Reykjavík cuisine is so much more than fermented shark and skyr (though you should definitely indulge in this Greek Yogurt-like treat!). The city’s coastal location means you’ll indulge in lots of fresh seafood, while nearby countryside full of sheep and cows mean lamb and dairy are also popular. So how can you make sure your trip to Reykjavík is absolutely scrumptious? Add the following culinary experiences to your itinerary.
Reykjavík Food Walk offers the chance to explore the city through delicious cuisine with a local. Along with seeing important sites like the waterfall-shaped Hallgrímskirkja Lutheran Church and the Alþingishúsið Parliament House, you’ll savor everything from spiced lobster soup to decadent layered desserts. By the way, while trying fermented Greenland shark (Hákarl) is a “touristy” tasting, it does have relevance to the local culture. Hákarl dates back to Viking times, and their method of beheading the Greenland shark and then burying it for months and then air drying it for months was their way of getting rid of poisons. Locals eat this dish during the mid-winter feast of Þorrablót, where they dine on the foods Icelanders once had to eat to survive long, dark, icy winters. It helps them be thankful for the abundance of food choices they have today, which is exactly what you experience on this tour.
Icelanders love ice cream, even in winter. My Reykjavík Food Walk guide explained to me that eating cold food when its cold helps them cool their core body temperature and help them withstand the harsh weather. They might also love it so much because Reykjavík has lots of great ice cream! Start your sweet journey at Cafe Loki, with a thick bowl of rye bread ice cream. Icelandic Rye bread (Rúgbrauð) is different from the American version, with theirs being sweeter and denser. The treat weaves it in to create a dish with an almost cookie dough-like texture.
Also don’t miss Joylato, where they craft made-to-order cow and coconut-milk ice creams using liquid nitrogen. Recommended: Salted caramel atop a gluten-free waffle! This eatery caters to the conscious with vegan, raw, Fair Trade and organic options.
Ostabúðin Delicatessan — meaning “The Cheese Shop” — is a must if you’re a dairy lover. Their front shop is filled with artisanal jams, olives and condiments, though it’s the back counter where you’ll find the stinky cheeses. Iceland has a young dairy industry, only making cheese since 1955; which is hard to believe because it’s so delicious! As of now Iceland only makes cow cheese, as their sheep roam free and are hard to milk. Start with a simple gouda before moving on to a creamy brie or a pungent blue cheese, a newer invention in the country. You can also pair with meats like cured lamb laced with spices like fennel, rosemary and Arctic thyme and a smoky goose breast dipped in a raspberry Champagne vinaigrette. There’s also a small restaurant where you can order cheese boards as well as rotating seasonal dishes.
If you eat at one place during your time in Reykjavík, make it Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, which means “the best hotdog in town” in English. Touted as the city’s oldest fast food restaurant, the family-owned street food eatery has been offering up their signature lamb hot dogs since 1937. If you want to do it right, make sure to get the works: raw and fried onion, ketchup, homemade mustard, and a sweet relish mayo mix sauce atop a preservative-free bun. It’s truly a cultural experience too, as many Icelanders consider hot dogs to be their national dish!
If you’re looking for a special experience beyond the restaurants, the Tin Can Factory’s Meet The Natives class immerses you in Icelandic heritage through history, language learning and, of course, food. The experience begins by sampling the traditional Þorrablót mid-winter festival dishes like boiled sheep’s head (Svið), sour ram’s testicles (Súrsaðir hrútspungar) and liver sausage (Lifrarpylsa), along with a delicious loaf of hot spring-baked rye bread topped with butter and angelica. Angelica is the curative herb known for healing those who suffered from the Plague in the 14th century. You’ll wash this down with Icelandic beers, while also sampling traditional lamb soup (Kjötsúpa) and Icelandic pancakes (Pönnukökur). Pönnukökur are different from the American version, meant to be extremely thin and eaten as a dessert. Once cooked, half is coated in rhubarb or red currant jam, with a healthy dollop of cream in the center. After being folded twice, it’s important your triangle looks fat, as cream was once an expensive commodity and a fat Pönnukökur was a sign you were a generous host!
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Jessica Festa is a full-time travel writer who is always up for an adventure. She enjoys getting lost in new cities and having experiences you don’t read about in guidebooks. Some of her favorite travel experiences have been teaching English in Thailand, trekking her way through South America, backpacking Europe solo, road tripping through Australia and doing orphanage work in Ghana. You can follow her adventures on her travel websites, Epicure & Culture and Jessie On A Journey. You can also connect with Jessica directly on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus, or follow her epicurean adventures on Facebook and Twitter.
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