Icelandic Food: Culinary Delights and Disasters

Published on: 2012/12/07
Icelandic Food: Culinary Delights and Disasters

Iceland has been one of the leaders of sustainability for some time. The pristine environment and geographical isolation of Iceland means there is no need to use any harmful chemicals, pesticides, antibiotics or hormones on their livestock. Iceland is an 'island' so it is a given that there is an abundance of seafood. No post about Icelandic food would be complete without a good dose of seafood.

By Cherina Hadley @Quietwanderings

After night of culture and class at Reykjavík’s brand spanking new Harpa concert hall listening to the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, I thought it only fitting that I conclude the evening with a snack from the most popular (I have very reliable sources) place to eat in the country…The Bæjarins beztu pylsur hot dog stand. What better way to bring an otherwise highbrow evening back down to earth. 

Of the huge selection of Icelandic food, a hot dog would not generally be my first choice, but then neither would puffin. Or raw reindeer meat. Or dried fish [quietly gagging]. 

I have however, drawn the line at whale meat. And foal. (Yes as in baby horse.) Both of which are Icelandic delicacies that I am certain my stomach would handle just fine, probably even enjoy. Minke whale in particular is supposed to be delightful!

It‘s my mind that has the problem. I can feel it contorting now at the very thought. 

Give it time though and I may just come around. Because, as you know, Iceland has won me over in a serious way and I will be back here again before too long. And Icelandic food has proven to be wonderful so I will try for a different mindset for next time.

As you may have gathered, a true Icelandic culinary experience is not for the faint of heart. Or herbivores. But I do highly recommend it!

Okay, so…

Puffins are not only the cutest birds in history but good lord, they are delicious!

(Just close your eyes and think of England. Definitely don’t think about how cute they are – you’ll be fine, I promise!)

Puffin tastes a little like chicken: sort of. Actually not at all. It is usually served smoked which helps to reduce the fishy taste of the meat, and the dish I tired was also cured in Guinness. I guess eating puffins is a little controversial and I spent about a lot of time (3 seconds) feeling guilty about the fact that I thought puffin was completely yum! As part of my gourmet meal at the restaurant at Hótel Rangá in South Iceland, I was served a tasting plate of: smoked Lundi (puffin); wild Icelandic salmon; and Hreindýr carpaccio (thinly sliced raw reindeer meat) with truffle oil.

Icelandic lamb. Photo: Flickr creative commons

It was pretty close call, but the puffin won my vote in the end. But then came the lamb. Icelandic lamb is like none you’ve ever tasted. It is incredibly lean and literally melts in your mouth. Why does it taste so darn good? They are definitely doing something very right because the lamb I had was easily the best I’ve ever eaten. And as if it couldn’t be any better…the dish I had was served with lobster tail. Oh 

So that’s the gourmet side of things, but wait…there is more!

Iceland is an island smack-bang in heart of the North Atlantic Ocean so where would Iclelandic food be without seafood! Seafood is a staple and one of the best dishes I had when I was in Iceland was on my first night. Think dried fish and rotten shark meat ugh.

 

When I arrived there was a small festival in full swing just around the corner at the old harbour: stalls with huge, steaming pots of seafood soup, beer on tap, live music….all for free. And a big sign saying…‘Welcome to Iceland, Cherina!’ Oh alright, there was no sign! But I’m still not convinced the festival wasn’t being held in honour of my arrival…

It was pretty chilly out so beer and soup was exactly what I needed. The fish soup was divine! Hot, totally not raw, and delicious! Which brings me to dried fish and rotten shark meat, which is the complete opposite.  They look harmless, I admit. And many, many people love it. Fermented (a fancy word for ‘rotten’) shark meat, or Hákarl, has been likened to a flavour similar to the strongest cheese you can imagine soaked in fish juice or ammonia. I can’t attest to this myself but, mmm… sounds scrumptious. 

My advice: If you are so inclined, absolutely give it a try…but sample it in a quiet corner with a discreet bin handy. No need to offend anyone with a sudden uncontrollable onset of gag reflex. (Yes, this happened to me with the dried fish. Needless to say, I didn’t make it to the Hákarl.) Hákarl is often followed by a chaser of Brennivín, a uniquely Icelandic alcoholic drink. Brennivín is a type of schnapps made from fermented potatoes and flavoured with caraway seeds, also referred to as Svarti Dauði: The Black Death. The name comes from the black label on the bottle, not the potency of the drink….or so they say. Are you game? I was. It’s….well, rather strong. And a little like vodka. Really strong vodka. Let’s leave it at that.

The Icelandic version of fish and chips was much more palatable that the dried fish. I went to the famous Icelandic Fish and Chips restaurant on Tryggvagötu near the old harbour and tried their ‘special’ of Redfish  with spiced potatoes and skyronaise. 

 

Apart from the more undercooked varieties, I thought the Icelandic food I tried was great and I am looking forward to sampling even more next time I am there. On my last day in Iceland a storm came out of nowhere and a furious wind carried me back down to the old harbour for a final bowl of seafood soup at Höfnin Restaurant before I flew back to the UK.

The final taste of Icelandic food that I will encounter for a while….but it definitely won’t be the last.

TAKK Cherina for sharing your experience with us. Next time when you visit Iceland we will go out and have some ,,Hákarl“, YUMMY!!

This is Cherina's third guest blog for Tiny Iceland. Have a look at her guest profile or other guest posts: The Viking Language SagaThe wilds of South Iceland In Photos

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