Whether it’s Scottish “munchie boxes” or Canadian poutine, there’s something about cold northern climates that makes people embrace a grease-up faster than Hulk Hogan on wife-swap Wednesday. Iceland’s northern capital of Akureyri is no exception. Forget meandering along those picturesque fjords watching seals poke their heads out of the water—this is my five-stop tour of Akureyri’s comfort (and discomfort) food.
Fast food in Akureyri falls somewhere between “highly addictive” and “schoolboy dare,” and the only logical place to start is the drive-through Ak-inn. The name literally translates as “drive in” but doubles as a pun on the name of the town. “Akureyringar” have a passion for splicing AK in front of everything (dibs on opening up a shooting range there called AK-47).
At Ak-inn, you can get your car washed while feasting on the greasy glory that is their signature hot dog. It’s drowned in cocktail sauce and melted cheese, with french fries and the omnipresent seasoning (salt, paprika and MSG, basically). This frankenwiener is hard proof that you can score decent weed in Akureyri.
What downtown Akureyri lacks in size, it more than makes up for in shouting. On the day I arrived, teens were being hauled in on top of tractor wagons, dressed as cartoon characters and wielding water pistols in 6°C weather—a part of the Nordic college graduation rituals called “dimmisjón.” The polyester furry costumes provided scant protection and seemed in fact to be soaking up the water.
The perfect pint
That night I went to nearby pub Götubarinn for a couple of pints. Akureyri hasn’t been ravaged by tourist accommodation like Reykjavík, so the locals are decidedly friendlier and less jaded by the whole experience.
Next it was time to coat my stomach with some more grease before heading to bed in my downtown Acco guest house (short for “AK Accommodation”—see what I mean about the AK puns?). I was eager to try the Aleppo Kebab, run by a pair of Syrian refugees who seem have bashed the business plan together on the plane over to Iceland, but unfortunately they’re still waiting on their license.
Instead I went with Nætursalan, an Akureyri institution catering to the late-night weekend crowd. Their selection is surprisingly broad, but the locals advised me to ignore all of that and go straight for Búkolla—a pizza loaded with beef strips, bearnaise sauce and french fries. It was actually kind of brilliant. But maybe that was the pints talking.
Where’s my chippy?
The best of the bunch was Akureyri Fish and Chips. Owner Hjörleifur “Lalli” Árnason took over the operation in 2016. “The guys who opened up Reykjavík Fish & Chips decided to open a branch in Akureyri, and tried to run it for a year over the phone from Reykjavík, but it wasn’t working out,” he says. “When they heard I was moving back to Akureyri, they pleaded with me to take over. I decided to go with it, and haven’t regretted it for a second.”
The growth in tourism has changed Akureyri rapidly. Even though tourists still congregate mostly in the south, business is brisk. But it isn’t all luck—Lalli is deadly serious about his fish. “My fishmonger goes to the market around 6am every morning, and has his people fix it up,” he says. “I gave him a set of keys to let himself in so that when we arrive, the fish is already in the cooler. We tried an experiment with frozen fish last summer and did a blind taste test, but I didn’t even have to taste it—just cutting through the crust I knew which was the frozen one.”
For my money, Akureyri Fish and Chips is the best cheap meal in town. If you don’t believe me, head over and do a blind taste test of your own.
Staring your meal in the face
The next stop was the dairy farm and coffee house Kaffi Kú, ten minutes out of town. It’s built inside a barn, with a dining area jutting out into an active cowshed. And let me tell you, you really haven’t eaten until you do it sitting inside a mezzanine cube suspended over the animal you’re eating, with doo-wop music echoing around you. As the cows stared at me with studied contempt, I sank my teeth into the bagel burger with blueberry BBQ sauce without breaking eye contact.
On the other side of the river that runs through Akureyri, you’ll find the best damn ice cream in the north at the dairy farm Holtssel. This place has been slinging ice cream for over ten years, and it’s as farm-to-table as it gets. Make sure to try the skyr ice cream with wild Icelandic bilberries (they even make the skyr from scratch). Their chocolate and Madagascar vanilla could go toe-to-toe with any artisan ice cream shop in Reykjavík. I left with an armful of ice cream and a couple of pieces of darkly colored smoked wild trout they were selling on the side. I was also tempted to grab their scruffy terrier Hamar (“Hammer”). Hammer knew he wasn’t allowed to eat the chickens or the ice cream. Hammer is good boys.
Back to safety
Akureyri. It’s been real but I am never leaving my house again. Thank you for the warm welcome, and for the type 8 diabetes (that’s the kind where you piss icicles of hardened glucose and your pancreas comes flopping out of your body like a flounder). But most of all, thanks for all the fish.