Just not for me

All the butter in the world couldn’t make me like this dried catfish

I wanted to like it. I really did. Everywhere I went in Iceland, there it was: dried fish. Supermarkets, rest areas, gift shops, even at Sæmundur, the gastropub at Kex Hostel, where we stayed in Reykjavik. They all had it. So obviously, I had to try it.

And you know what? Open-minded as I am about food, I hated it.

I finally decided to order it at Sæmundur because I figured everything else I’d eaten there was great, so if dry fish was gonna be good anywhere, it’d be there. Yet when the dried catfish with butter came out, cutely served in a little glass jar… sigh… it was gross.  Not in presentation, but absolutely in consistency and flavor. Each strip of silver-skinned fish was tough as an old sneaker and the taste was only slightly better. Even after I smothered a piece in butter, which by the way, was perfectly rich, soft and salted, the dried fish was awful. I chewed and chewed and chewed some more, until my jaw hurt and then I just swallowed the ol’ tough ball with a hard gulp, before sliding the rest of the glass jar back across the bar.

Bitafiskur… icelandic for “BLEGH, GROSS”

There’s a very short list of things I don’t like to eat, and I’m sorry to say, but icelandic dried fish, you just got added to that list.

A whale of a confession

I’ve been debating whether to even mention this. Some of you will be horrified, most of you will be grossed out. Some of you might even think I’m an awful person. But I’m just gonna put it out there and be honest.

:: Deep breath ::

While in Iceland… I… ate whale. There, I said it. I ate whale.

minke whale kabob

One guide book I read before going said to not eat it, that the locals didn’t eat whale and it was something only sucker tourists did. But then another book I read said that whale, like puffin and rotten shark meat, was just another old local culinary tradition. Icelanders maybe didn’t eat it regularly but they wouldn’t judge me if I did it.

When my sister and I went Saegreifinn for their famed lobster soup, the only other thing on the menu were different shish kabobs, made of various fish, lobster and scallops. Right in there with them were minke whale kabobs.

Oh, what the hell, I thought, let’s just do this. And so I did. With my sister looking on in complete disgust, I ordered a lobster soup and a minke whale kabob.

Skewered next to a couple of chopped red peppers, the minke whale meat looked like really well-done beef or some other land creature. It was dark on the outside and a deep brown, almost reddish purple color, on the inside. The taste was ok, not fantastic but not gross either. Without the sweet, tangy remoulade type sauce it was served with, it really didn’t have a very distinct flavor at all. But my main problem with the minke whale was its toughness. Every bite seemed to require a hundred chews before being swallowed.

A couple of days later, we went out on a whale watching tour, and even though several species of whales, dolphins and other creatures live in the cold waters around Reykjavik, the only one we spotted several times was the minke whale. In my head I  apologized for eating one of his kind. After all, he wasn’t that tasty anyway.

Street meat: Iceland edition

Hot dogs are so tasty that these Icelandic ones are eating their own kind!

I know they’re made out of weird animal odds and ends, and really, as an adult who occasionally is concerned with what she puts in her body, I should mistrust and dislike hot dogs… buuuuuuut, I just can’t. I friggin’ love ’em. I really do. I love hot dogs.

In Iceland, like New York City and Chicago (both whose dogs I’ve eaten),  they’re pretty proud of their weiners. And rightfully so, because even though I only ate one icelandic hot dog  during my trip, it was a great one.

How do you say DELICIOUS in Icelandic? Cause that’s what this hot dog was

SS Pylsan is the Oscar Meyer of Iceland and based on their ubiquitous SS logo, they seem to have a monopoly on the hot dog scene.  Unlike regular ol’ American dogs, theirs have lamb meat added into the mystery meat mix, which is probably why they’re extra tasty. I like to eat my hot dogs however the locals do so I ordered mine with everything, which meant one long, skinny hot dog dressed up with a sweet remoulade, mustard-mayo mix and my favorite part,  crunchy fried onions.

