Amanda vs. Food – The Iceland Edition

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I'm not a very adventurous eater.

I like the IDEA of being an adventurous eater, though, and so even if my stomach doesn't always appreciate it, I do try to push myself out of my comfort zone sometimes when it comes to food.

Reykjavik seemed like a great place to give myself one of those pushes.

Iceland Food
Yup, “traditional Icelandic dishes” at a Mexican restaurant.

Even though it's basically a Scandinavian country in nature, Iceland has some unique dishes that can both intrigue and disgust a person at the same time. And, while I wasn't brave enough to give the Hákarl (fermented shark) a try, I DID find the courage to try some other interesting dishes.

*Now here comes the caveat — Yes, I did eat some things in Iceland that are a bit controversial. If you're uncomfortable with that fact, feel free to stop reading now.

1. An Icelandic Gourmet Feast

I knew I wanted to try some different foods in Iceland. But even though you can find things like whale and puffin and other Icelandic delicacies on just about every menu in town (seriously, look at first photo in this post), I didn't want to spend a lot of money on a meal I might not even like.

Thankfully, though, I didn't have to. Before I left for Iceland, I was sent a list of links to some well-known restaurants in Reykjavik. One that caught my eye was called Tapas Barinn. Located in a great spot downtown and with an Icelandic “tasting menu” of local specialties in tapas form, it seemed like a no-brainer. I headed down there on my second night in Iceland, ready to dive into both the normal and the strange and challenge my stomach to keep up.

Icelandic Gourmet Feast

Here are my thoughts as I wrote them down as I worked my way through this tasting menu:

Brennivin

Brennivin
That's the “Black Death” there in the middle.

Often called “Black Death” by the locals, this spirit definitely packs a punch. I'm not much of a drinker (i.e. I don't really drink at all), but knew I had to at least take a sip of this spirit. It smells and tastes like black licorice, which I actually quite like. It burned a bit on the way down, but wasn't half bad. Granted, I'm sure I would have died if I'd taken the whole shot.

Icelandic Sea Trout

Iceland Food

My tasting menu started with the trout, which was a great way to start the meal. The fish was cooked perfectly, with a deliciously crunchy skin that was seasoned just right.

Smoked Puffin

Puffin

I still can't believe they eat these adorable birds in Iceland. I went back and forth over whether I'd try it or not, and finally decided to give it a go. Puffin are hunted annually in Iceland and the meat is served throughout the year — if I didn't eat it, someone else would. The dark meat was prepared quite rare (it's the brownish-purple stuff on the plate) and reminded me a bit of very salty duck. I don't really like duck, and so didn't care for the puffin at all.

Lobster Tails

iceland Food

OM NOM NOM. Easily my favorite tapas dish on this night. The meat almost fell out of the tails, and had just the right combination of garlic and butter on top. I was sad they only gave me 3.

Icelandic Lamb

iceland Food

I don't eat much lamb, but I was told by an Icelander that the lamb here is more “gamey” than in other countries. It did have a slightly more “wild” taste to it, but the gravy helped mask it. The lamb here was fairly tender, and I ate most of it.

Minke Whale

Minke Whale

Here's where you'll all berate me and tell me I'm a terrible person. Yes, I ate whale. Iceland is one of the few countries in the world that still allows commercial whaling, though they do now have limits placed on how many whales can be caught each year. It's also worth noting that these minke whales are not endangered, and are hunted humanely. That being said, I thought whale meat was disgusting. It was sliced very thin and cooked very rare, and had a strange floppy, mushy texture to it that made me want to gag.

Pan-Fried Monkfish

iceland Food

The best part of this dish for me was the mashed potato side. Something about the consistency of the monkfish put me off — it was almost creamy and kind of sweet. It didn't taste much like seafood, and I wasn't really a fan.

Skyr Mousse

Skyr

Very similar to Greek yogurt, Skyr is a popular breakfast, snack, and even dessert food in Iceland. The Skyr here was contained in a white-chocolate mousse and doused in passion fruit syrup. The mousse had a consistency almost like cheesecake, but wasn't very sweet. If not for the passion fruit sauce, I don't know if I would have cared for it much.

Seafood Galore

After my night of adventurous eating, I opted for something a bit safer the next evening. I met up with two Australian girls who had been on my Golden Circle tour the day before, and we headed down to the old harbor to find the Sea Baron. This little restaurant has a great story behind it — located in an old fisherman's hut on the harbor, the restaurant was started by fisherman/former Coast Guard chef  Kjartan Halldórsson. Old silly photos of him line the walls, and the place has a very cozy feel to it. It feels like you're just having dinner at Kjartan's house.

It also serves up some of the freshest, most delicious seafood in Iceland.

Sea Baron, Reykjavik, Iceland

The Sea Baron is known for its lobster soup, but also does a mean seafood kebab. You walk into the restaurant, take your pick of various raw kebabs on offer, and then they grill up your selection for you on the spot. We got salmon, redfish, shrimp, and scallops, along with potatoes and peppers — and it was all SO GOOD.

Iceland's Best Hot Dog

And, of course, no trip to Reykjavik could possibly be complete without a hot dog.

