Iceland has a good selection of foods so disgusting that only people isolated on a freezing island trying to survive would eat them. The food would make it hard to live there, but in the name of research, we tried them all. Here are the highlights!
First, Iceland loves yogurt. The local yogurt is called Skyr (pronounced skeer) and is actually almost edible compared to most yogurt. They have a huge selection that takes up about a quarter of the refrigerated space in the store.
On our first morning trip to the grocery store, we bought the following: twisty donut things that are one of the few tasty traditional Icelandic foods, rhubarb jam (Tara loves a country that has rhubarb flavored things--I feel differently), a skyr, and something called "leit ab mjolk" with pictures of pineapples on it. Obviously, I bought the last one and it scared Tara from the start. Mjolk surely means milk. So, I assumed that it was some crazy flavor of milk. Wrong! It was gross yogurt. Boo.
A closeup of the things that Tara cares about. From these, we learn that the word for Mango in Icelandic is Mango and the word for rhubarb is rabarbara. Now you are prepared for Iceland.
Tara with one of the twisted donut things. They aren't bad with some jam on them.
Here is me trying my "Leit ab mjolk."
Here is what I think of the "Leit ab mjolk"!
We went to the local marketplace and found the food sellers. We especially enjoyed the huge selection of dried fish. And by enjoyed, I mean that we reminisced about horrible dried fish that we had eaten throughout the world.
This concoction seemed to be a cake topped with shrimp and hard-boiled eggs. Order now for your next birthday! We were too afraid to try it.
We found a candy vendor selling this coconut-covered chocolate-coated things and she said that they were filled with a coconut filling. I love coconut, so I immediately bought one.
It turns out that the filling was more like a slightly coconutty marshmallow goo. Not ideal, but far from the worse thing that we ate.
The most famous "restaurant" in Iceland is probably this hot dog stand, called Bæjarins beztu pylsur, which means "Best Hot Dogs in Town." Icelanders generally consume local meat, and since there are no pigs to make their hot dogs tasty, they mix beef and lamb. If you are like me and believe that lamb is not very good, then you are left thinking that the best hot dogs in town are subpar. However, the crunchy fried onions that are standard on all Icelandic hotdogs (along with a mayonnaise-like remoulade, fresh onions, and a mild mustard) are amazing.
Here's Tara enjoying hers. A pylsa (hot dog) costs about $2.50, making it dirt cheap by Icelandic standards and explaining the very log line of locals always waiting.
After confirming that Tara liked the local skyr yogurt (she says that the American skyrs are terrible), Tara started buying in larger quantities.
Rejecting skyr, I started eating bacon flavored chips for breakfast. Hey, it's bacon flavored, and bacon is a breakfast food. Luckily, despite my fear that "beikon" actually meant yogurt, they did turn out to be a pretty good bacon flavor.
Endless soup is popular in restaurants as a meal. We would have never paid the $15-20 for it, but it was the style of meal on our glacier hike trip, so the choices were a lamb stew (this one) or the pasta sauce next to it that they called tomato soup. I didn't like either one, but still managed to eat 5 or 6 bowls.
Here are the dregs of the lamb stew, showing you all the constituent parts. Lamb. Yuck.
Dessert in Iceland is often a glass of skyr. In this case, it was blueberry flavored. I ate it because it was there. And because I like the Icelandic word for blueberry, which is blaber.
Tara took a picture of me eating yogurt to prove that I had. Doesn't mean that I liked it!
Or did I? No, I didn't.
Iceland has a lot of fish and chips. Since they seem to be the same expensive $15-20 whether you buy them in the fast food place or in the posh fish and chippery, we went high end. They are served with skyronnaises of different flavors. Thanks to the Americans next to us who gave us the skyronnaise sampler when they finished because there was no way that we were paying the $10 extra for it. Also thanks to those people who left a nearly full bowl of potatoes on their table when they left.
Licorice is popular in Iceland, though not with Tara. Here is a licorice filled chocolate bar. It wasn't bad, but Tara refused to even try it. That's right, I ate multiple kinds of yogurt and fish, but Tara wouldn't even try a tiny bit of chocolate. Lame.
Here's what you've all been waiting for, but it doesn't look so exciting in this picture. This is hakarl, aka rotten shark. They start by putting this stuff in vats and burying it underground for 6 weeks. Bacteria similar to yogurt bacteria breaks it down. Then they hang it up to air dry for several months. Then they cut it up and serve it. If you took gefilte fish and dipped it in ammonia before serving, you would get a good idea of what hakarl tastes like. Having said that, I expected worse.
