The Land of Lamb and Pastry

I've been fortunate to travel to some fun places across the globe but one of the more wild ones was my recent trip to Iceland. It's a place where you'll see a volcano out one car window and a glacier out another. And it's possible it might be raining on just one side of said car. A place with wild landscape and weather would, of course, have wild food.  There are some great places in Reykjavik and beyond to sample both modern and traditional takes on Icelandic cuisine. 

Walking around charming Reykjavik we discovered that there was more than fermented shark and Brennevin (Black Death liquor) to the belly of this small island country, starting with the dairy. When I went to Ireland I thought the butter there was great. Definitely not "American" but very good. Butter in Iceland? BEST THING EVER. By far the creamiest, most golden spread out there. And if the butter is good of course the whipped cream is too. Not overly sweet but definitely dense, it topped everything from my hot cocoa to ice cream to cake. This strong foundation in dairy is probably why Iceland has the world's best kept pastry industry. We visited Braud and Co and Sandholt, the top rated bakeries in Reykjavik and when I tell you we had three croissants or cinnamon rolls a day it's not an exaggeration. While Sandholt made a pistachio apricot pastry that was unique to their ovens and the most delicious item there, Braud and Co was where most of our money went. 

Walking into the (purposely) graffitied building you find yourself in a small room with a single wooden counter, small refrigerated case, and a window into the production area. Depending on the time of day the baked good changed. My darling caramel granola roll (I KNOW) was only available in the afternoons. There were other flavors available, including one that used a licorice flavor, an Icelandic favorite. Our mornings were full of shatteringly delicious croissants and doughy cinnamon laden pastries (they called them rolls but they weren't quite shaped like one-who cares, they were fab). The takeaway here? If I lived in Iceland, I'd weigh a gazillion pounds.

Our dinners varied from the modern take on Icelandic favorites at ROK to the uber traditional Cafe Loki with platters of smoked meats and rye bread. ROK is new and trendy perfect in every way. Dishes like lamb chops with beet puree were artistically presented and the other dishes like scallop ceviche, roasted cod and potatoes, and "the best" tomato soup were inventive takes on staple foods. Bonus: a kick ass basil lemonade.

Cafe Loki is a simple cafe that serves combination style meals and is the best place to try fermented shark since they offer a "tasting" size for five dollars. Most other places have you commit to the full plate and trust us, you do NOT want the full plate. Loki's best item is their rye bread ice cream topped generously with whipped cream and caramel. The flavor of the ice cream is two fold: the pre-established dairy and the packed flavor of rye bread. I wasn't sure what to expect, maybe vanilla ice cream with chunks of bread? Nope, the whole darn ice cream is made of the bread, you can taste everything down to the texture of the crumbs. 

Islenski Barinn was the last stop on our five day adventure. A good dining spot with enough options to please most appetites and price points. The menu is updated Icelandic pub fare with steaks, burgers, and sausages served in hefty portions. My reindeer burger was a lovely medium and, obviously, reminded me of venison, perhaps a bit gamier. The patty itself was an interesting consistency as the meat did not appear ground (or at least not that finely), which I think contributed to taste.

Our biggest surprise was the thick and savory lamb goulash from the rest stop/gas station in Vik. Side note: Would highly recommend finding lodging or camping in Vik for a night to have better access to points East. The food service was in the back corner, a completely wooden interior with decor from the 80's. The cook space is behind the counter and had multiple pots steaming away, contents eventually loaded into the front display case of hot trays. Usually when one thinks of goulash it is not visually appealing. However, it was BECAUSE this goulash was visibly appealing that we ordered some. Lamb unlike any other was tenderly swimming among potatoes and bay leaves in a thick, savory, brown sauce. It's your slow cooker dream come true.

Good food is not hard to find in Reykjavik and beyond. In fact, I'd consider the capital city a foodie destination. The best part of Iceland is that it's a place where the beauty and untamed elements of the land are evident in each bite. I can't wait to go back! Until the next dish, ciao!