… Yes. A hot dog.

Iceland Food

Down by the harbor, a little cart always has a huge line. This is Bæjarins beztu pylsur — which literally translates to “the best hot dog in town.” Operating since 1937, this little hot dog stand has also been named the best hot dog stand in all of Europe, and the hot dogs here are often referred to as “the Icelandic national food.” Clearly, it was worth trying.

Iceland Food

On my last night in town, I sought out this stand and enjoyed a hot dog with all the fixin's — ketchup, sweet mustard, fried onion, raw onion and remolaði, a mayonnaise-based sauce with sweet relish. It was delicious; definitely the best hot dog I've ever eaten.

The Laundromat

And, while I didn't eat anything more adventurous than a caramel-filled muffin at this bar/cafe, The Laundromat on Austurstræti is just a really cool place to hang out in downtown Reykjavik. With a funky vibe, lots of color, and a diverse menu that even includes cannelloni, I went here 3 nights in a row, mostly just for the atmosphere. It was the type of place I didn't feel weird going into on my own, and I was always able to strike up a conversation with someone at a nearby table.

The Laundromat also offers free wi-fi and is friendly towards breast-feeding mothers (which they are very proud of and advertise prominently outside).

Laundromat Cafe in Reykjavik

Reykjavik is known for its nightlife, but if you're like me and enjoy something a bit more low-key, I highly recommend The Laundromat!

What do you think of my eating escapades? Would YOU try some of these things in Iceland?

 

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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87 Comments on “Amanda vs. Food – The Iceland Edition

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  1. […] makes up for its lack of fast food with its bevy of downright weird traditional foods. Along with things like whale, puffin, and dried fish, visitors can also try fermented shark, […]

    […] in ein Restaurant. In Reyjkavik habe ich das im Tapas Barinn getan, aufgrund einer Empfehlung einer amerikanischen Bloggerin. Dort gibt es, neben traditionellen Tapas, isländische Gerichte in kleinen Portionen. Immer […]

    Ugh how could you eat that hot dog. So disgusting.

    S

      Dear Michael,

      LOL, What is disgusting about the hot dogs? They are basically made the same way as an American hot dog except they include lamb. Lamb is not disgusting at all but is rather one of the most consumed meats in the world.

        Haha, I think he was joking, Charlie, considering all the other weird things I ate!

          I think you are right, I apologize Michael, although the dogs are in a natural casing (intestine) which makes them even better in my opinion. The casing is what gives them that delightful snap right before your mouth is filled with the delightful goodness of melted animal fat. Yummy!!

    Thank you for the write-up of the Icelandic food – I will try the Tapas restaurant when I’m in Reykjavik – do you think I will feel out of place or uncomfortabel when I go there on my own (alone)?

      You are welcome! And no, I don’t think you’ll feel out of place on your own. I was alone when I went there!

    I lived in Tokyo, Japan for most of the 1960s and part of the 1970s. Whale meat was not so controversial back then and I ate it often in the summer when it was served as sashimi, raw, semi-frozen, thinly sliced, and dressed with soy sauce and wasabi. It may have been politically incorrect but, it was delicious.

      I can’t say that sounds good (lol), but it’s funny how things change, isn’t it?

    […] I didn’t go quite that far on my trip, I wanted to try an array of typical Icelandic foods.  Amanda from A Dangerous Business wrote about her adventures with traditional Icelandic foods and mentioned Tapas Barinn, a tapas restaurant in Reykjavik that happens to feature an Icelandic […]

    I have to say I’m quite shocked by how many people here are applauding you for trying whale meat. I will admit that I have read the claims that minke whale is sustainably caught in Iceland and while I am skeptical I haven’t done any research to disprove this. Still, whaling on a global level (even with the very few countries that take part) is HIGHLY unsustainable. So I think I would use the same argument people use about visiting consenting, adult prostitutes- sure, in that specific case maybe you’re not committing a crime, but you are supporting a deeply corrupt and damaging industry. For example, Iceland has been accused of exporting endangered whale meat (fin whale) which violates every international agreement on this matter.

    I will be visiting Iceland this month and plan to both visit a whaling center and go on a whale watch to try to do some of my own research and write a fairly balanced post on the topic. But lets be real- I’m a scuba-diving ocean-loving hippie… I already know what side of the issue I come down on! 🙂

      I was honestly surprised by the support I got on this post, too. I was expecting more reactions like yours — which I totally understand. I’m not going to get into the whaling debate (because, regardless of our opinions, I’m quite sure they aren’t going to change!), but I’d love to read your post once you publish it!

        Amanda, I disagree! (About our opinions not mattering because they won’t lead to change.) I think people really can make a difference. There is a lot of international pressure being put on Iceland right now over this issue (Obama has even issued personal requests to their government to stop the practice) and with tourism dollars being so valuable, I think a boycott of whale meat along with explanations why could make a huge impact. Either way I think its important to stand up for those who can’t speak for themselves.

          I meant that, individually, between you and I, our viewpoints aren’t likely to change, no matter how much we talk about it. 🙂 But yes, in the grand scheme of things, people definitely can make a difference.

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