Iceland: Alice’s New Retirement Plan

14 Nov
You can't make this up.

You can’t make this up.

It’s been nearly two months since my plane from Iceland landed me back home in YYZ.  I’ve been struggling to write about the trip because it is without a doubt positioned as at least 2nd place in this dynamic mental list I keep of favourite countries I’ve visited (mind you, there are many multi-way ties in this ranking system), and I just can’t seem to narrow down what I should share.  I could truly wax poetic for days on the beautiful scenery, the just and progressive social structure, and the endless flow of creativity and artisan mastery we kept witnessing. I’m constantly torn between selflessly offering to buy people a plane ticket so they too can experience this magical fairytale land, and selfishly keeping mute in hopes that the crescendo of public interest tapers off.  Why?  Well, Internet, I want to retire there and I don’t want it to be crowded; I plan to be a crotchety old lady with my sheep and mountains and morning hikes and handmade sweaters.

So let’s keep this entry simple and less romantic.  Did I eat/drink?  Heck. Yeah.

Reykjavik

We spent some time at the legendary record store and record label 12 Tónar and when the free espressos (commonly offered by business owners to their patrons) just couldn’t cure our thirst anymore, the owner recommended a great joint called Kaldi Bar Cafe. There, the lead of Icelandic band Grisalappalisa served us a fairly decent ale from the Kaldi brewery.

Kaldi Bar, Reykjavik, Iceland

Kaldi Bar, Reykjavik, Iceland

Two things you should know: 1) It was hard maintaining composure when this guy poured me a pint (aside: yes, that’s the guy whose childhood photo graces the record cover) and 2) Iceland only just ended prohibition on March 1 1989 (March 1 is known as ‘Beer Day’).  This microbrew wouldn’t have passed as particularly memorable (case and point: I can’t remember it), but knowing that they have only just begun building a craft beer culture, I recall being quite impressed. These folks catch up fast.  Watch out, they will soon produce an export worth vying for.

Kaldi Bar, Reykjavik, Iceland

Kaldi Bar, Reykjavik, Iceland

The bar itself is a beautiful escape filled with handmade rustic furniture, an old piano, and the bar was brass plated.  I’m sorry it was so dark (aka I was too drunk) to take a proper photo.  If I lived in the area, you can bet this would be my hang.

Höfn

By the time we reached Höfn, we’ve had several of nights of eating re-hydrated chili, hardboiled eggs, beef jerky and other camping staples, so we were excited for a ‘real meal’ and a chance to put a napkin on our laps again.  Off we went to Kaffi Hornið, a 10 minute walk from our cottage.

Kaffi Hornið, Höfn, Iceland

Kaffi Hornið, Höfn, Iceland

Höfn is a fishing town, known mostly for its homard but what I was craving was arctic char.  Perfectly grilled, this fatty fish was almost sweet and certainly very tender.

Kaffi Hornið, Höfn, Iceland

Kaffi Hornið, Höfn, Iceland

My drink wasn’t the best pairing, but I had to try Vatnajökull Frozen-in-Time, a local beer named after the largest glacier in Iceland (and Europe!) and of course, brewed with ‘local glacial water’.  Now, I believe like 99% of all tap water there is glacial (luxury amiright?) so I think it’s fair to say most beers you find will be brewed with ‘local glacial water’.  Anyway, it poured a nice amber colour, malty in taste, a little sweet and reminiscent of a bock.

Seyðisfjörður

This little art haven of a port town (population 668), tucked in a valley between towering mountains, was my favourite stop and it was soon evident that Skaftfell Centre for Visual Art was a major factor for my adoration.  Part art museum, part gastropub, part clubhouse accessible to all, one could safely assume that within these walls of Skaftfell many artists got together over some wine and conjured up fantastical ideas well into the night.  Oh, and their food was the best we had this entire trip.

