Saturday, July 11, 2015

Iceland: The Food And The Water

I happened to mention pizza and hot dogs in yesterday's post about Iceland -- and that's all anyone latched onto.  :(
Look, folks, I've traveled to 25 different countries, 25 different states in the US, and two territories (one US, one UK).  I can assure you that not every place has haute cuisine or even a decent greasy spoon.  Before I went to China, for example, I always told people that I really liked Chinese food.  Well, after three and a half weeks in China, I was ready to say that what I actually liked was Chinese American food.  In fact, I'd never been so happy to eat at a McDonald's in my life as I was the time they dropped us off at one three weeks into the tour.  Sure, I liked lotus root and the Asian pears in China. And I'm not a picky eater, but after having to eat cubed, cold goose fat; hot camel hoof soup; stewed duck tongue; fried duck tongue; and various meats I couldn't identify, I was gravitating (when I was given a choice) toward noodles and whatever mystery veggies I could find.
English food is pretty grim as well: seriously overcooked vegetables, salads that were more mayo than lettuce, bland meat.  And the Scots?  Well, as much as I love that country, the only native foods I actually liked were haggis, neeps, tatties, and IRN-BRU.  Sometime I'll post on some of the weird things I found there.
In contrast, Germany, Austria, and Italy have great food.  And Spain's not bad either.  Hungary was a tasty place, and Finland was pretty good.
France -- ugh!  I have no idea why people talk about French food like it's good.  Every single thing I every ate there on two different trips was mediocre at best.  I remember one "salad" with dandelion greens, chunks of "bacon" which still had skin and bristles on it, and a poached egg on top.

All that being said, let me sum up Iceland this way: Go for the scenery, not the culinary experience.

Lonely Planet raved about the lamb soup at the hot pots.  Sival, our guide raved about the lamb soup at the hot pots.  I tried it; it was mediocre at best.  (I did find a deli sandwich of lamb, mayo, and cooked peas which was quite tasty, however.)
Sival also raved about Icelandic tomatoes, which are grown in hot houses from supposedly virgin soil (never used for plants before, so therefore theoretically packed with minerals).  Every tomato I had in Iceland was mealy. I was unimpressed.
So, what was good to eat in Iceland?
Well, Lonely Planet recommended this hot dog shop in the city center of Reykjavik.

Lonely Planet was right: these hot dogs were awesome!
At the recommendation of LP, I ordered what appeared to be the house specialty dog.  I forget what it was called, but it was huge, sausage-like dog, grilled and served with bacon, wilted red cabbage, fried onion, and mayo on a pannini-type "roll."  It was absolutely delicious!
It was also about $10.00.  But then everything is over-priced in Iceland.
Another food item on which LP was spot-on was Skyr.

Skyr is an Icelandic yogurt so thick that it makes Greek yogurt seem soft and runny in comparison.  It comes in flavors appealing to Americans: strawberry, banana, vanilla.  (Not like yogurt in the UK which comes in flavors like gooseberry.)  The sample in this photo was "banana split," which was a banana/chocolate/vanilla combo.
Skyr is wonderful stuff.  I hope some ambitious American company will start importing it soon.

So, lamb, the hot dogs, and Skyr.  That was about it for tasty stuff in Iceland.  The rest of it ranged from mediocre to ... well, mediocre.

And then there was the water.

I don't think anyone in Iceland has a hot water heater.
The cold water tastes very good; the hot water smells like the hot pots.  And it comes out SCALDING!  You have to be super-careful.  It's also so soft that it's impossible to tell if you've washed all the soap off or not.
I didn't mind the water situation, but it certainly was different.


  1. Their scenery is the main show, without a doubt. I surfed a bit and read the most entertaining and interesting article on their weird grocery stores, (among other things too) and was going to send you the link, but their dialogue turned to major swearing (really with all the words one could use they had to throw that in?) and I won't pass that on to anyone. I'm looking forward to more of your trip here, please do share!

  2. Which all goes to show that all of us have different tastes - and isn't that why we travel?

  3. Sorry, that last comment probably didn't make much sense. What I meant was, I can't understand why people travel if they are not open to, and ready to accept, differences from what they have at home.
    I don't want to see British fish and chip cafes in Spain, or MacDonald's in Belgium. I want to try different things, and even if I find some of them unpalatable, that's ok. There are no rules: in spite of my Scottish heritage, I can't stand haggis!
    I look forward to more photos :)