Recap: Edible Oddities Consumed in Iceland, plus What’s On the Menu Next Time

Soon after I returned to the States, I joined some friends at my church’s family camp.  Everyone was excited to see me and hear stories from my trip, and apparently people had been reading my blog, because more than one person asked me about/applauded me for all the interesting (and often disgusting) foods I tried.  I think I have written about everything I tried, but they’re spread out over several blog entries, so I thought it might be interesting to compile the list now.  So, without further ado, I present to you the list of…

Edible Oddities I Consumed in Iceland

(Plus several non-oddities…)

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Kjöt, Fiskur, og Egg (Meat, Fish, and Eggs)

  • puffin – Yes, the cute little black-and-white bird.  Can’t say I enjoyed it much; it’s very strong, almost gamey, and I wasn’t feeling well the day I ate it anyway, but if/when I marry Helgi, I suppose I’ll have to get used to it.

  • sviðasulta (sheep’s head jam) – This is what happens when you scrape out all the ooey gooey bits and pieces from inside a sheep’s head and smoosh it together into a gelatinous cube.  Just about as terrible as it sounds/looks.

  • harðfiskur – Unsalted fish, dried to a straw-like crisp in the sun and wind.

  • hákarl – The infamous putrefied Greenland shark.  (Disclaimer: I didn’t actually swallow it, but considering that Gordon Ramsay threw it up and Anthony Bourdain described it as the single worst food he’s ever eaten, I think that even keeping it in my mouth for 5 seconds counts as a success.)

  • horse meat sausage – I don’t think it was entirely horse meat; it actually tasted like lamb to me.  Anyway, I didn’t know it contained horse meat until after I had eaten it.  It was really quite good, although I’m still not much of a red meat person.

  • pylsa – Icelandic hot dog made with lamb, topped with crunchy fried onions, raw onions, ketchup, mustard, and remoulade.

  • lamb – I know this isn’t exactly an exotic food, but I don’t normally eat red meat and actually I don’t think I had ever eaten lamb before.
  • hangikjöt – Smoked lamb, thinly sliced and served with flatbrauð and smjör.  Not bad, but a little too smokey for my taste.
  • lax – I tried smoked and cured varieties, but they were both too raw for me.  I’ll stick to cooked smoked salmon.
  • this weird egg – I don’t remember what kind of bird this is from, but my host parents insisted they are SO much better than hen eggs.  That might be true, but I was too disturbed by the translucent white and the too-orange yolk to really register the taste.

  • súrsaðir hrútspungar – Soured ram’s testicles.  Actually one of the least heinous of the disgusting-sounding traditional foods.  Just a little sour.

  • fiskibollur – Like meatballs made of fish.  Not bad, not good.  I don’t think fish should be quite that chewy.
  • fiskbúðingur (fish pudding) – I could have translated the ingredients on the can (yes, it comes in a can), but I figured it was safer not to know.  It comes out of the can in one big cylinder, then is sliced and pan-fried.  Like the fiskibollur, it was a little too chewy for comfort…
  • steinbítur, ýsa, karfi, og meira fiskar – I ate a LOT of fish, and I didn’t always know what kind it was.  I do know that I loved the steinbítur and karfi, but found the monkfish rather questionable.

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Brauð (Bread)

  • rúgbrauð – A dense, dark, sweet rye bread made with molasses.  One of my favorites.  I need to find a recipe.
  • pönnukökur – Icelandic pancakes.  Basically a crepe.  Served with rhubarb jam and whipped cream or simply with sugar. I need to attempt these at home.

  • hveitikökurFlat white bread, similar to pita bread.  I ate it for breakfast with smjör and cheese.  Mmm.
  • flatbrauð – Not sure how to describe this.  As the name suggests, it’s very flat, it has a mildly sweet taste, and it’s often paired with smjör and hangikjöt.

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Sykur (Sugary Treats)

  • rababarasulta – Rhubarb jam.  I don’t usually like rhubarb jam in the States, but I think it’s the official jam of Iceland, and it’s very good.  Seems to be served with just about anything, from pönnukökur to meatballs.
  • hjónabandssæla (‘happy marriage cake’) – Oatmeal cake with jam filling.  I tried some from a bakarí in Reykjavík, enjoyed the one Ásta made in Hvolsvöllur, and ordered some on my flight home (the flight attendant was extremely impressed that I could pronounce it correctly).
  • hrísgrjónagrautur (rice pudding) – I tried three versions of this.  One was already prepared and just had to be heated on the stove; one was homemade by Hrafnhildur, and one came in a little individual-serving container with a side of caramel sauce (hrísmjólk með karamellusósu).  They were all magical.

