Iceland's latest food trends
A Shit Sandwich Of Gloom
Lorded over by the most bumblingly inefficient government in recent memory, people found it increasingly harder to feed themselves. For instance: at the start of 2015, Icelanders saw rising food prices, along with a tiny drop in the cost of cigarettes and flat-screen TVs. However, the government does win points for eliminating that stupid sugar tax, which was meant to guide the population towards healthier lifestyles. I celebrated by eating a heaping bowl of sugar because it was all I had in the house.
Dairy Behemoth Gets A Boo-Boo
The Icelandic Competition Authority fined dairy monopoly Mjólkursamsalan (MS) 370 million ISK for abusing its dominant market position by selling milk at a 17% higher price to its competitors than to its own associates. Following the verdict, MS and Iceland’s ruling party have changed their relationship status to “it’s complicated,” but we all know they’re totally still into each other.
In October, the owners of Thai restaurant Krua Thai purchased the building at Skólavörðustígur 21. They then announced that they would not be renewing the rent agreements with beloved noodle hut Noodle Station, local design store Insula, and tailored shirt store Skyrta. Krua Thai will be taking over the bottom floor to offer their selection of pre-cooked sugar goop, and have voiced plans to turn the upper floor of the property into a hostel. Because we really need some more of that.
Still, entrepreneur Jón Ragnarsson made the most convincing case for Douchelord Of 2014 by kicking out longstanding restaurant Caruso and changing the locks a couple of weeks before Christmas. Prior to this, Jón had instituted the interesting new system of keeping all of the restaurants profits and subtracting what he thought he had coming to him before doling out the rest to Caruso’s proprietor, José Garcia. José was less than pleased with this arrangement, which led to Jón taking action that was at best primo douchebaggery and likely in breach of several tenants’ rights regulations. Employees were locked out of the restaurant and unable to access their properties, and the kitchen staff had to suffer a spoiling inventory before the authorities finally stepped in. Beautiful.
Collectives & Pop-Up Food Markets
2014 saw a rise in self-organizing food collectives and social media based foodie groups. Chef Ólafur Örn launched his pop-up food market series Krás this summer, drafting in many of Reykjavík’s most prominent restaurateurs simplifying their signature dishes into street food. Matargjafir gave Facebookers a way to make food donations to struggling families in exchange for likes and an express lane into heaven.
The SUMAR food collective gave foodies a place to seek out rare ingredients and play a game of endless culinary showboating, as well as staging pop-up food markets of their own.
Facebook group “Ég ann Chili” serviced the chilli geeks a spicy place to get lost in macho one-upmanship and “Úta borða” gave Reykjavík’s most elitist food elites a place to discuss which restaurants sucked and which didn’t.
Farmer’s market Búrið deserves special mention for blazing the trail for their seasonal food markets, as well as staging some wonderful events of their own last year. Nice job!
Farmer Jóhanna Þorvaldsdóttir at Háafell has been selflessly breeding and maintaining a heritage strain of Viking goats, which is at risk of extinction—her farm alone constitutes a third of Iceland’s total goat population. Háafell has been battling money problems for a couple of years now, but thankfully a grassroots movement formed on social media with the sole purpose of helping out the farm, staging fund-drives and promoting her goat products. This resulted in the farm being saved. It was super heart-warming. I like my heart warm, let’s do more stuff like this.
Iceland’s heritage poultry breed has also enjoyed success, thanks to those Viking cluckers and their eggs becoming a symbol of quality, hipness and financial status.
The New Faux-Retro
In New York City, 2014 was apparently a record year for new restaurant openings. I haven’t seen the numbers, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the same was the case in Reykjavík, where restaurants bred like never before. In line with the times, trends leaned heavily towards artificially-aged interiors and retro nomenclature.
Reykjavík Annexed Into Brooklyn
Speaking of New York, The Brooklynification of Reykjavík bars and restaurants seems to be as unstoppable as a cigarette vendor chilling out on a Staten Island street corner. This Instagram-filtered presentation of the Brooklyn spirit has been imported to most European capitals, and in that spirit Icelandic social media overflowed with snaps of pulled pork, ribs, cronuts and artisanal burgers, just like in the rest of the damn world.
The gang now includes Roadhouse, Lebowski Bar, Kex, Chuck Norris Grill, Bunk Bar, Kol, The Coocoo’s Nest, Don’s Donuts, Kaffihús Vesturbæjar, Dirty Burger & Ribs, American Bar, Brooklyn Bar—with the last three opening on the same 100 metre stretch of Austurstræti. The name of the game is upscale fast food, brunch, or bistro dining. This trend seems to be going nowhere (in every sense of the word). Sigh.
SuZushi, generally considered to be the best sushi bar in Iceland, was sold to the owners of Hressingarskálinn which caused some foodies to cry out in despair and having to comfort eat themselves with a big bowl of raw fish like a squadron of depressed seals.
Microbrews And Craft Beers
On the alcoholic front, bars dedicated to serving craft beer and microbrews kept filling up 101 Reykjavík. Most recently, we have Skúli Craft Bar and Frederiksen Ale House serving up fancypants beer.
