Why Iceland food’s not so hot

For me, half the fun of going to a new country is trying out the food. With every place quickly becoming like every other place,  it’s sometimes the only way you know you’re in another country. Besides the language, of course.

siriusI’d already been introduced to Icelandic chocolate at Whole Foods. Subliminally, I think that’s one of the reasons I wanted to go there. Because I was charmed by the wrapping — it looked so other-worldly.

yogurtAnd I’d had Icelandic yogurt from my local supermarket. So I felt right at home with the local brand.

caviar and yogurtAlong with the traditional Scandinavian flatbread.

cheeseAs with any country where farming’s big, the cheese was also excellent.

butterAnd the butter was dreamy.

pastry betterThe pastries looked yummy. Truthfully, they weren’t nearly as good as they looked. Tasteless, gummy dough.

menu circleI was ready to move on to more substantial fare. But one glance at this menu at a joint around the corner in Reykjavik dulled my appetite in a big way.

Fermented shark that supposedly reeked of ammonia? How do you say no thanks in Icelandic? (Even Anthony Bourdain, with his iron gut, didn’t care for it.) Sounded to me like a worse version of beef jerky, which has never touched my lips either.

Sheep-head jelly with turnip? What the what?

And rye bread ice cream? Nope. I once tried lobster ice cream, and that was enough of a culinary adventure for me.

The bigger blow to my appetite was while we were in a nice upscale deli in Reykjavik. There were the nice cheeses …

chocolateAnd the nice designer chocolates.

And in the deli case, the nice cooked horse meat. No, I wouldn’t dream of assaulting your senses with a picture. (This was especially jarring for me; I haven’t been able to watch the film War Horse because I didn’t want to see the horse hurt.)

Puffins/Wikimedia Commons

Puffins/Wikimedia Commons

The worst part was, even nice restaurants served horse. Along with whale meat and cute little birds called puffins.

OK, OK, I know it’s tradition. And I know horses and birds of all kinds are on menus everywhere.

I know I’m being a hypocrite and I should be a vegetarian. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t do well without some animal protein. It’s usually fish, chicken, eggs or cheese. I did have lamb for Christmas dinner in Reykjavik — I didn’t want to be rude to my hosts and refuse it, , but I didn’t feel good about it.

And I never eat duck. And I’ve never eaten a bird. Not that I know of, anyway.

Here’s what really makes me squirm: Horseback riding and whale-watching are big attractions in Iceland. Some horses, in fact are prized and cherished.

Woe to the others that aren’t.

And I’d read that some of the whale-watching tours sometimes encounter the whaling expeditions. Sorry, but ewwww.

I could stomach eating barnacles elsewhere in the Atlantic, but not all this.

So we had no choice but to eat everything but. Lots more cheese and bread. And fish.

Being that the place is an island in the Atlantic, with lots of rivers and lakes, there was plenty of the latter to choose from.

bagels and loxHere’s the sort-of local version of bagels and lox.

catfishAnd my excellent catfish lunch at The Blue Lagoon. Yep, catfish. From the Deep North ‘sted of the Deep South. Thankfully, there were no horses, whales or sheep heads anywhere on the menu.

blue lagoon restaurantI swear the Blue Lagoon food would have been just as good without the view. Really.

hot dog

I did break down and had a much-touted Icelandic hot dog on my way out at the airport. I wanted so much to like any Icelandic food. Granted, it was a regular old dog, and not one from the famous hot dog stand (unfortunately, we never made it there) in the center of Reykjavik, that looks to be the Iceland equivalent of Pink’s in Hollywood.

Sorry to say, the Iceland wiener was nothing special. Par for the course for the food in general, I’m afraid.

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