  • Prince Polo bars – Okay, so they’re actually Polish, but they are well-loved in Iceland, and I can see why; they’re pretty tasty.  Too bad they’re made by Kraft.

  • skyr – A thick dairy product, similar to Greek yogurt.  Love love love it!

  • Nói Síríus chocolate – Yum yum, although I much prefer the dark varieties (which you have to find in the baking section; apparently your average Icelander thinks chocolate over 45% cacao content is not suitable for direct consumption).
  • black licorice – Eh.  I tried the sweet kind and the salty kind and the in-between kind and while it no longer makes me want to gag, it’s far from my favorite.

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Drykkir (Drinks)

  • Icelandic moss tea –  Mild flavor; nothing too exciting.
  • kaffi kaffi kaffi – Mmm.  Icelanders don’t know what weak coffee is, and that’s exactly how it should be.
  • Egils appelsín (orange soda) – Not much of a soda drinker, but this was pretty good.  It was also good in combination with maltextrakt (the mix is known as jólaöl).

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Although that is quite the list and I am certainly proud of it, I did miss out on a few important items of Icelandic cuisine.  Oh darn. Guess I’ll have to go back.

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On the Menu for Next Time:

  • whale meat – I actually had the chance to try this but I didn’t take a piece in time and then it was all gone.  One of my few regrets.
  • svið (sheep’s head) – I could have tried this at our Taste of Iceland dinner, but I refrained, which was good, because as it turns out, our particular sheep’s heads had not been cooked…

  • ástarpungar – A round doughnut-like pastry with raisins.
  • brennivín – Icelandic schnapps.  The name literally means ‘burning wine.’
  • Icelandic moss soup – I don’t think this is exactly common dinner faire any more, but I’m assuming you can find it in some tourist-serving restaurants…

That’s all I can come up with.  Can you think of anything else I missed that I should add to my list?

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catching up on ye old blog: return to reykjavík

Góðan daginn, friends, family, and random readers!  I’m writing to you stateside after a week-long adventure tour and a 24-hour trip home.  It’s hard to believe I’m back and that I’ve really been away for 6 weeks.  I’m jet-lagged and a bit cranky and definitely not ready to process my trip as a whole, but I want to start catching up on some of the daily happenings before I forget what they were.  The last time I posted I was about to leave Patró, so that’s where I’ll pick up.

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Bless, bless, Patró!

Thursday I had my last day of work at Oddi, and we finished early!  Ekki meira fiskar!!!  In the afternoon I spent some time at my beloved Stúkuhúsið studying, reflecting, and writing some thank-you cards.

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Stúkuhúsið study time

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After dinner, Sædís and I drove over to Tálknafjörður, picked up Ástrós and Berglind, and went to the hot pot.  I didn’t take any photos for fear of destroying my camera in the water, but it was on a hill overlooking the fjord, and in the evening sunlight it was perfect.  There’s this naturally occurring green slime that coats the pools, so Berglind and I had fun attacking each other with it.  We also enjoyed watching a crazy German tourist lower himself inch-by-inch into the hottest pot until he was submerged up to his neck.  He must have felt some sense of triumph, but he was clearly in some pain.  We stuck with the safer, cooler pots.

We dropped off Ástrós and Berglind and I said goodbye to their family, then Sædís and I hurried back to Patró so we could stop and get ice cream at Albína before they closed.  Back at the house, we ate ice cream and I gave my host family a Washington photo book and some Theo chocolate (I found the lightest bars I brought and kept the really dark ones for myself!).  Then we played a little game.  I wrote down some Washington place/ferry names (Puyallup, Chehalis, Kaleetan) and Sædís and Hrafnhildur tried to pronounce them.  They did pretty well!  Then Sædís countered with Icelandic words like lögreglumaðurinn and Kirkjubæjarklaustur.  I know my pronunciation was far from perfect, but it must have been passable, because Sæmundur seemed incredibly impressed and once again told me that I must study Icelandic at the university.  Trust me, I don’t need any more convincing.  If I could start tomorrow, I would.

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Sædís og ég

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Friday morning I made the rounds in Patró, saying goodbye to my friends at Albína, Oddi, and the Stúkuhúsið.

