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Sometimes anticipation of the delicacies of a destination excites us. Other times we feel trepidatious. In the case of Iceland, we were under the impression that we might return from our trip a little lighter. After all, we had no intention of consuming putrefied shark, boiled whale blubber or roasted sheep’s head. But none of those things were on the menus we sampled. While our diet plan was thwarted, we are happy to report that we ate well throughout the country.
The national food of Iceland is not, as the internet would have you believe, hákarl (fermented Greenland shark). It is lamb, sourced from hormone-free animals that have spent their lives peacefully grazing on the country’s pristine pasturelands. We had tender lamb rib-eye, hearty lamb stew (kjötsúpa) and even lamb hot dogs (pylsa), popular street fare slathered in a sweet brown mustard, remoulade and onions both fried and raw.
Fish, of course, is ubiquitous, so we ate quantities of fresh salmon, cod, ling and herring. Langoustines were another staple we enjoyed, predominantly in “lobster soup” with spoonfuls of heavy cream. Occasionally, reindeer pâté graced the menu, and once we were surprised to find horse (yes, those adorable Icelandic ponies are also eaten, albeit rarely).
A great way to get to know the country’s cooking is by taking a tour with Reykjavík Food Walk. The most charming of guides, Dagur Lárusson, who is also a local television sportscaster, led us around downtown to taste the dishes of his home country: mini tacos made with fried langoustines and date purée; lamb medallions with parsnips and carrots; traditional lamb soup; and scrumptious hot dogs from the Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur food stand, which opened in 1937.
And although it wasn’t on the menu at any restaurant, that dreaded shark turned up on the food tour. Typically eaten during the midwinter festival of Thorrablót, it’s a rite of passage for any visitor. So we tested our Viking mettle by trying the ammonia-laden meat. Let’s just say that we were happy to wash it down with a burning shot of Brennivín aquavit. Skál!