The idea of “Icelandic Food” is changing. A few years ago, and still a bit even today, the phrase “Icelandic Food” conjured up ideas of fish, moss and hardship—possibly rotten shark and sheep face too. You came to Iceland for the landscape, quirky-almost-autistic people and manic pixie multi-instrumentalists. You didn’t come for the cuisine.
This has been changing. Chefs, bartenders and local farmers have been putting an effort into creating not only high quality dishes and ingredients, but also staying true to the culinary history of this desolate rock.
Wake Up Reykjavík is offering a food tour of Reykjavík. It costs 12,900 ISK, lasts four hours and goes through thirteen samples of Icelandic fare. I have to admit being initially sceptical about the walk, for two reasons: the price, and the promise of thirteen samples. The most common complaint we receive from tourists visiting Iceland is the price of food. It seems you can’t have a sit-down dinner for two without spending the equivalent of $50 USD. How could this tour possibly deliver both quality and quantity in the land of the $25 hamburger?
Our first stop delivered a traditional Icelandic kjötsúpa, or meat soup. The host introduced us to the soup, discussed the variations among families, and highlighted the quality of Icelandic lamb. It was light, fun and informative. By the end of the dish, my fellow tourmates were inquiring about a recipe. Things are off to a good start.
Any fear I had about the tour was abandoned as we walked towards our next stop. The guide stopped us at the corner of Laugavegur and Skólavörðustigur to point at Dunkin’ Donuts. “Icelanders go crazy for new things, and anything American,” he said, with a grin. “When this place opened there were lines around the block. If you want to understand Iceland, you need to understand its capacity for fads.” This little nugget of information comes as no shock to any bartender around town who has just made their millionth mojito, attempting to recreate some Icelander’s recent vacation to the Canary Islands. It’s a small tight-knit community with a capacity for “groupthink” unmatched in larger centres.
The second stop was at Ostabuðin for an array of meat and cheese—six samples in total. The smoked goose breast with raspberry sauce was an unexpected surprise. I know I’ll be going back.
The third stop was at Cafe Loki for rye-bread ice cream. The scepticism I had felt in myself I could now see in my tourmates’ faces… until the first bite. Some people responded so intensely to the flavour they started asking about buying it in bulk to take home. I assume it was some sort of sugar-induced psychosis, unburdening them of the ability to understand the logistical difficulties of packing ice cream in their checked baggage.
The walk continued and other local delights were tried. We even stopped for a hot dog at the world’s greatest hot dog stand, which sparked political discussions, with all of us wondering aloud what Hillary Clinton would order if she were here. Her husband ordered ketchup and mustard, but we agreed she would order more toppings and then tell whomever asked her that she ordered what they did.
By the time we were eating in the old harbour, some of my tourmates couldn’t finish their food. It was almost too much, even after a two-kilometre walk. But most of them powered through and finished with a dessert downtown.
This tour works for one reason: it sparks interest. You taste and see just enough to begin a journey on your own right after you finish the tour. You might just have to take a nap first.