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Góða ferð, Brynja! Gaman að kynnast þér!

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Last Swiss Mocha from the Stúkuhúsið… for now. Takk fyrir mig, Steina!

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Then Hrafnhildur and I set out for Bíldudalsflugvöllur (Bíldudalur airport).  We got there quite early and it was crazy windy outside so we sat in the car visiting for awhile.  Eventually we went inside and waited waited waited some more.  A guy about my age sat down across from us and Hrafnhildur started talking to him, then explained to me that he’s her daughter’s ex-husband’s son.  Or something like that.  Well of course he is!  Everyone knows everyone in those parts.

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Bíldudalsflugvöllur

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This is an airport. There’s a runway hiding behind the buildings.

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View of the fjord from the airport

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Anyway, we said our goodbyes and I once again boarded a tiny tiny plane.  I think that Swiss Mocha was a bad idea because I was rather jittery.  When you fly out of Bíldudalur, you have to taxi down the runway, make a u-turn, then take off in the other direction and quickly circle back in the air to clear the mountains and head south.  It’s a bit dizzying and nerve-wracking.  For the most part the flight was smooth, but about 10 minutes outside of Reykjavík a shrill alarm sounded from the cockpit and I swear I saw the pilot reach over and turn it off.  We were tipping to the side quite a bit because we were turning quite sharply, and it happened again.  The pilot seemed unconcerned, but I’m telling you, it did not seem like a happy sound.  Landing in Reykjavík requires some more dizzying turns, but the upside is that I got a lovely view of Bessastaðir (the president’s home) and Hallgrímskirkja in the distance.  In any case, I was incredibly happy to be back on solid ground.

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Gaman að sjáðu aftur, Reykjavík!

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Ásta Sól picked me up and we headed back to the guesthouse.  Most of the group had already arrived, so I settled into my room and then spent some time catching up with people in the back house.  Then I headed out to wander the city on my own.  If I felt reunited with the group, I felt even more reunited with this beautiful, vibrant city.  Of course I had to return to the bookstores, check out the tourist shops one last time, and enjoy lunch at Durum.  I also went to Te og Kaffi for the first time, ordered some sort of tea slushie drink, and can proudly say that I understood the barista when she told me (in Icelandic) they were out of oolong tea and would white tea be okay instead?

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That night, we met up at Ásta Sól’s house and walked to Kex Hostel for dinner.  Kex seems like a true hipster hangout.  They served us dinner family-style: French chicken in a red wine sauce, dill roasted potatoes, rolls with smjör, and skyr brulée for dessert.  We were joined by a couple of Snorri alums as well: Stefan, who did the program last year and just moved to Reykjavík; and Helgi, Katie and Breanna’s cousin who did the program in 2001 (I think) and has since lived in Iceland and is completely fluent in Icelandic.  Great food, great conversation, but I don’t do transitions well so I was still trying to adjust to the idea of being back with everyone.

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Most of the group went out for one last night of partying, and although I’m not into that scene, Jolene convinced me to go with her to the Dubliner to see her cousin play. He didn’t go onstage until 12:30, so we took our time walking and stopped near Austurvöllur for some  midnight snacks – a pylsa for Jolene and a waffle for me.  The Dubliner was actually pretty tame and we listened to Pálmey for 45 minutes or so.  He even sang ‘Jolene’ for his frænka.  On the way back we stopped near Austurvöllur again and decided to have 4th meal.  While we were eating, most of our group walked by on their way to Kaffibarinn, but we decided to sit that one out (crowds + drunkenness = grumpy Julie).  We made our way back to the guesthouse, did some packing, and finally got some sleep.

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The next morning we were supposed to be outside, packed, ready to board the bus at 9 AM, so naturally, my alarm failed to go off and I didn’t wake up until 8:45.  It was okay, though, because as it turns out we weren’t anywhere near ready to leave until maybe 10.  Something to know about the Snorri itinerary: 9 AM means 9:30 or 9:45 – except for when it really does mean 9.

Our ‘bus’ was really more of a van, and there were just enough seats for the 16 of us plus Ásta Sól and our driver, Kent.  It was a bit of a tight squeeze, but somehow we fit all of our luggage into the tiny trailer, settled in, and set off.  We didn’t get very far, though – just across town to Ásta’s to pick up our food provisions for the trip.  After that we were even cozier, but we were finally ready to once again say goodbye to Reykjavík and really, truly hit the road.

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…to be continued…