Okay, maybe not the ultimate, but I think pretty close to it. LAW, G.B., N.T., and I spontaneously decided to go to Iceland over Easter weekend. We left on a Wednesday night and came back Monday night. In our typical way of travel, we jam packed the days with as much as possible. Since most of you actually reading this post are probably also planning to go to Iceland, I’ll share with you our itinerary first and then go into the food. Since this isn’t a travel blog, I won’t go into details about the specific sites. But I think the schedule we did will help you plan. If food is all you’re here for, skip ahead!
First of all, Iceland was amazing. If you’re on the fence, I hope I push you over to the other side so that you go. The place is unlike any other that I’ve been to. Crazy weather, endless waterfalls, miles and miles of Mars-like terrain – do go. Here’s my itinerary, which I think was pretty efficient and allowed us to see most things available from Reykjavik.
Rented a car from the airport and drove to Reykjavik (where our hotel was). On our way to Reykjavik, we stopped by: small town where former U.S. troops hung out, The Blue Lagoon (2-3 hours of hanging out in a geothermal pool, very cool), and The Bridge Between Two Continents (yes, that’s what it’s actually called), which is a bridge that connects the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. This is probably the most efficient way to spend your time because all of this stuff is on the way to Reykjavik.
The Golden Circle, which is a loop that takes you to multiple iconic sites. We saw the Thingvellir National Park, Gulfoss Waterfall (epic), Geysir, and Kerio (a volcanic crater lake – underrated).
Drove along the southern coast and saw two beautiful waterfalls off of the highway, the Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss. Both are awesome in their own way. One has a beautiful LOTR-esque path behind it that you can walk through. Another is hidden behind a narrow canyon. You literally hike through and immediately find yourself standing up against this epic waterfall. After these two waterfalls, head towards the town of Vik (which isn’t that cool) but is right by the awesome Mýrdalsjökull glacier.
We did a day hike at Glymur, which leads you to the highest waterfall in Iceland. If you’re into more treacherous hikes, I would definitely do this one. We forded many rivers and hauled ourselves up the mountain using various ropes and chains drilled into the mountain. I would recommend taking a picture of the map at the start of the hike because the trail gets a bit confusing.
Hung out in Reykjavik. Went to the best rated cafe (Reykjavik is supposed to have really good coffee) and ate our way through the day.
ONTO THE FOOD!
To be honest, the food in Iceland isn’t anything spectacular. You will get to try some unique meats (like puffin and whale and poisonous sharks – more on this later) but otherwise will experience mostly pretty familiar foods. The town of Reykjavik is small, so there are only a handful of excellent spots, which I think we were able to hit up. There are also some great snacks to have throughout your journey. Here is the breakdown in terms of snacks and real meals.
Skyr. You must go to a local supermarket and buy lots of skyr and eat it all the time because it is the best yogurt I have ever had. I would describe it as a hybrid cream cheese yogurt. It has a smoother texture than Greek yogurt and doesn’t feel as heavy, but is just as (if not more) creamy. For those of you who aren’t heading to Iceland, not to fear. I just learned that an Icelandic dude was so unsatisfied with the yogurt options in the U.S., he made his own brand of skyr called Siggi, which you can now find in places like Wholefoods.
Pylsur. For some reason, hot dogs are really popular in Iceland. They are sold at all gas stations and supermarkets. The actual dog is actually made of lamb, so definitely worth a try. The most famous hot dog place is from the Baejarins Beztu Pylsur in Reykjavik. It’s a small shack that only sells hot dogs.
The original comes with ketchup, sweet mustard, fried onions, raw onions, and remoulade (a mayo based sauc with sweet relish). Bill Clinton has eaten here and The Guardian once said it is the best hot dog in in Europe. It’s also been around since 1937. In my opinion, it’s overrated. But one of those touristy things you have to do.
Hlölla Bátar. These sandwiches or subs are called “boats” and are deeeeeeelicious. Because most things in Reykjavik are pretty expensive, and frankly (in my opinion) not particularly tasty, we had these boats pretty often. They are super tasty, pretty heavy, and cheap. My favorite was probably the Lamb Boat, which consisted of thin crispy slices of fried lamb (aka lamb bacon!!) with fried onions, pickles, lettuce, red cabbage, and “Hlölli”” sauce (like a sweet mayo). (Sorry for the horrible photos, the lighting in the place was weird and I was too hungry to bother).
Bread. I would suggest buying some snacks and bread to bring on your hikes so you don’t starve when you find yourself chasing waterfalls (this will inevitably happen as you find a better and better waterfall to see the deeper you hike).
We bought a delicious sesame loaf that we used for sandwiches (the lady even sliced it for us), an amazing cheesy olive loaf, and another loaf completely unqiue to Iceland: Hverabraud. It is a rye bread baked in a geothermal oven. Ingredients are literally buried underground and bread is taken out 24 hours later.
The bread is the densest thing I’ve ever had (density of 5 bagels maybe?) but is pretty good. A colleague of mine said he just brought loaves of these on his hikes and would eat these for days as he was camping. Definitely utility driven and effective.
Build-Your-Own-Sandwich. In Iceland, you can’t just expect to “pick some food up on your way” because chances are there will be no food for you to pick up once you leave the city. I can’t emphasize enough: buy snacks and food for your hikes or you will starve! Gas stations have lots of food, including pylsurs (hot dogs) and sandwich ingredients.
