The Best Things I Ate in Iceland
When I think of Iceland, I imagine cascading waterfalls, undulating mountains, jaw-dropping scenery and the wanderlust-inducing Northern Lights. Seeing these epic landscapes in real life has been high up on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. And, having been told the Icelandic cuisine wasn’t worth writing home about, I was even prepared to sacrifice my foodie nature for the chance to experience the scenery up close. Yet when we found ourselves with an afternoon to fill in Reykjavik during a long weekend break this month, we booked a last-minute food walking tour; and it instantly became one of my favourite memories of the trip. Here’s what I ate – and yes, I was thoroughly stuffed, but it was so worth it.
Lamb stew with a side of fermented shark
After meeting our knowledgeable guide Gabriela, our first stop on the tour was a quaint restaurant specialising in craft beers. Here, we were treated to a delicious steaming bowl of lamb stew with crusty bread; the perfect hearty meal after a brisk walk in the cold. The ingredients were simple – carrots, onions, thick gravy – but the flavours were delightful and the lamb melted in the mouth. Next, we were invited to taste one of Iceland’s traditional delicacies: fermented shark. With the mouth-watering flavours of the lamb stew still on my tongue, I admit I was initially reluctant to try the snack, and even more so when I popped the lid off the jar and an almighty smell of chemicals filled my nostrils. I’m ashamed to say I merely licked the white rubbery bite-sized piece, before deciding it wasn’t for me and watching on as my fellow diners grimaced through the experience.
Cured meats and cheeses
A short walk away was the famous Ostabudin delicatessen, where a platter of cheeses and cured meats awaited us. At Christmas, queues stretch along the street here as locals wait patiently to snap up the deli’s renowned goose. We were served hot goose breast with a raspberry vinaigrette and Champagne vinegar, cured horse flavoured with rosemary, and flavour-packed cheeses. All of it was scrumptious, and the cuisine is so popular, the deli has even opened its own restaurant next door.
Rye bread ice-cream
Yes you read that right, bread flavoured ice-cream. But, before you dismiss it, have you ever tried cookies and cream ice-cream? That’s exactly what this treat is like and, what’s more, it was topped with whipped cream and caramel sauce at Café Loki. A traditional delicacy in Iceland, rye bread can be found everywhere but, unsurprisingly, this was my favourite way of eating it. Plus, it is all homemade. I’m not ashamed to say I polished off the entire tub, even though we still had a number of stops to go…
After meandering along Reykjavik’s picturesque harbour, we arrived at Saegreifinn Restaurant, which was absolutely heaving – a sure sign that the food was going to be good. And it didn’t disappoint – a steaming bowl of seafood soup with lightly-poached lobster was served as soon as we were shown to our reserved table. My friend doesn’t even like fish, and she finished the entire bowl! I could easily have eaten another, especially as it was accompanied by huge hunks of homemade bread, but we were warned to leave space for the next stop: the most famous hot dog stand in Iceland.
Lamb hot dog
We walked past the Baejarins Beztu Pylsur hot dog stand numerous times during our trip and the queue was always halfway down the road. If you’re prepared to wait, you’ll be rewarded with one of the best hot dogs you’ve ever tasted. Topped with ketchup, crispy and raw onions, sweet mustard and remoulade, a mayonnaise-based sauce, this delicious snack is certainly memorable. Producing hot dogs since 1937, the stand’s name even translates to 'best hot dogs in town'. It’s fair to say I was suitably stuffed after this one, but there’s always room for dessert…
Chocolate mousse and blood orange sorbet
After taking a seat in the chic Apotek Kitchen, a former pharmacy transformed into one of the most popular restaurants in the city, we were served tea and coffee before being presented with a beautifully designed dessert. The chocolate mousse was encased in an edible rose, topped with pearls and accompanied by blood orange sorbet and crushed biscuits. Yet again, despite feeling fit to burst just moments before, I still found space to finish this dessert (quite a talent, I know). We even stayed on here for happy hour and washed it all down with a few flavour-packed cocktails. Perhaps next time I should skip breakfast.