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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

OC Foodie Girl in Iceland!

OCFoodieGirl in Iceland! Winter, 2017
Glacier Lagoon in Iceland
So I am first and foremost a foodie but I am also a traveler, and as such I love to explore the local food scene anywhere I travel.

When I ventured to Iceland for the first time this winter I wasn't quite sure what to expect in terms of food. I'd heard from several friends to expect a lack of variety and that everything was very expensive. While I don't disagree with the latter, I do take some issue with the first part of that advice. I agree that there are some items you do see on every menu, mostly because they are in abundance in Iceland, but I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of preparations as well as the diversity of other food available in this great little island country.

I found Iceland to be a country rich with unique traditional foods, as well as creatively grown non-traditional foods. We started our visit to Iceland in the beautiful city of Reykjavik.

We were walking around town on our first night looking for a place to eat when I spotted the sign for Fiskmarkadurinn (aka Fish Market) which I had read was fabulous.

Unfortunately, I also read that you needed to book it way ahead of time, but we figured no harm in asking. To our surprise, they were able to take us as it was on the early side of the evening, but only if we could be done in 2 hours when the table was reserved for later in the evening.

Needless to say, we JUMPED at the chance and boy, am I glad we did as it was hands-down the most impressive meal we ate in Iceland! 

Bitter Lemon Artic Char 

The tasting menu included such iconic dishes as artic char and lamb, but to our delight, it also included such rarities as robatta grilled minke whale (yes - whale!) and the most delicious rock shrimp tempura with a sweet melon jalapeno sauce.

They also had puffin on the menu which we didn't order because we mistakenly assumed we'd see it elsewhere on other menus as it's such an abundant animal in Iceland. Regrettably we never did,  so we never go to try it. My one regret in Reykjavik.  

Rock Shrimp w sweet Melon Jalapeno Sauce

Everything we ate was delicious and not a single dish left us with a bad taste. You can taste the care and thought that goes into each dish served here - every detail is well though out.

The standout for me at Fish Market was the minke whale. Admittedly, I was, at first, a tad bit put off at the thought of eating whale but after a quick google to ensure minke whale is not endangered I thought okay, when again will I have the chance? I was amazed at the richness in flavor of the whale meat - it was prepared perfectly with an outside slightly seasoned sear yet almost rare inside, drizzled with a soya ginger sauce and topped with shaved horseradish an red currants. It was reminiscent of authentic wagyu beef with that almost melt in your mouth feel that the high level of fat provides. It was pure heaven. If you ever get the chance to try whale I HIGHLY recommend it.

Robatta Grilled Minke Whale

lamb stew
One of our most memorable food experiences in Iceland was via the "Wake up Rejkjavic" Food Tour that we took on our second day in town. I always try to do a food tour when I travel as I've found them to be a great way to get to know not only the food, but the history and the people. "WUR" didn't disappoint.  Our fabulous tour guide, Alexandra was friendly, informative and answered all our questions (which I'm sure she'd heard many times) with enthusiasm and even a touch of humor. There were about 12 of us in our tour, primarily from the states but a smattering of other places too.

Our stops included lamb stew in the cutest restaurant, Islenski Barrin that looked like someone's home. It was also served with the most divine homemade bread served warm with  the yummy Icelandic butter. I don't know what they put in the butter in Iceland but I could've eaten a vat of it as it was THAT good.

Cured Horse

We also went to a charcuterie and cheese shop, Ostabudin, where we got to try cured sheep, goose and horse - yes, horse. I was a bit taken aback at first too but when Alexandria reminded us that Iceland is an island, and as such they make use of every resource they have. She said it's not common to eat horse in Iceland but when a horse is lame or unable to be useful, they do eat it. Makes sense to me so I figured I'd try it. I loved the goose and the sheep but the horse was very bland. I have to admit I was a little relieved I didn't enjoy it. ;)

Rye Bread Ice Cream

We also stopped by the cutest little restaurant called, "Loki" to try their infamous rye bread ice cream.  which to my surprise was amazingly delicious. I detest rye bread and I absolutely loved this stuff. It was creamy and had a luxurious mouth feel with a tad bit of grainy-ness from the bread.

I was so in love with this ice cream that I've tried a few times at home to recreate it but to no avail. Not sure how they make it taste so amazing but if you figure it out please let me know!

