Eat the World: Reykjavik

Now that I’ve told you what I saw and did in Reykjavik, let’s talk about what I ate. Because that is just as (or more….depending on your point of view) important.

Despite knowing that poor planning in this area could potentially lead to disastrous ends, I didn’t do a whole lot of research on food before this trip. In my ignorant mind, there were three things to eat:  whale, puffin and fermented shark.  Weird, but there it was, my meager to-do list.  I’m not typically squeamish when it comes to food and I’m willing to try anything once, so as unconventional as those choices might be, I was ready.

Whilst on our city tour, Martinn took the opportunity to point out that those aren’t really traditional Icelandic dishes and schooled us on what Icelanders really eat.  In fact, he himself had never had puffin and said that fermented shark tasted like the most rotten cheese.  And with that, there went two-thirds of my list.  Long live the puffins.

The whale, on the other hand, comes with an interesting story. Apparently whale poaching is internationally outlawed, and Iceland downright refuses to oblige due to the lucrative export of whale meat to Japan.  The ban is prompted by the inhumane ways that whales are killed- spear to the head, subsequent bleed out.  Sounds pretty horrible to me.  And while Iceland continues to do as it pleases in regard to this practice, there is a movement to stop it.  Again, according to Martinn,  whale meat isn’t really something the locals eat at all, but it exists in restaurants mainly for tourists. Throughout the city, “whale friendly” signs were posted in various restaurants. Well, no need to kill whales on my behalf, so there went item #3.

Seems that the more traditional eats are horse meat- sweet, rich, super lean and soft– and lamb.  No horse meat consumed here, but I did eat the lamb on more than one occasion, and it was fantastic, but…different than here in the U.S.  While the flavor is similar to what we’d find back home, the texture and color reminded me more of the meat that comes off one of the smoked turkey legs you’d find at Disney or at a Renaissance fair. You know what I’m talking about.  Anyway, it was more pink than brown or red and was the most tender lamb you’d ever find.  The sheep did look extra happy as we drove through the countryside, maybe happy sheep = happy lamb?  Whatever they’re doing, they’re doing right.

Ok, lesson over.

With no list to guide our stomachs, Lettuce and I were at a loss on where exactly we were supposed to eat.  Lucky for us, our Air BnB apartment had a local restaurant guide, with links to menus and websites for ultimate menu stalking and informed decisions.  And on more than one occasion, it saved the day.  Here’s where and what we ate, most on or just off the main pedestrian street Laugavegur.  I strongly suggest you follow in our soggy footsteps.

Noodle Station

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The smell of this well-spiced pho wafts through the streets and literally draws you in.  Lettuce and I were powerless to resist.  The menu is simple; pho three ways- beef, chicken or veg- spiced as mild or kicked-up as you like. We wandered into this little shop half-asleep on our first day, and it was perfect antidote to the cold, rain and jet lag.

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Icelandic Fish and Chips

There are a handful of places that boast fish and chips, and we picked this one because it was recommended by Lettuce’s friend. Like Noodle Station, the menu selection was simple, but everything they do, they do well.  The fish was fresh and perfectly fried- light and crisp, not soggy and oily- and the chips were more wedges. My favorite part about IF&C is that they had so many dipping choices, many made with Skyr Icelandic-style yogurt. SO MANY. I love dips.

Who doesn’t? 

There was also a lovely cauliflower soup. More on that later.

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Dips, from L to R:  Truffle, Coriander, Honey Mustard

Dillon’s Whisky Bar

Pop in for a drink. Or many drinks.  It’s a fun place to meet and swap stories with other tourists.

The Fish Company

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This was our fancy splurge when we were in Reykjavik and we thought ever bite was worth it.  The atmosphere is cozy and bistro-like, the wait staff kind and attentive.  And the food… artfully presented and meticulously crafted, on par with one would find at some of Chicago’s nicer restaurants, showcasing molecular gastronomy techniques found at the same.  The menu is also notable- the restaurant showcased international tasting menus- and it was cool to see how they reinvented a country’s traditional flavors with a modern twist- foams, sprinkles, gels and all.  Not a bit remained on any plate, from any course.

The Laundromat Cafe

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I loved the atmosphere here- the decor of the place was very retro, 70’s diner, with bright colors, maps on the walls, quirky lamps, with books and board games to entertain.  The menu had classics that any diner worth its malts would have- the tuna melt burger, BLT, club, but also some Icelandic treats.  We each had the fish and tomato soup with a basked of fries (FRIES!), with mayo to dip, because we’re in Europe, and we eat mayo with our fries. 

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Out of days, I was sad that we didn’t get to go back for breakfast but that menu was indeed drool-inducing.

Eldur Creperie

Sort of your standard creperie/ice cream parlor, coffee shop is just off the main drag and perfect for a snack, dessert or light dinner. Best of all they offer gluten and dairy free options should that be your persuasion.  We made a pit stop here more than once.

Bæjarins Beztu

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This is THE hot dog to eat, apparently. I don’t know. It was fine. I guess I’m not a hot dog aficionado, and if I eat one, I want mine from Ted’s in Buffalo. Sorry, Iceland. You lose this one.  If you DO like hot dogs, these are better than any I’ve had back home. Bill Clinton thinks so.  So there’s that.
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And finally, while the entire country boasts neither McDonald’s or Starbucks, should you require a taste of home, there is a Dunkin Donuts. And they decorate their doughnuts with much more flair than we do.

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And much more patriotically.  

So there you have it- all the good eats from Reykjavik. Like I’ve said before, any time I go somewhere, I eat where people tell me to eatAs if I know better? In the grand scheme of a city’s restaurant directory, my choices may not be the most fancy or hip, but that doesn’t make the food any less delicious. Good food is good food and it really is as simple as that. 

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