I’ve been wanting to write about my experience traveling to Iceland for some time now. Unfortunately, the island is not rich in natural resources. In addition, due to a few devastating volcanic eruptions, much of the land is barren and unusable. Before it became a republic in 1944, the country was under Norwegian and Danish rule for centuries, preventing trade with other countries and creating reliance on Scandinavia. Given their history of being dominated by others, Icelanders have a fierce pride and a boastful nature. They are not shy to tell you their wool is the best in the world. Unfortunately again, Iceland is in an economic collapse. However, the Icelandic people are used to instability, a trait that probably stems from living so close to a volcano. Historically, the island didn’t have wood after much of the devastation, so it got wood from Scandinavia. The inhabitants learned creative ways of using driftwood to create things like bowls. Because of the hardness of life here, the people of Iceland are tough themselves. They have learned to live without and to survive. Their toughness shows through in the kinds of food they eat. One such being hakarl, or shark that is buried underground and once rotted, is eaten. This “delicacy” is usually chased with some Icelandic schnapps. The Icelanders are jokesters, so once told of this tradition, it’s hard for a tourist to believe.
The most obvious food in Iceland, given that it is an island surrounded by the ocean, is fish. Animals are also raised, mostly lamb. When you travel throughout Iceland, you can see the sheep walking freely and in fact, you may have to stop for them to cross the road. There is little land for farming, and the country is in winter for half of the year. Lately, the country has greenhouses to grow vegetables. Salads are rarely eaten like they are here in America (and if ordered, they can be wet and soggy). Reykjavik has an abundance of ethnic restaurants, and of course, the cost in Iceland is expensive because pretty much everything has to be imported. When I travel, I prefer to eat local, indigenous foods or dishes that are traditional. It was hard to do that in Iceland, where I found much of the food not very palatable.
Case in point–snack food. In the United States, people munch on potato chips like there’s no tomorrow. A popular snack food in Iceland is dried fish, eaten like chips out of a plastic pouch. Of course, I wanted to try this local food. After one bite, I grimaced. The concentrated fish taste was unbelievably repugnant to me. But such is local taste. It’s all what you are used to.
I did have fish that tasted good. The trout in Iceland is actually sea trout, and when cooked, it has a pink color similar to salmon.
Icelandic sea trout
I also ate lamb while there. I even tried whale meat–which is on many a menu–and is actually meat, not blubber. I found it to be extremely gamey.
But I did draw the line at eating puffin, also on the menu.
Iceland’s famous dairy product is skyr. It is similar to yogurt though the taste and texture is a bit different from plain yogurt in America (the kind without additives) and Greek yogurt. I had it plain, but it would be better with fruit.
I found plokkfiskur, mashed fish and potatoes, to be very delicious, like creamy, buttery mashed potatoes. The dark bread was excellent as well.
Icelandic bows called kleinur are very popular and yummy. In fact, I bought a bag of these for the road and ate them practically every day while traveling inland.