Eimverk distillery gave Iceland its first single malt whisky, Flóki, shortly after introducing an Icelandic premium gin, Vor (made with unusual but very hip ingredients like kale and kelp). Þoran is another Icelandic single malt underway, likely to make an appearance in 2015. Most of us will still be buying moonshine like before, because we’re broke and moonshine is awesome and anyway I know a guy (hit me up).
Hand in hand with recent developments in legalization of marijuana, a lot of prominent chefs started playing around with the green stuff. We’re not talking pot brownies; we’re talking professionals attacking the concept with all the solemn snobbery they can muster. I can’t say whether the trend has taken off with Icelandic foodies, as it’s illegal for me to say that.
The Tacked-On, The Weird, And The Nameless
In 2014 we got a nameless secret pizza place on Hverfisgata, which did no formal marketing. The word still got out and those who found the entrance got to enjoy enjoyed some of the city’s best pizzas.
Chase Steffens and his Taco Fyrir Mig pop-up taco place found a semi-permanent home running Taco Tuesdays at the restaurant CooCoo’s Nest, serving up some tasty tacos from the host restaurant’s trunk.
So many food trucks.
Last but not least was Puffin Coffee, the impromptu coffee stand operated one Sverrir Rolf Sander’s kitchen window. Originally, Sverrir’s aim was to raise the minimum donation to be able to participate in a charity cycling race, “Ambitious For Autism.” He wound up raising nearly $5,000 for the cause, after Puffin Coffee became a social media sensation.
Icelanders came late to the party, but 2014 marked an awakening to the glory of well-made tacos. People couldn’t stop talking about them. They creeped into menus around town, with Bunk Bar a notable example. There are rumours of a new taco place opening early this year, but so far that’s it. God willing, the good people of Reykjavík will get their first fish taco restaurant this year.
Great New Bars & Restaurants
Ramen Momo is a great and welcome addition to the food scene, serving authentic Tibetan ramen, dumplings, and steamed buns—three things Reykjavík has been missing all bundled together in one abominable snowman.
After word got out that a renowned Michelin chef was opening up a drive-thru in Reykjavík, Dirty Burger & Ribs proved a massive let-down. As uninspired as the concept is, the ribs are still damn excellent.
BarAnanas opened around Airwaves time, and gave a welcome break from the usual trends. A entertainingly tacky Tiki bar, which is just going to get better with age and party-wear. Since it’s located in a perennially doomed location, let’s all cross our fingers that it survives winter and keeps going stronger.
Húrra is where the wild things are these days. Taking Harlem’s place (which in turn took Bakkus’s place), Húrra hosts the same art-school kid crowd, but with a much better use of space, and with a nice facelift.
Kaffihús Vesturbæjar was a necessary addition to the west side of Reykjavík, which had been experiencing a massive rise in the number of cool young professionals, in contradiction to its total lack of decent coffee houses.
The Big Cs
The key health food words in Iceland last year were chilli, chia seeds, lo-carb, and cauliflower cous-cous. Kale and kimchi made a minor appearance in foodie circles, but not much beyond that. Pomegranate seeds were a popular salad topping after some health columnist praised their life-saving qualities, and gluten continued to be the worst thing since Hitler. Meanwhile, the anti-health brigade enjoyed the other Cs—cronuts and cognac cocktails.
Year Of The Brogrammer
The most popular diets seemed to emanate from Silicon Valley start-up alpha males, whether it was bullet-proof coffee, the 5:2 diet, the ongoing paleo fascination or the bland nutritional slurry of Soylent (seriously, look that up).
Getting Turnt With Sous-Vide
Sous-vide hit the mainstream after a couple of years of slow simmer. Suddenly, every ambitious amateur gourmet in Iceland started investing in lukewarm water and plastic bags. Some people rolled their eyes at this, but there are worse things in life than amateur chefs making better steaks.
This Time Only!
Limited edition marketing rose dramatically, with beer companies expanding their selection of seasonal beers (and the selection of seasons), with even old and unchanged brands like Brennivín jumping on the bandwagon with their own Christmas Brennivín. We also saw a lot of new seasonal and limited edition candies, such as caramel-infused Nóa Kropp and gingerbread Nizza chocolate bars.
Finally there’s the bizarre trend of Eðlan (“The Lizard”), which is the name popular local comedian Steindi Jr. gave to a bog-standard dip that has been popular with housewife sewing circles for ages. The dip consists of cream cheese spread at the bottom of a baking tray, covered with salsa dip and topped with grated cheese and baked into a dip. This has become ludicrously popular with the young’uns, and has apparently led to a noticeable spike in cream cheese sales.
It’s been an interesting year, I’ll give you that. Many of the trends we saw in Iceland in 2014 were things that other cultures picked clean in 2013 or earlier. That said, Reykjavík is definitely catching up with the rest of the world at a faster pace—all that’s missing now is some fresh ideas and local textures. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: we need more crazy up in here. Our heritage is rams’ testicles and rotten fish, we have nothing to lose.
So, to the dreamers and schemers out there harbouring big ideas: it’s time for you to step into the light!