Updated: Oct 19
In today's episode of life, I become slightly obsessed with all the flavours in Iceland cuisine. From the land and the sea, it all comes to the table and into my belly.
It really doesn't do much to inspire the imagination when trying to anticipate what the food is like in this country. Iceland is certainly no Spain or Japan in the culinary world but I'm going to be super honest with you...
I gasp every time I have a meal in Iceland.
The flavours, the freshness, the cost.
The pillars of Icelandic cuisine are meat, dairy, and fish. Dishes are often fermented, smoked or salted and cured since historically food had to be stored in a way that allowed it to last for long periods of time. Icelanders also use the power of the earth to bake their bread and boil their eggs. My first experience with hot spring baked rye bread resulted in me eating a whole loaf to myself which was not received well by the other hostel guests.
Despite cold temperatures and restricted growing season, Iceland grows an incredible range of food crops, like potatoes, turnips, carrots, and kale. Hot crops, like tomatoes, cucumbers, and green peppers, are grown in greenhouses, which are heated with renewable geothermal energy.
So when you sit down to eat in Iceland it is very much farm to table and ok, so you have to take out a small loan to have a meal but it will definitely be worth it.
Geirsgata 7, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland | https://hofnin.is/
Iceland obviously touts an array of fresh seafood but this particular restaurant has a plate of mussels like no other. They are worth their weight in gold. I took my mom to Iceland for her birthday. All she ever talks about are these mussels. Not Diamond beach, not Fjallsárlón glacier, not dolphins in the water, not waterfalls, not geysers, not even this entire meal.
Just these mussels. She wants to go back just to eat these mussels.
The Icelandic Mussels at HÖFNIN(The Harbor Restaurant) are fresh, succulent, and oh so yummy. Steamed in beer and served with three different sauces, herbs, mustard, and garlic, the 4250 ISK (29 USD) price tag is well worth it. I have never been served mussels where EVERY shell is edible. They must pick out the ones that are not open or look unsavoury.
Each piece is a vibrant orange. Orange mussel meat is that of mature females while a pale, cream colour is a male mussel. Some people that the colour makes no difference in flavour but I say it does - orange mussels are tastier.
The Harbor Restaurant is...at the harbour in Reykjavík. Two stories with views of the water and outside seating in good weather, their extensive menu offers fresh seafood as well as meat dishes. It is a family-run, established in 2010 and nestled among many other aqua-green houses on the harbour. These houses were built in the 1930s and served as baiting sheds and fishing gear storage over the turn of the last century.
HÖFNIN focuses on classic Icelandic cuisine with a modern twist. Popular dishes are the shellfish soup which has become quite famous, also the mussels, the traditional fish stew, char, and the Icelandic lamb and beef.
Pylsa@Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur
Put aside whatever emotional rejection you have towards hot dogs. Icelandic hot dogs are different. What sets the Icelandic pylsa apart from the rest is that they are made from organic, free-range, grass-fed, hormone-free Icelandic lamb, pork and beef. Even the casings are all-natural. And if you want the best hot dog in town then there is only one place to go.
Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, literally translates into "the best hot dog in town" is an unassuming hot dog stand in downtown Reykjavik that has been open since 1937. I have stood in line, both in winter and summer, there is almost always a line, but it moves quickly and undoubtedly will be the most affordable meal you will have in Iceland.
A pylsa costs 470 ISK (3.75 USD). Order your dog ala ein með öllu (roughly pronounced: ane meth alt) - with everything - as most Icelanders do and yours will be served on a warm, steamed bun topped with raw white onions and crispy fried onions, ketchup, sweet brown mustard called pylsusinnep, and remoulade, a sauce made with mayo, capers, mustard, and herbs.
Feel like making it at home. Try this recipe.
LAMB SHANK@Sæta Svínið
Hafnarstræti, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland | https://saetasvinid.is
I honestly believe it's impossible to get "bad" lamb anywhere in Iceland but there is one in particular that I worship above all others.
It is the lamb shank at Sæta Svínið (The Sweet Pig). The shank is slow-cooked for 12 hours with its friends, chorizo and bacon ragu and served with butter beans, green peas, and broccoli. Despite the mountainous portion size, you will want your own.
The Sweet Pig is a gastropub in the heart of the city with a crazy happy hour with a unique selection of Icelandic beer – 20 bottled, 10 on draft, and artisan cocktails. They are open late for dinner and are known for their karaoke and bingo parties. Need I say more?
1a Ingólfsstræti, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland | https://www.islenskibarinn.is
The first time in Iceland, it was the dead of winter. After a day of driving the Golden Circle and before heading up north a bit, we were dying for a decent meal. In other words, we were hangry. Long story short, we found ourselves at a roadside gas station Googling our food options. We made a decision to circle back into Reykjavík before heading up north. Ioanna had found a place that ranked well on TripAdvisor so that was our destination - Íslenski Barinn - the Icelandic Bar.
Just a 3-minute walk from the Icelandic Phallogical Museum - yes, you read that correctly - you will find one of Reykjavik's top-rated eateries, Islenski Barinn (The Icelandic Bar). All the food here is delicious and the menu focuses on traditional Icelandic flavours. They have a lot of small plate offerings allowing you to try quite a few traditional flavours such as fermented shark, puffin and fin whale, without putting a fraud alert on your credit card.
The reason I come here time and time again is for the hreindýraborgari, reindeer burger. The burger, cooked medium rare, is moist and flavour-FULL. Topped with camembert cheese, lettuce, bell pepper, wild berry jam, garlic mayo and served with a side of waffle fries. It does come with a price tag of 3720 ISK (27 USD) but I assure you it is worth it.
I also tried the fin whale crumpet SKONSA MEÐ LANGREYÐI, mostly because I wanted onion rings. A crumpet with grilled fin whale topped with remoulade, pickled cucumber served with onion rings (1820 ISK | 12 USD) with an ice-cold beer was a perfect way to enjoy Icelandic food.
Austurstræti 16, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland | https://apotekrestaurant.is
This Icelandic twist on Sunday Roast at Apotek wins for an overall epic meal, with taste, presentation, and value. It was 2900 ISK (20 USD) per person - this my friends is a steal.
The complimentary sourdough bread dressed as a version of Icelandic Christmas bread that comes out first is pure magic. For starters, it was salmon served drizzled with yuzu and served on a block of Himalayan pink salt as well as beef carpaccio with foie gras and parmesan crisps. For a main, it is the slow-cooked, free-range Icelandic leg of lamb with rosemary, garlic and...wait for it...
beer hollandaise...that stole our hearts.
The Icelandic twist on Chicken 'n' Waffles, swapping out the chicken with duck, certainly didn't taste like Roscoe's but it had soul, for sure.
Apotek is considered on the Reykjavik's best restaurants. Centrally located with a wide offering of food combinations and an absolutely cool vibe with friendly staff, it's hard to have a bad meal here. If the Sunday Roast is not being offered, there is always Brunch and 2 or 3-course lunch specials.