Skaftfell, Seyðisfjörður, Iceland

Skaftfell, Seyðisfjörður, Iceland

We started off with a seared minke whale with a balsamic reduction.  Not knowing anything about the animal, I confess I had to do a quick Google at the dinner table and confirmed that minke whales are indeed listed as ‘least concern’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.  And oh thank god because they are delicious.  The texture was not unlike beef and the flavour closer to a fatty fish sashimi.

Skaftfell, Seyðisfjörður, Iceland

Skaftfell, Seyðisfjörður, Iceland

My main was probably the most delicious rack of lamb I’ve ever had.  Sheep are in abundance in Iceland and lamb/mutton were offered on menus everywhere.  Beef was rare and chicken even more rare.  A nice break, as lamb is usually so expensive in restaurants in North America.  Anyway, just imagine perfect succulent medium-rare lamb chops, creamy mashed potatoes and a port sauce.  Served on your grandma’s china with a group of artists laughing in one corner, and old men playing dice in the other.  Heaven.

Mývatn

Mývatn is a large eutrophic lake surrounded by active volcanoes.  The Ring Road (aka Highway 1, aka the route we took to tour the country) treats this lake like a giant roundabout and it takes about 40 minutes to drive around in its entirety.  We stopped and camped on the Eastern end of the lake and ended up having one of our meals at the famous tourist destination, Vogafjos Cowshed Cafe.  And yes, this was upon my insistence.

Vogafjós Cowshed Cafe, Mývatn, Iceland

Vogafjós Cowshed Cafe, Mývatn, Iceland

We were seated next to a window that showed where cows get milked (mechanically) and as you can see, I was offered a sample of the fresh unpasteurized milk.  Was it weird sipping warm cow body temperature milk while looking into the eyes of the cow?  Yeah.  Yeah, it was.

The menu boasted typical ‘farm fare’ and featured their specialties: fresh cheese, smoked lamb, smoked arctic char, and hverabrauð, a sweet molasses bread that is slow-baked for 24 hours underground by natural geothermal heat.

Vogafjós Cowshed Cafe, Mývatn, Iceland

Vogafjós Cowshed Cafe, Mývatn, Iceland

I ordered the smoked lamb and fresh cheese salad (which had an incredibly generous serving of smoked lamb at bottom of the bowl!).  I confess, the lamb was not seasoned to my liking and I regretfully left most of it behind.  But the vegetables were very fresh and the best we had on this trip (this country was not known for its access to fresh fruits and vegetables).

Vogafjós Cowshed Cafe, Mývatn, Iceland

Vogafjós Cowshed Cafe, Mývatn, Iceland

Smoked artic char on hverabrauð accompanied my salad.  Again, the smoked seasoning they used was not to my liking but the bread was gobbled up – sweet, moist and dense, like an undercooked pound cake.

Folks, that is a sampling of the awesome foods I got to sample in Iceland.  If you want to hear more about my trip, I’m happy to take a break from Googling Iceland real estate prices and how other Canadian expats found work abroad.  It’s a beautiful country that holds my heart and I can’t wait to return…perhaps for Airwaves ’14?!

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2 Responses to “Iceland: Alice’s New Retirement Plan”

  1. Sverrir D Halldórsson November 14, 2013 at 1:09 pm #

    Grate article, but just a few comments!
    Firstly to explain why common minke whale (along with all other whales) are on IUCN red list – Purely political, as the stocks of minke and fin whales around Iceland are very abundant. It would be like putting al chicken on IUCN red list and ban chicken from being slaughtered because some species in S-America is endangered!

    And you wrote: “the lamb was not seasoned to my liking” and “the smoked seasoning they used”
    To correct you on the seasoning of the smoked lamb and artic char. They are only salted then hung up in smoke house where smoke from burning wood and/or old dry sheep faeces ….. yes true! is used. PURE NATURE!
    Al the best from Iceland
    Sverrir

    • aliceyyz November 14, 2013 at 1:18 pm #

      Thanks for reading! Great to learn about how they smoke lamb meat.

      And yes, agreed that minke whale is in abundance. The list said it was not of concern!

      I’m definitely looking forward to returning to Iceland.

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