallarinn or The Seafood Cellar; very much on the fancier and trendier side of restaurants in Reykjavik. We had crudo on the house, a salmon entree and chicken salad, although they were well executed and amazingly fresh, I think the dessert was the best part of the meal; a watermelon sorbet.
Since we purposely got an apartment in Reykjavik with a kitchen we decided to do some food shopping. We found a couple local grocery stores, the 10-11, which is more like a corner store and Bónus, which is more like a grocery store. Since the Bónus hours are weird, I think so they can save money, we did a lot of shopping at the 10-11. We decided to do breakfast in the apartment and find lunch/dinner while we were out traveling. Our main staples were: eggs, butter, rye bread, and rhubarb jelly.
Either Akureyri is lacking in the delicious food department or we didn’t go to the right places, but we were there to see the Aurora Borealis anyway. We went to a diner the first night we got there, the food was… not great, poorly cooked and bland. We followed that up with some less than stellar soft serve ice cream. The sandwich table in the morning at the hostel we stayed at was probably the best thing I ate in Akureyri.
Our breakfasts in the apartment in Reykjavik would consist of fried eggs with a side of rye bread and rhubarb jelly, simple and delicious. The eggs they have in iceland are amazing, I wish I knew which type of chicken they are from; but they are very yellow and very flavorful and 3 out of 6 were double yolks. The butter we bought is called smjör, a little thicker than what we are used to in the states; I highly recommend buying some if you see it on the shelves. The rye bread is outstanding, I’ve never had anything like it, its dense, not very dry, and the rye flavor very much comes through. Smeared with the rhubarb jelly makes a great snack or side, not too sweet and just a touch sour.
One of the few breakfasts we had out we met up with Hrönn and Runar before they showed us around Reykjavik. They took us to a delicious place called Laundromat Cafe, your standard danish brunch joint. I ordered the dirty brunch which consists of: spiced sausages, bacon, scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, grilled tomato, cheese, chocolate butter, yogurt, pancakes, rye bread and a small glass of mango/ginger health drink. Okay not quite a full english breakfast, but pretty damn tasty.
Hotdogs @ Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur
Before leaving for Iceland we did our research and asked people what we should eat or try. One thing kept coming up, the Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur hotdogs down by the water in Reykjavik. After arriving and getting settled in, we were on our way exploring Reykjavik and figured we should start our Icelandic food experience with a Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur hotdog. The hotdog was amazing, covered in Icelandic mustard, remoulade (mayo w/ sweet relish), cripsy fried onions, raw onions and ketchup. I would highly recommend getting one with everything.
After trying minke whale at a diner in Akureyri, which was over cooked and tough, I knew I had to get minke whale where it was going to be good; at Sægreifinn, a smallish place by the water where we entered through the kitchen and walked around to the front, where there sat a series of community benches. Linzi wasn’t hungry at this point and I wanted to try a few things here that came recommended, the lobster bisque and minke whale kebabs. Now, icelandic lobster is not the lobster we are used to on the east coast, it is more of a prawn or langoustine; a bit smaller, fishier in flavor and less sweet than common lobster. The lobster bisque was outstanding, not too thick, but not thin either, a tad creamy and full of flavor without being salty. Minke whale I can only describe as fishy steak, best cooked rare, so it doesn’t get tough; I thoroughly enjoyed both of these dishes and I would highly recommend them to anyone visiting.
Iceland beers are generally lagers, not hoppy and extremely crisp and refreshing. After trying a few different local varieties I would recommend Einstök, from Akureyri, which you can find imported in the states; lucky you!
Hakarl @ Café Loki
After Linzi had watched a Unique Iceland video on the airplane flight over we knew we had to visit Café Loki, which is located right in front of Reykjavik’s largest church, Hallgrímskirkja. After perusing their menu of many options, I decided on a combo platter consisting of the famous fermented shark known as hakarl, dried fish, rye bread with butter, and of course brennevin, Iceland’s own schnapps, also known as black death. On the taste of hakarl, I would describe the it as pickled herring soaked in ammonia. Taking a sip of brennevin after each bite does surprisingly good job of cutting the ammonia which gets into your sinuses and allows you to have another piece. I enjoyed the taste and process very much; definitely not as bad as it sounds.
Skyr Pie & Other Pastries
Café Loki also offered a delicious dessert known as Skyr Pie. Made with vanilla Skyr it is extremely light and decadent, served with a side of whipped cream and caramel sauce.
Our hotel apartment host also recommended a pastry shop, Bernhöftsbakarí, which we went to one weekday morning; rubbing elbows with the working folk reading their newspapers. Linzi ordered a cookie thing half coated with chocolate and pistachios and I ordered a flaky filled pastry with walnuts on top. Both were outstanding, flaky and not too sweet, just how I like it.
Reykjavik being famous for its coffee shops and cafes we had to try C is for Cookie. It is a new comer to the scene, and a seemingly very popular one at that. We knew we had to check it out, it came highly recommended and has a cute name, how can you go wrong? When we walked in we saw Bjork, eating with her daughter, obviously. It was busy so we took a seat outside on the sidewalk to enjoy our apple pie and macadamia nut cookie. Both of which were delicious, the apple pie came with, of course, a side of whipped cream and caramel sauce.
After hearing about how much Icelander’s love ice cream, we had to find a place to get some. Well, apparently they don’t love it as much as we do in SF, because the supposedly best place was a very standard soft serve.
After the very standard soft serve we had in Akureyri, we went back to Cafe Loki and Linzi got the rye bread ice cream, which was definitely up to the quality we were used to.
Traveling Food and Coffee
Icelanders also love their coffee, they mostly use illy from what I can tell, and its either just being in Iceland or the combination of hot coffee and cold weather, but every cup I had was delicious. Always served with cream and sugar, sometimes with chocolate, thank you Iceland Air, its perfect any time of the day.
We did a lot of traveling within Iceland so this meant bringing our own food or just getting whatever was available. A few highlights: bringing a stash of gummi eggs everywhere we went and the smoked lamb with boiled bread made by a gentleman in the Akureyri airport.
- Go get a Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur hotdog in Reykjavik multiple times.
- Check out the Lebowski bar, yes it is like walking into the movie.
- Go to Sægreifinn and get the minke whale and lobster bisque, at least!
- Go to Cafe Loki, get the skyr pie, rye bread ice cream and try the hakarl + brennivin.
- Get some rye bread and rhubarb jelly.
- Avoid the fancy places, or if you want to pay a lot at least get some local fish or lobster.
- Go to any cafe, especially Café Loki.
- Visit the candy shops, there are like 3 large ones in Reykjavik.
- The Noodle Station in Reykjavik is better than it looks.
Food in Iceland is tricky, don’t expect anything mind blowing, most things I had were very plain, and stick to local foods, like fish or lamb or whale or puffin. I still recommend trying anything that strikes your fancy (I still want to try svið, look it up) as it will be an experience. Any local traditional dish is going to be good, all the pastries we had were amazing, as is anything with skyr in it, or skyr by itself! The smaller shops seemed to have better food, especially sægreifinn down by the water and the Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur cart. Enjoy!