Thursday, March 26, 2009

Eating and Drinking in Iceland

With the currency exchange between the US Dollar and the Icelandic Kronur about $1 to 110 ISK, figuring out conversion was pretty simple and prices are competitive with what I expected to pay in the US. Dividing by 110, or, moving the decimal point over to the left by two and subtracting a little, usually gave me a close approximation to what I would be paying in USD. Most of the time, I viewed the price (i.e. 2,990 ISK) as simply missing the decimal point (I saw it as $29.90 minus a bit).

Eating out wasn’t as terrible as I had anticipated, price-wise. In early 2008, $1 was worth about 65 ISK, so a 2,990 entrĂ©e was almost $45 instead of the $27 I paid. It made me less concerned about eating on the cheap, and instead became a bit adventurous with what I tasted and how much it cost.

In most places, a 500 mL beer was about 650-750 ISK, or about $6-$7 for a 16 ounce beer. As tipping is not expected in Iceland, my $5-$6 price plus $1 tip for a 12 ounce pint in Boston suddenly became more expensive per ounce than that same beer in Reykjavik. Unfortunately, the beer selection wasn’t too extensive anywhere, with most places having just a few on tap (often just the local lager Viking), and a few more available in bottles.

Wine and spirits, however, were far pricier in Iceland. Most bottles of wine started at 4,500 ISK, and most cocktails were 1,200-1,400 ISK. We skipped wine and spirits and stuck with beer, often applying the savings to appetizers or additional rounds of beer.

Twice for lunch I had soups – one was a hearty soup with vegetables and reindeer meat. Rudolph…or perhaps it was Dasher or Dancer…tasted quite good. Another soup was a clear broth with potatoes, carrots, and lamb. I had fish a number of times – including halibut, a cod mash au gratin, and whale.

Yes, whale. As in Moby Dick. As in Fudgie the Whale. As in the Vineyard Vines mascot.


The endangered off-the-menu-besides-in-places-like-Iceland-Japan-Norway-and The Faroe Islands-whale. I must say, it was delicious. We sampled whale sashimi and grilled whale, which tasted and looked like a thin, tender beef steak. I know there is a lot of controversy over commercial whaling and eating whale, so I’ll simply chalk it up to an experience.

I also tried a bird called puffin. Our guide book said that puffin are one of Iceland’s most beloved birds. Naturally, the Icelandic manner of showing such affection to a winged creature is by eating it. Puffin are black and white like penguins, but feature bright orange on their beaks and in their eyes. Apparently, they are known for clumsy, crash-landings and goofy in-air antics (we did not actually see any puffin that weren’t served to us on a plate with mustard sauce). Puffin taste tender and succulent, but not quite like duck and certainly not like chicken.

I managed to skip the hakarl (the putrid shark meat that smells of ammonia after decaying underground for months and being hung to dry for months longer). I did see some packages of it at the flea market, and we drove past Bjarnarhofn, the farm on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula where hakarl is proudly produced. But I did not sample it.

I did, however, try the apertif served with hakarl - Brennivin. It’s an Icelandic alcohol, which translates into “Black Death.” It sounds far worse than it is – actually, I kind of liked it. Brennivin reminded me of Greek Ouzo, much less sweet (and far less sweet than the Italian Sambuca). Brennivin is flavored with caraway seed, and it was fiery enough to have warmed my esophagus for a minute after having sipped it. I saw tons of brennivin at the Duty-Free shop in Keflavik airport, and plan to pick up a small bottle on my way back home from London (I have a two-hour layover in Reykjavik).

Perhaps I’ll host a Sunday Funday with my friends in Boston and feature Brennivin as the signature cocktail.

1 comment:

Texan said...

Woohoo! Sunday Funday with an Icelandic beverage. Let's do it!