When you think of Iceland, you might think: cold, Leif Erickson, Nordic, thermal energy, big volcano with unpronounceable name, or Björk. I’m not so sure that good food would be among the first things to pop into your head. But perhaps it should be.
It’s easy to find top-quality, innovative cuisine using locally sourced ingredients. It’s also easy to find not so good food, too. So it’s wise to use sites/apps like Yelp, Urban Spoon, or Trip Advisor to find the popular spots. However, do take the comments with a grain of salt–it’s not unheard of for proprietors to “anonymously” post rave reviews about their own places. And those who make extremely negative remarks or assign low ratings usually sound a bit…hmm, let’s say, crazy.
Better still, ask a local or your hotelier. But ask the right question. Rather than saying, “Where should I eat?”(which may precipitate an overpriced, touristy option), ask instead, “Where would you eat for lunch or dinner?” or “Where do you eat your favorite meal?” When Rick and I did this, we got several great suggestions and tried them out.
On the harbor front sits Höfnin, a modernly rustic restaurant with delightful views of sailboats, Harpa (Reykjavik’s civic concert hall), and distant hillsides. The quality views are matched handily by quality food and congenial service. If you try to read the menu’s series of Ìslenska (Icelandic) consonants–which are only occasionally interrupted by vowels or other consonants with circles or slashes or squiggles on top–you might get too frustrated to try to order anything, and all you’ll end up with is a headache and an empty stomach. Mercifully, English translations give clear and tempting descriptions of your culinary options. As my fork pieced the golden and crispy armor of my perfectly cook cod, swirls of steam wafted upwards like a genie released from a precious bottle. Even before I bit into my lunchtime dish, I knew it would be divine.
Should you want a typical snack, pop into a convenience store and get Iceland’s answer to beef jerky–wait for it…fish jerky. I wish I could tell you it’s tasty, but I just couldn’t get past the briny, fishy odor without my gag reflexes kicking in. Rick, on the other hand, loved it.
Now whale–whale I like. Truly. I had seen it sold raw on skewers earlier in the day, and could not even begin to imagine consuming what I knew to be Shamu’s long-lost cousin. But when our dinner companion (a Reykjavik local) insisted we order the minke whale with a soy sauce glaze, we dutifully followed his instructions. I won’t tell you that it tastes like chicken. It doesn’t. But it sure does taste like tender yet hearty beef.
Our dinner at Grillmarkaõurrin (The Grill Market) didn’t stop there. We had plate after plate after plate of savory bites, perfect for sharing…although everything tasted so good, I didn’t want to share. Our tasting menu included Westfjords crispy and vibrantly colored fish and squid, honey and chili-glazed pork ribs, Icelandic duck coated in an oxtail BBQ sauce, and seared beef with mushrooms (which, while delicious, seemed to be overkill after the whale). On top of all that, we did our best to kill a dessert platter so rich, so decadent, and so plentiful that it nearly killed us.
But if lowbrow (and inexpensive) is more your style, don’t pass up the pylsur from Baejarins Beztu Pylsur. Even President Bill Clinton couldn’t deny himself the guilty pleasure of wrapping his mouth around this overloaded phallic concoction. One might say it’s gilding the hot dog lily to smother it in ketchup, sweet mustard, raw onions, fried onions, mayonnaise, and remoulade (I’m usually a ketchup and mustard gal myself), but Icelanders sure know a good thing when they eat it. And as they say: when in Reykjavik…