From Iceland — Jewish Guide To Iceland: How To Prevent Accidentally Offending Moses

Jewish Guide To Iceland: How To Prevent Accidentally Offending Moses
Hannah Jane Cohen
Photo by
Adobe Stock
ARt Bicnick

Recently, I flew on a WOW air flight from New York that connected to the airline´s new route to Tel Aviv. The plane was full of Israelis, which I, as a Jewish woman, knew because they were speaking Hebrew and looked Israeli.

The fated club sandwich

As food service started, an Israeli man next to me asked the stewardess for the sandwich choices. She told him they had a ham and cheese baguette and a chicken sandwich. He bought the chicken sandwich and was immediately dismayed to find out that there was bacon on it. He angrily told the woman that she did not tell him the sandwich had bacon. The stewardess immediately became confused as to why this was a problem, and was even somewhat pissed off at the man’s extreme reaction.

“I began to wonder just how a Jew could eat here. Is there kosher food available?”

After a small argument, she finally refunded his money and he, in a huff, said he would never fly WOW air again.

With a Jewish population of only a little more than 100, there is obviously little demand in Iceland for kosher food. And with no synagogue or resident rabbi, it’s impossible to truly live a religious life in the country, so why then would the stewardess even consider bacon being a problem? How would she know about the kosher law? Where would she have learned it?

The interaction would not have bothered me if not for the fact that WOW air now flies to Israel, more or less inviting the Jewish population of that country into Iceland. While I am not kosher, I began to wonder just how a Jew could eat here. Is there kosher food available?

Pardon me, Kosher? 

The rules surrounding kosher food are—like any selection of religious doctrines—negotiable. Some Jews follow all; others pick and choose. For instance, the man on the plane did not ask if the chicken was certified kosher, but he did have a problem eating bacon.

That said, the mandatory rules are that one cannot mix meat and dairy (“You may not cook a young animal in the milk of its mother” (Ex.23:19)), and can only eat meat that has cloven hooves, chews cud, and has been slaughtered in a certain way by a religious slaughterer called a Schochet.

“Thus even if a Schochet was present, all Kosher meat would still be illegal in Iceland.”

Without a Schochet present in the country, no meat can be prepared correctly here. As well, kosher meat must be killed with a clean cut in the neck without being stunned first. Unfortunately, Iceland follows the EEA regulations on slaughterhouses which requires stunning before slaughter. Thus even if a Schochet was present, all kosher meat would still be illegal in Iceland.

In another consideration, dairy can only be eaten from kosher animals, which knocks off all dairy and eggs sold in Iceland. Wine must also be from a kosher winery, which knocks off all wine. The only foods that are completely safe here are fish, fruits, and vegetables.

In countries like America and Israel, most food that is kosher—including pasta, rice and grains—has a stamp on it. This ensures that there are no processed ingredients that are not kosher. In supermarkets here though, there are rarely stamps—even though most are probably kosher—so for religious Jews, these foods would still be too risky to buy.

No Nutella?!

Because kosher food is so fickle, most religious Jews are used to bringing along suitcases of kosher food when travelling. But again, WOW air is flying to Israel, so perhaps there should be some consideration about kosher food in the country. On online forums—TripAdvisor and the like—there are numerous threads discussing Kosher options in Iceland. Some have intimately explored the grocery stores. Barilla, an Italian pasta brand that is certified kosher in the States, is quizzically not in Iceland. This was the same with many other foods: Nutella, Kellogg´s cereal, Hunt´s pasta sauce. Hagkaup did have the largest selection of Kosher products, so if you are looking to grocery shop in Iceland as a Jew, this would be your best bet.

But what about eating out? While fish, fruits, and vegetables are always safe, most restaurants called were very ignorant about kosher food. Most representatives told me all the meat there could be prepared without dairy, but didn’t know that meat in Iceland was already not kosher and had no idea that pasta and other grains had to be certified as well.

“If WOW air wants to open Israeli tourism, it’s perhaps a good idea to make sure that they don’t starve or accidentally break their religious tenets here.”

The representative at Fiskmarkaðurinn was the most knowledgeable. He immediately told me that no meat in Iceland would be appropriate, but fish dishes would be ok and if I really wanted to stay within the guidelines, it’d be best to ask my hotel chef to prepare something with ingredients brought from home.

WOW air is currently looking into the club sandwich matter after Grapevine contacted them. But of course, no country is required to tailor themselves for any ethnic group. That said, if Iceland is interested in Israeli tourism, it’s perhaps a good idea to make sure that they don’t starve or accidentally break their religious tenets here.

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