Icelandic Lamb Hot Dog

One of the strangest things on the tour was the infamous Icelandic lamb hot dog. We had stumbled upon the stand in downtown Reykjavic the prior day and wondered why there were lines for a hot dog? We found out on the tour that Icelanders love their hot dogs, especially this one.

At the recommendation of our tour guide, I ate mine the way the locals do with ketchup, sweet mustard, fried onion, raw onion and remoulade. It was different - and definitely didn't taste like any hot dog I've ever had, but it was good in it's own way. The lamb was a tad bit off-putting at first cuz most American hot dogs aren't made with lamb. I'm glad I tried it but not sure if I'd wait in line for it again. ;)

Another highlight of the tour was visiting, Korpa, where one of the Chefs was a member of the 3rd place winning 2017 B'ocuse D'or team! If you're not familiar with the B'ocuse D'or it's basically the Olympics of cooking so this is no small feat. The dish we were served here was the rock crab soup which was perfectly spiced and served up piping hot to keep us warm with the chilly Iceland weather.
Rock Crab Soup from Korpa

Chocolate Mousse Rose from Apotek
The final stop on our tour was for dessert, of course! We went to the lovely Apotek in the city center which had an array of delicious looking food and desserts. We were treated to a very tasty chocolate mousse rose that was the perfect ending to a wonderful tour. We left with full bellies, lots of new knowledge of Iceland and some new friends too! I HIGHLY recommend this tour to anyone who enjoys trying new food while seeing the City through a local's foodie perspective.

You'd think after all the food we at on the food tour we wouldn't be hungers, but nooooo we had to celebrate our last night in Reyjkavik with dinner at the gorgeous Grill'd in the Radisson Blu Saga Hotel. This was very convenient for us as we also stayed at this hotel while in Reykjavik. Although it was being renovated and the hotel itself was really nothing overly special, the location was very ideal. We were a bit on the outskirts of downtown so away from the crowds yet still walking distance to everything.  I am sure it will be much nicer when the renovation is done as the room definitely needed a bit of a refresh.

The highlight at dinner at Grill'd though is the view - located on the top floor of the hotel, this top notch restaurant serves up some amazing French food Icelandic style.

As impressive as the view was, we were equally impressed with the food. Everything was plated beautifully and tasted delicious.

The standout was definitely the langoustine with beet root and smoked lardo. Langoustine is a delicacy in Iceland and the buttery lardo was the perfect complement for it.

The smoked local trout with eggs on crispy skin - almost too pretty to eat!
AND in Iceland we eat foie gras for dessert! This was a nice surprise - served with seabukthorn and hazelnuts. It was so unique but very tasty and well paired.

Rainbows in the morning in Vik

After leaving Reykjavik and a full day exploring the sites of the golden circle, our first night was in the little town of Vik.  There's not much in Vik as it's more of a stop on the way to the east to explore
the glaciers, black sand beaches, etc.

Grilled lamb at Sudur Vik

One thing Vik is well known for it's delicious local restaurant, Sudur Vik. I can see why this place is highly regarded with very local Iceland food prepared perfectly to your order. Be warned though that it is a very popular place to dine and there is typically a wait not to mention you'll be seated quite close to the surrounding tables. Evenso, it's very much worthy of a visit if you find yourself in the area for the evening or passing through.

Diamond Beach

Our destination in the southeast was actually the Foss Hotel Glacier Lagoon which was hands-down our favorite hotel of the trip. This recently opened hotel is absolutely stunning with very modern spacious rooms and an amazing location near the stunning glacier lagoon and the beautiful diamond beach.

It is somewhat of a drive from Reykjavik and a bit secluded but because of this it also allows for amazing views, especially of the northern lights when they chose to make an appearance. We actually saw the lights here two of the three nights we stayed here! One nice perk is that the front desk will call you during the night if the lights come out, upon request of course.

the Northern Lights behind our group of viewers...

While in Foss we took advantage of our location and ventured about an hour away to the infamous Humarhofnin in Hofn, a restaurant in the easternmost town in Iceland.

We were drawn here to try the famous langoustine. In
Iceland there is no lobster as the water is too cold but large plate-size langoustine is a delicacy in Iceland and most in abundance in this part of the country.

I hiked a glacier! 

Foss was also home base for our glacier hike that we did with Extreme Iceland Adventures, and judging from many of the other people staying there it appears to be a launching point for several outdoor adventures in Iceland. The location is ideal for anyone wanting to explore the southeastern side of Iceland and some of the gorgeous sites in this area.

