Eating our way through Reykjavík

Monday, December 05, 2016

There is not a lot of food which I would consider off limits and I find that food is part of one's identity and culture.  I always found food fascinating and once it was determined that I was headed to Iceland for Thanksgiving break, I started reading up.

I conducted research online through reading New York Times: 36 Hours in Reykjavík, talking to friends who visited Iceland before me and reading food tour reviews on Trip Advisor.
I ended up picking Wake up Reykjavík for a Saturday excursion and met my food guide, Marin, in front of the Harpa along with other guests from Australia, Singapore, Tasmania and the US.

We walked towards a little square near the Harpa where Marin explained during the summer it's filled with people sunbathing or celebrating a festival.  The skies were gray and the wind was a bit biting so we hurried along to our first stop, Íslenski Barínn.

Icelandic lamb soup
Lamb soup at Íslenski Barínn 
Our first dish of the day was the traditional Icelandic meat soup, which consisted of lamb, potatoes, carrots, and rutabagas.  The lamb was tender and filling and based on the ingredients, simple ingredients are what you need for a cold day.  Marin also explained that Íslenski Barínn has some great seasonal beer so I made a mental note to come back later.

Ostabúðin Delicatessen
Ostabúðin sampler
The next stop was Ostabúðin where which made me happy because the night before, we walked around the city center and noticed this shop and their cheese.  I made a mental note to check this out on my free day but was happy to see that this was part of the food tour stop.  We sampled horse tongue, lamb skewers, cured goose partnered with gouda, Icelandic brie and blue cheese.  Surprisingly, the horse tongue was tender and the texture was not a turnoff. A majority of the group found the cured goose to be the best and we had some time to peruse the store and purchase some food to bring back home.

Since our group was about 10 people, there was enough for seconds and didn't waste anytime having a second helping of Icelandic brie.  It was so creamy that it melted in my mouth.
Ostabúðin Delicatessen
Part of the group waited outside since the store was a bit cramped while the other half purchased their goods.  I managed to take a look at the menu posted on the window and was surprised that the restaurant was located in the back. 

I knew eating out in Iceland would blow a budget but was surprised Artic char was cheaper to eat than in the U.S.!

Our next stop was Café Lokki where we climbed the steps to the second floor so when we looked out the windows, we can see Hallgrimskirja.  We were served rye bread ice cream and who would have thought rye bread and ice cream would go great together!

Rye ice cream at Kaffi Loki
Rye bread ice cream at Café Lokki
Marin explained that the rye bread was toasted then mixed in with the ice cream to give it a nice crunchy flavor.  I was surprised how sweet the rye bread tasted but there was definitely a drizzle of caramel on top of the whip cream.

I am a fiend for ice cream but was surprised that I was completely satisfied by one serving.

While we ate our ice cream, Marin explained the mural of the Norse gods and the creation of Iceland.  It was interesting to listen to folklore and mythology then looking out the window to see Hallgrimskirkja.  It definitely made picturesque moment!

Once everyone finished their ice cream and walked towards Alþingshúsið, otherwise known as Parliament House, Marin explained that during the banking collapse people threw eggs and Skyr.  There is a little square near Alþingshúsið where people congregate for concerts or protest such as Free the Nipple, where Icelandic women showed up topless for gender equality.

We continued to stroll towards a pond and saw ducks and geese squabbling over bread.  It's so funny to listen to geese fight and during this time, Marin handed out individual cups of Skyr, the creamy, yogurt-like substance.  Marin explained it's not really yogurt but more like cheese and extremely heavy to eat.  In addition to Skyr, she handed out Icelandic chocolate which I kept for my flight home.

Bacchus rules the streets of Reykjavík
During this time, Bacchus the cat showed up and Marin explained that he rules the streets of Reyjavík. In the summertime, he would bask in the sunlight in the middle of the road and cars used to honk to try and nudge it along but he never moved. So after awhile, people grew accustomed to driving around Bacchus.

Bacchus never goes home with owners but lives in any of the shops he finds suitable. He reminded me a little about the cats in Rome and how much Italians adored them but I think Bacchus just holds his own. 

We didn't see any other cats roaming the streets  but it was a cute story to tell.

Marin marvelously weaved so many different stories on our stops and it was nice to learn about different political events, local stories and folklore.

Our next stop would be Bæjarins Betzu Pylsur which translates into "Town's Best Sausages." I heard so much about the Icelandic hot dogs before my trip so I was curious to try it.  Former President Clinton made it popular by stopping by and Anthony Bourdain publicized it on his show, No Reservations.

Marin provided a little background on how sausages were created but what made this hot dog special was the lamb mixed in with beef and pork. We arrived and saw the line was streaming around on to the road.  She then provided us options to wait for 20 minutes after checking in with the vendor or moving on to the next destination. 

Quite a few people were a bit chilly standing out in the cold so everyone agreed to walk to Sægreifinn which was near the harbor.

Sægreifinn is a cozy little spot and we crept up to the second floor which was nice and warm.  As we situated ourselves around the table,  Marin poured us glasses of water and began to tell us stories about elves and trolls that haunted Iceland.  There are twelve elves and the only one I remembered was meat hooker who stole meat from  your home.  It was bit creepy and for some reason reminded me of Candy Man.
Lobster soup

I also became a little nervous because two years ago, I became allergic to shellfish so that ruled out a lot of seafood for me on this trip.  So when I heard they were serving lobster soup, which is considered one of their best dishes, I said a little prayer and hoped I wouldn't end up in the hospital or busting out an Epi-pen.

During this time, I spoke to a woman next to me who managed to see the Northern Lights and she showed me pictures on her camera phone.  I was surprised she was able to capture them on her phone since I brought my DSLR specifically to capture them.

Several conversations were now going on and I alternated between Marin's storytelling and conversations with the group beside me who were discussing different trips they took.
Chocolate rasberry mousse at Apotek
We lingered at Sægreifinn for a bit before heading to our final destination, Apotek.  Marin explained that Apotek used to be an Apothecary which was converted to Apotek Restaurant a few years back.  The decor was trendy and tasteful.  In the front room was seating for cocktails and beer and in the back was where you served food.

Marin also let us know that Apotek had happy hour and had brennivín cocktail specials so I made a mental note to try it before I left.  We had an option of tea, hot cocoa and coffee to go with our desserts and it was the perfect ending to the food tour.  While we relished in delicious dessert, Marin provided more stories specifically Icelandic sagas.  I became fascinated by one of the female warriors she discussed who cut of her left breast during battle.  Unfortunately, I don't remember her name but overall, I had 3-4 hours of great company and delicious food to start off my Icelandic adventure!

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