Bewitched by Icelandic Food!
Updated: Mar 29
Icelanders have long enjoyed one of the highest life expectancy in the world and I can’t help but wonder if the country’s clean mountain air, unpolluted soil and water . . . plus a bewitching diet . . . have something to do with this?
Nowadays, abundance, convenience and creativity characterize the modern Icelandic food culture. I’m happy to say though, that fish is still one of the most common dishes served in Icelandic homes.
At the beginning of the 20th century, fish could easily be served in some households for breakfast, lunch and dinner – fresh, dried, salted, smoked or cured. This however changed, and when I was growing up we ate a variety of fish dishes 3 - 5 times a week compared to about 2 – 3 times presently!
Traditionally, few vegetables were eaten in Iceland with fresh salad greens being a relatively recent commodity. Due to Iceland’s cold climate condition, growing vegetables has always been a challenge.
Seasonal root vegetables such as potatoes, rutabagas, turnips, beets, kale, cabbage, carrots and rhubarb (treated as a fruit in Iceland), when available, were used in many traditional Icelandic dishes.
Now things have really changed! A mixture of exotic seasonings, salad greens and herbs as well as many veggie varieties and fruit (imported or grown in Icelandic greenhouses) are available all year round . . . transforming commonly used local recipes as well as the diet of many modern-day Icelanders.
On my visit to Iceland in September, I was impressed with the variety of food selections I encountered. Wherever I looked or traveled I stumbled upon a dizzying number of tempting choices that nearly always tickled my taste buds! Some of my favorite were as follows:
Home-made Icelandic Fish Soup!
With an abundance of top quality fresh seafood, many types of fish or shellfish soups are served around the country. What type of soup will depend on family traditions and the catch of the day! Cream based soups are very popular, but so are nutritious hearty stew like fish soups.
The fish soup/stew you see in these two photos was an ultra-delicious main course served at a dinner party I attended at my brother´s house . . . which included 3 types of fish, squid, scallops, mussels and shrimp.
My sister-in-law made the stock from scratch and for a special touch we seasoned it with Greek saffron (I brought with me from Greece) and for extra smoothness we added quite a bit of full fat cream! It was truly stupendous and even better the following day . . . . for lunch!
The “fish pan” I enjoyed with a friend at the cozy Messinn restaurant in central Reykjavik was truly outstanding! The fresh cod neck with veggies, cooked in a ginger infused cream-broth and served in a sizzling cast-iron skillet was delicious, nicely presented and reasonably priced!
Another fish dish caught my attention at a specialty food store / restaurant called Borðið (Table) in the western part of Reykjavik. Here, we ordered the day's special; steamed fresh cod served under a bed of veggies and fried seaweed. . . . creative deliciousness!
Except for my favorite Hangikjöt (smoked Icelandic lamb) and a must taste traditional specialty, this time around most of my meals included some sort of fish and lots of tempting salads, both at home and in restaurants.
Simple Veggie Salad!
Sometimes, a simple salad really hits the spot! This zucchini/carrot salad I enjoyed in the country lodge of my friend at Skógar was just perfect! The tasty strips of these Icelandic grown veggies, with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and some black pepper, were just amazing paired with thin slices of smoked Icelandic lamb!
Duck Salad at a local Gem!
At the Snaps Bistro Bar, with its warm and inviting old world atmosphere & classy interior, I had one of the best salads of my stay! I had intended to order a steak with fries but instead (with no regrets) I opted for a duck salad made with salad greens, sweet potatoes, orange, boiled egg halves and a grilled pear wedge!
Spicy Beef Salad with Mango!
With the availability of all types of salad greens and exotic fruit, salad bars have become a popular addition to Reykjavik’s (capital of Iceland) food scene in recent years.
In 2013 the LOCAL salad bar chain opened its first restaurant in the capital’s finance hub with great success. Now, it can be found in 4 different locations and every time I’m in Iceland I make sure to try one of their delicious salads for lunch or early dinner.
The ingredients are always fresh and I really like being able to choose my own salad components . . . like the spicy beef salad with lots of mango (seen in photo) and other goodies that I loved. Scrumptious . . as well as a healthy choice for my personal dietary requirements!
By now many of you may wonder about drinks and sweet endings! As always, cold tap water and piping hot coffee or tea are always high on my list . . . no matter what time of day!
However, when it comes to sweet endings, like most Icelanders, I have a passion for ice-cream . . . that I promise you is . . . totally bewitching too!
More on that yummy subject coming soon . . .