Hákarl. Okay, not really a snack, but we had it one day after dinner as a snack because, well, we just had to. Hákarl is a poisonous Greenland shark that is fermented and hung for a couple months. Doesn’t sound too bad except to get rid of the poison, you have to wait for the shark to decay and fully rot. Traditionally, people buried the gutted shark in the ground and urinated on it, which apparently helps to neutralize the ammonia.
It’s often served in little cubes like this. The mere smell of it tends to instigate the gag reflexes from all bystanders. Anthony Bourdain described hákarl as “the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing” he has ever eaten. Gordon Ramsay tried it and spat it out immediately. Serious Eats didn’t even dare to try it at all! Yup, that’s right. I’m calling you out, Serious Eats.
Here’s me and N.T. happily nomming on our rotten shark. Maybe it’s because I grew up eating all kinds of things, but the shark REALLY wasn’t that bad. I even chewed on it for a while to really try to get the flavor and didn’t find it terrible. It doesn’t taste good (imagine an alcohol soaked piece of sashimi), but it was fine!
Apparently, Iceland is the world’s fourth largest coffee consumer per capita. N.T. and I were on the hunt for the best. We found Kaffibrennslan, which is a super cute coffee shop, similar to many in New York.
I just had a cappuccino, which was naturally sweet and so, so smooth. I suspect the milk is also just better. Very rarely do I travel and find coffee as good as in New York (except for Italy), but Iceland was up to par.
We actually barely ate any real food because we were hiking so much and were stuck under a waterfall most days during lunch and too tired by dinner for a sit down meal (we ate a lot of boats instead). We ended up eating at three restaurants, two of which I would highly recommend, the other I would deter you from.
The first real dinner we had was at Sjávargrillið, a fantastic Icelandic restaurant in Rekyjavik. Probably had some of the best “new American” type fish I have ever had. There was nothing particularly Icelandic about the place, other than the whale, puffin, and shag appetizer we had (kind of just wanted to hit three birds with one stone), but the fish was delicious.
Pictured here is the whale, puffin, and shag appetizer. It comes with four tiny pieces of each type, perfect for our purposes because I don’t think I would ever order a whole thing of any of the for myself. The whale is actually very lean and has a steak-like texture. The aftertaste was very strong and kind of livery.. Puffin literally tasted like chicken. And shag (another type of bird), tasted a bit like a smoked salmon and tuna hybrid… weird because it isn’t a fish.
I had the catch of the day, which was a tusk, a common cod-like fish around the area. It was fatty, a little less flakey than cod, and mild in flavor. The fish itself was perfectly cooked. It had the soft, delicate texture from steaming a fish, but also was grilled on the surface so had a slight charred flavor. It was dressed in this delliiiiiicioussssss nutty cream sauce with broccoli and potatoes. Literally one of the best fish dishes I’ve ever had.
LAW and G.B. both got the salted cod with chorizo and peanut sauce. Not entirely sure if was actually a peanut sauce but we noticed that a lot of Icelandic sauces have a peanut butter flavor. The lightness of the cod paired with the savory chorizo was a great combination. The peanut buttery sauce sounds weird but gave the dish a really interesting complexity that had LAW and G.B. both squinting hard after each bite, trying to figure out what delicious flavors they were ingesting. Good stuff.
N.T. got the grilled lemon marinated salmon with a side of mashed cauliflower. It sounds simple yet I have never had a fish so wholly infused with lemon flavor. It was very refreshing. Highly recommend Sjávargrillið!
The next real restaurant we went to was Grillmarkaðurinn. Similar in concept to the previous restaurant, it is a fancy-ish restaurant that has a lot of seafood and meat options. A lot of TripAdvior users seem to love this place, and after eating here, I conclude it is more for the ambience than the food.
This is their thing. Their grill allows the coals to heat up to 1200 degrees (REALLY HOT), which allows you to flash cook your food, giving you crispy exteriors and juicy interiors. I really did not experience this because most of my fish ended up being cold. More on this below.
I had the fish sampler, which came with salmon, redfish, and salted cod. The presentation was really nice and “rustic” (in line with the overall ambience being quite nice), but the fish came out cold. Huge pet peeve of mine. The cod on the left was dry and literally tasted just like cod with salt. The salmon was my favorite, and came with the same peanut buttery sauce that LAW and G.B. had at the other restaurant. The redfish came with a mayo dressing, which was fine, but the fish was tougher than I usually like.
LAW got the meat sampler, which came with beef, lamb, and duck. His meats also came out cold. Everything was fine, not overcooked. Well flavored. Just nothing to write home about. Kind of the overall sentiment from this restaurant.
Saegreifinn was probably my favorite. It is a tiny shack on the water that serves up various seafood skewers and lobster soup. Very no frills, solid food kind of place.
LAW and I shared the scallop and salmon, while N.T. and G.B. had the cod. The scallop and cod were both sliiiiightly overcooked, but very flavorful. The salmon was amazing. Perfectly seasoned. Grilled. Moist. Very fresh.
Hopefully this is somewhat helpful for those of you looking to travel to Iceland. Feel free to email me or leave a comment if you have any questions about the places I visited!