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Driving Iceland’s Ring Road: The Food

Jun 7, 2022 | Travel | 0 comments

Ask anyone who knows me-I’m a picky eater. And the one thing I absolutely despise is seafood. This quirk has never been as challenging as it was in Iceland, where fish is a mainstay of everyone’s diet.

My willingness to broaden my culinary horizons was first tested at The Hungry Chef in Reykjavik. Here, I cautiously nibbled away at my Beef Bourguignon, prepared with produce I normally wouldn’t have touched with a ten-foot pole! But the dish, with its layers of meat and colorful vegetables, had been so lovingly prepared there was no way I was going to hurt the chef’s feelings. Only open a short time, the restaurant already boasts an impressive, internationally-flavored menu. The Hungarian goulash soup was to die for and the purple mashed potatoes that accompanied my entrée were mouthwatering.

How does this apprehension about certain foods affect me as a travel writer? First off-I deal with it proactively by taking more exotic food destination trips with an adventurous eater, someone I can count on to try local delicacies and share their impressions of the country’s food scene. And, I’ve honed my ability to describe meals using every sense but taste. I know I’m not the only finicky explorer out there so take heart. If I can find delicious things to eat while vacationing, anyone can!

Favorite Restaurants

Vogafjos (Myvatn)

This farm-to-table eating establishment not only serves fresh, delicious food, they offer a good selection of wines, not something you should take lightly. Early on in my trip I’d discovered the choice of wines, especially in the smaller towns, is frequently limited to “red’ or “white” and the beer is typically Gull (a pilsner). Given this, I was thrilled to order a nice, dry Cabernet to accompany my meal!

At Vogafjos, the cows are ever-present, doing their “cow thing” while guests dine (close-up on the window in the photo to see what I mean). When you tire of watching them, sit back and enjoy the ambiance of the airy, light-filled dining room or take in the view out of one of the many windows.

Their Icelandic meat soup was wonderful. With chunks of vegetables swimming in a hearty meat broth, it was the perfect ending to a busy day outdoors. Neil enjoyed his traditional lamb dish too. Five stars and, if I return to Iceland, I’d definitely spend the night here too.

Grillmarkaourinn (Reyjkavik)

We learned about this restaurant, that mixes traditional and modern Icelandic foods, while lounging in the Sky Lagoon. Nancy from Wisconsin told us it was the best meal she’d had on her trip. She also warned us that it’s impossible to find with Google Maps and gave us directions which included landmarks and ducking down an alleyway behind Caruso’s restaurant! The ambiance is rustic, but sophisticated; lots of wood and stone, funky lighting and candles, but people do dress for dinner so I was glad I’d put on nicer clothes.

After ordering refreshing cocktails from our charming blonde waitress, we perused the menu. On their website the chefs/owners explain they support regional farmers because “It is difficult to cook good food from bad ingredients” and you can absolutely taste that sentiment in their carefully sourced and prepared menu items. There was steak, potatoes, and salad for me (yay!) while Neil, encouraged by Rikey, bravely ordered whale for his appetizer and horse (cringe) for his main dish. The whale came on a small grill (here, presentation is half the fun) and was prepared with onion-soy dressing, chilis, and lime. He said it was indescribably delicious-tasting more like a good cut of beef than a seafood and so tender it literally melted in his mouth.

The horse tenderloin was prepared rare with a mushroom glaze and was also a great hit. We ate slowly, savoring every bite of our last supper in Iceland as we reminisced about the highlights of our amazing drive.

As if that wasn’t enough gastronomic excitement for the night, our shared dessert came adorned with a ginormous sparkler, courtesy of Rikey who’d apparently remembered me saying our trip was part conference and part belated 60th birthday present for my husband. Very festive!

Don’t miss

Hot dogs are an integral part of the Icelandic culture and live up to their reputation. I got mine at a local stand I’d been eying in Reykjavik since I arrived for the conference. It’s been in business since 1937 and is clearly a local institution-there’s always a line. Get yours with everything and chase it down with an ice-cold Coke. It really was the best hot dog I’ve ever eaten and I’m a huge Zweigle’s fan!

Fun fact

Like us, Icelanders have certain cliches. My favorite was their spin on “That’s the icing on the cake”. They say, “That’s the raisin at the end of the hot dog!”

I’d heard that ice cream is a much-loved dessert in Iceland, but we couldn’t seem to find any we liked enough to order a second time Until a waitress at Hnoss, across from the Edition, who was from Akureyri (aka capital of the North) told us people stood in long lines there for Brynja-the oldest and most popular ice cream shop in the country. We made a point of stopping there and it was 100% better than any other brand we’d tried. A cross between frozen custard and hard ice cream, it’s made from natural ingredients and comes in only a few flavors-including vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. However, there are multitudes of candy toppings, fruits, and sauces to add before you take your dish or cone outside to a bench where you can relax and watch the world go by.

Another Fun Fact

At Vogafjos, you might get the chance to combine these two favorite Icelandic treats into one special dessert-homemade hot dog ice cream adorned with whipped cream and chocolate sauce. Naturally!

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