Cheap (definitely the cheapest thing I ate in Iceland), easy and delicious, if you forget about the hodge podge of animal parts that go into making a hot dog, what’s not to love about them? They’re great… all over the world!

Happiness is hot soup on a cold day

With the exception of a good cuddle, a creamy hot chocolate or being burrito-wrapped in my down comforter, there are few things I find more comforting or instantly gratifying than hot soup when it’s cold outside. I feel warm and fuzzy inside just thinking about it.  (Also because New York is pretty chilly right now and I want all of the above.)

In Iceland, where it was frigid every single day we were there (not that I was expecting any different), I probably had soup at least twice a day. Those Icelanders, man, they really know what they’re doing in that department! Below, the highlights of my soup-centric week.

The famous lobster soup at Saegreifinn

At the top of my things-I-MUST-eat-in-Iceland list was the humarsupa, or lobster soup, at Saegreifinn.  The tiny restaurant/fish shack in Reykjavik’s old harbor was supposed to have some of the best lobster soup in town, so the first night we were there, my sister and I made it a point to have it. I can’t say I tried lots of other lobster soups, but I didn’t need to because this one won my vote. Sweet and velvety without being cream-heavy or goopy, it had just the right amount of  fat hunks of sweet lobster meat. My only regret: not going back for more every single day.  Continue reading

It’s skyr madness!

So much skyr!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love yogurt. I think most people feel pretty lukewarm about it, but I actually love it and eat it most days. I especially love plain flavored Greek yogurt for its thick, creamy consistency and rich, tangy flavor.

Before going to Iceland, the one thing I knew about local eating habits there was that people were serious about skyr, an Icelandic yogurt of sorts, similar to the Greek kind in its consistency, flavor and high protein content. And really, that was almost enough for me to fork over plane fare. Sure, all of the other awesome things about Iceland sealed the deal, but really, I was sold at skyr.

Skyr: non fat and high in protein, yet tastes like a complete dessert.

Once my sister and I were there, skyr really was everywhere and I, for one, thought it was great! At supermarkets, there were dozens of brands and flavors, including plain, fruity like blueberry and raspberry, or sweeter varieties like vanilla and caramel. In my six days there, I tried a bit of them all. Because I’m a big vanilla fan I really liked that one which was almost custardy, but the caramel one was really good too, in a very flan-like, almost dessert way.

Oh that all mornings could start with this much deliciousness!

At Kex, the hipstery hostel where we stayed, skyr was always a part of the morning breakfast line-up. The tart, plain flavored kind was served in small glass jars and left up to the eater to jazz up with an assortment of oats, granola, jams and dried fruits. My favorite combo was the dark, rich blueberry jam they put out (which by the way, was delicious and I would have eaten with just about anything) and the crunchy, nutty granola. I had it that way the first day we had breakfast there, and every morning we went back.

Lucky for me, places like Murray’s and Whole Foods actually sell skyr, so an Icelandic morning dairy fix is never too far. And as a devoted yogurt lover, that makes me very happy.

Day 1 in Iceland: Off to a delicious start

As soon as I started doing travel research on Iceland, I knew I would like the place. Chilly weather, otherworldly natural beauty, freakin’ PUFFINS?! Are you kidding me?  Sign me UP.

Love at first bite: Smoked trout on rye

And on the first day there, when I stopped at  Cafe Loki for my first bite to eat while exploring Reykjavik, I knew I would love Iceland. I knew the second I took a bite out of the simple-but-oh-so-delicious rye bread with butter, smoked trout and cottage cheese. I mean, really, how can something so easy be SO good? It must’ve been all the perfect ingredients: the rye bread, dense and slightly moist, the butter thick and creamy, the smoked trout—oh that perfect smoked trout!— so fresh and clean tasting, and then the sweet, cool cottage cheese lopped on top. I could eat this every day for breakfast and never tire, and I’m sure I could have it as a snack on top of that, too.

It was early in the morning and cold outside and this simple toast just set the tone for the rest of my day and the rest of my time in Iceland. Let me tell you, it was a damn good six days.