We ate at the restaurant inside the Foss Hotel both nights for dinner and agreed that this was some of the best food we had in all of Iceland.

Lamb Carpaccio 

Truthfully, because of the secluded nature of the hotel you don't really have many options in terms of dining in the area but luckily the restaurant which has no name other than "the restaurant at the Foss Hotel Glacier Lagoon" is reason enough to stay here. A great menu with a large variety of Icelandic favorites, you can eat here all week and try a delicious new dish every night.

Artic Char w nuts and foie gras mousse

After leaving Foss on our way back to Rejkavik we stopped for lunch at the fabulous Fridheimar in Selfoss, the restaurant inside a tomato hothouse. Because of Iceland's long dark winters, most of their vegetables are grown in hothouses and this one specializes in tomatoes - as does the restaurant. It's really a unique expeirence as the hothouse is wall to wall tomato plants and, heated to a very comfortable temperature that  makes you feel like it's summer. It's actually a lovely respite from the cold and rainy day that awaited us outside the hothouse doors.

Tomato Soup Buffet

For lunch,they specialize in an all you can eat tomato soup buffet with sour cream, home baked bread, cucumber salsa, butter and fresh herbs. It really hit the spot and the homemade bread they serve it with was a perfect complement.  

Tomato Pasta

If you're not in a soup mood they also have a few other tomato items on the menu including a yummy tomato pasta. 

We ended the meal at Fridheimar with one of their unique desserts, the green tomato apple pie served up in a cute little pot, plant style and paired with a pot of sweet whip cream. It was absolutely DELICIOUS. Yes, I know it sounds odd but if you visit it's a MUST! Fridheimar has become very popular in recent years so I HIGHLY recommend you make reservation ahead of time if you want to do lunch there - and trust me, you do. ;)

Green Tomato and Apple Pie at Fridhiemar

After Selfoss we moved to Nasjevellir and the iconic Ion Adventure Hotel. The Ion is know as one of Iceland's most beautiful hotels located on the famous golden circle and adjacent to Thingvellier National Park. Staying at this unique luxurious hotel was the perfect way to end our trip!

Ion Adventure Hotel 

The Ion is also known for their all glass lounge at the end of the building where on a clear night you can see the Northern Lights. It's a stunning venue with comfy couches and full bar service (no food).

Worth a visit just to see it - even if you there's no chance of a glimpse of the northern lights.

There is also a stunning meditation room off the lounge with some nice mood lighting and comfy floor pillows. The perfect place to unwind after a long day of sightseeing or climbing glaciers!

The Ion Adventure Hotel is also known for having one of Iceland's best restaurants, Silfra.

Shellfish soup, green apples, cauliflower, shrimp, scallops
The views and ambiance along were reason enough for us to eat here. Just a lovely ambiance that matches the rest of the hotel. 

The service was impeccable and dinner at Silfra was a fabulous last night in Iceland. I was also excited that I finally got to try reindeer which was amazingly tender and flavorful.

Slow cooked salmon, grapes, beurre noisette, apples, dill

Glazed lamb shank, cauliflower, grilled scallions, mustard glaze

reindeer filet 

I look back now and have nothing but fond memories of Iceland. My main reason for going to Iceland was to see the Northern Lights but while there I was completely charmed by this gorgeous country. While Reykjavik is definitely worth visiting I can't stress enough that you should most definitely rent a car and drive to other parts of the country. Once you are outside of the city you almost feel transported to another planet - everywhere you look is postcard worthy. It is just a stunning country.

As for the food, I wouldn't be deterred by rumors of limited food choices as I was pleasantly surprised by not just the options available but also found the quality of the food to be exceptional. You can tell they value high quality fresh food in Iceland and it shines through in everything you eat in this country.

In recent years Iceland has become quite the travel hot spot to the point that they are actually considering restricting future tourism to ensure no damage occurs to their beautiful land. I highly recommend you go sooner than later though before it gets even more popular - this is a land best enjoyed with a little space between you and the next tourist.

Links to the restaurants we visited:
Fiskmarkadurinn (aka Fish Market) in Rejkavic:

"Wake up Rejkjavic" Food Tour in Rejkavic:

Grill'd in the Radisson Blu Saga Hotel:

Sudur Vik in Vik:

FossHotel Glacier Lagoon restaurant:

Fridheimar in Selfoss:

Silfra at the ION Adventure Hotel:


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