Tara had her first bite with a bit of bread, and apparently hadn't gotten the full taste, so she actually had a second bite!
Tara hanging out with some drying hakarl.
This is a guillemot. What's a guillemot you ask? It's a sea bird in the auk family (same family as the puffin). I would describe the texture as somewhere between pork and chicken, but it is a very red meat. The taste is quite fishy, meaning that I disliked it, but Tara thought it was good. She also liked the sugar potatoes--potatoes with a bit of sugar on them, that came as a side dish.
Iceland has a lot of soft serve ice cream. We stopped at this place along the northern coast that is one of the most famous. As a self proclaimed soft serve expert, I thought that the ice crystals were too large and that the taste was a bit lacking (not quite sweet enough), but I do like that you could choose a number of flavors of magic shell-like coatings for your cone.
Also popular in Iceland are burgers. We got some incredibly delicious burgers at Hamborgarabulla Tomasar (Tomas's Burger Joint). They were expensive ($25 for two burgers and a large fry), but were exceptionally good burgers. Apparently, Tomas is known as the burger king and has started several burger places in Iceland.
The fries that came with the burger were also excellent--they undercook them just the way I like.
At our country hotel one night, Tara ordered the dinner consisting of a lamb roast. Given that we were on a sheep farm, I suspect it was as fresh as you get. For lamb, it wasn't bad, but I'll still take beef or pork any day!
For dessert, she had this piece of skyr cake, which is popular in Iceland. Not bad.
Breakfast at the hotel was a buffet and a mix of American and European.
I was especially intrigued by this toothpaste tube of caviar, despite knowing that I don't like caviar. But it's in a toothpaste tube, so how could I resist?
I squeezed some onto a cracker and it came out in a fun star shape. Unfortunately, it tasted like salty super-fish, confirming that caviar is not good no matter how it is packaged. Though, maybe had I had my toothbrush with me, it would have been more fun to brush my teeth with it.
Our hotel package came with two welcome drinks, which we finally redeemed on our final night in Iceland. Tara found the most expensive drink on the menu, which was a mojito made with brennivin, the Icelandic caraway liquor. It was $20, so we figured she was getting the most bang for her buck. I ordered the same thing minus the alcohol. Can you tell the difference? Nope, neither can I. We weren't impressed, but Tara loves caraway, so she did like the local liquor.
Icelandic pancakes are a lot like crepes and are very traditional. The rolled up ones just have some sugar inside and the folded over ones have jam and whipped cream. Very tasty, but it would take about 50 of them (maybe $200 worth) to actually fill me up.
This is a love ball. A love ball is a doughy donut-like thing with raisins and cardamom. Not as good as it sounds because it is on the dry side and could undergo more frying to improve the taste.
The cafe where we were eating had something called rye bread ice cream for breakfast, which sounded interesting, but we were almost out of money and didn't really want to go to an ATM machine for $5 for a scoop of ice cream (and it was $5 for a scoop of ice cream...). Luckily, the people next to us ordered it and only ate part of it. Now, normally, I only take food off of other people's tables that is untouched or scooped out of something, but we saw an opportunity and took it. Rye ice cream, it turns out, is basically what you get if you crumble rye bread into ice cream. It wasn't as bad as it sounds, but was a bit strange.
Finally, puffin was out of season (all the puffins leave Iceland in late August), so we had to find the overpriced touristy restaurant that still had some. We really only wanted one order to try, but I was unclear in ordering and made it sound like we each wanted an order. Oops. Puffin is a texture that is sort of like cow tongue. If you've never had cow tongue, then go try some and you'll understand. Sadly, its taste is like rotten anchovies. I suppose this makes sense for a bird that eats entirely little fish, but it was still sad. Doubly sad was that we then had two plates of the stuff to eat. We can't recommend it.
Well, that wraps up foods of Iceland. New animals eaten included guillemot, puffin, whale, and Greenland shark (which Tara says doesn't count because we had eaten other shark before). Recap: they were all gross except for whale, which was just like eating a cow except that you feel bad after eating it. Icelandic yogurt (skyr) is less bad than most yogurt. Icelandic hot dogs have lamb in them, which makes them worse than good ol' New York street dogs. Some other stuff is decent. Overall, Iceland wouldn't be on my list of suggested culinary destinations, but, then again, I do like eating snow and ice, and they had some especially clean tasting snow!