Icelandic Adventures pt 2: Eating in Iceland

A good rule of thumb for eating in Iceland: if you are going to be there- particularly in Reykjavik- for more than a few days, find yourself a grocery store. Food, even fast food, is expensive in. Fortunately for me, there was a 24-hour grocery store about 100 meters from my hotel. Unfortunately for me, the American and British brands I was familiar with were triple the price of the Icelandic brands. Because I wasn’t so in love with Kellogg’s that I was willing to pay the equivalent of $9.00 for a single box of cereal, I went with the Icelandic brands.

Fun fact: Icelandic is a very different language from English, and Icelandic brands have labels that are written in Icelandic. Special note: I can’t read Icelandic. As I was on a budget, I decided that pasta is pasta and granola is granola, regardless of what’s written on the packaging. I still have no idea what the little seeds in the granola were, but they were edible, and with the addition of a bit of sugar, the granola was just fine.

Some grocery stores are open 24-hours, and some close at 6:00 or 7:00 pm, so pay attention to the signs.

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Icelanders are not bothered by cool weather. Outdoor cafe tables are everywhere. Bring a jacket and take advantage of the outdoor seating. Watching the world go by while lingering over  coffee is way more fun than staring at a wall while lingering over coffee.

Public House Gastropub, Laugevegur 24, 101 Reykjavik – I practically stumbled in here after arriving late back to Reykjavik after a long day’s driving and hiking. Because I have the terrible habit of getting caught up in whatever I’m doing (wandering, photographing things, etc.), I often forget to eat while traveling, and so I’ll just go into the first place that’s open and serves food. That was the case here.

They were busy, and so there were only a couple of seats available at the bar, one of which I took while a friendly server brought me a glass of water and a menu. They serve tapas, so the servings are small. Most of their customers arrive in groups and so they share the food, but I was on my own and didn’t get to share anything. Initially, I’d decided on the reindeer croquettes (because why not?), but upon discovering that they were out of those, I ordered the pork belly and a seasonal Icelandic beer. Both were tasty.

The servers were friendly, the decor was fun, and the music was… American. Strange thing about traveling is that American classic rock (I distinctly recall hearing Jimi Hendrix) and 90s pop has showed up everywhere I’ve been. I don’t know if it’s because 90s pop music is a favorite among people in the British Isles and Iceland, or if they play it because there are a lot of American tourists, but the effect is a bit surreal.

Kaffi Vinyl, Hverfisgata 76, 101 Reykjavik –  A friend recommended this to me upon discovering that I was in Reykjavik (hooray for social media keeping everyone in touch no matter where in the world we are). She told me it was a little pricey, but because food is expensive no matter where you go, you might as well eat healthy.

The first time I tried to go there, the place was packed with nowhere for even one person to sit. So I tried again a couple of days later. They weren’t so busy that evening, so I snagged a little table in the middle of the main room (where I felt like I was in the way), ordered the lasagna, and waited.

And waited.

For forty-five minutes.  Now, I understand that they had a small kitchen, but it wasn’t that busy. When my food arrived, the bread was burnt on one side (like blackened burnt), the salad consisted of about three little lettuce leaves and a handful of almonds, and the lasagna was passable. The beer wasn’t very good. I’d wonder if I was expecting a lot from a vegan restaurant, but there’s a popular vegan place here in Lincoln, and it’s wonderful. The rest of the experience was fine; the decor was swanky, and they played classic rock tunes on the record player (there’s a reason it’s called Vinyl), but the food wasn’t good enough to make me want to go back.

Maybe I went on a bad night. Maybe the cook was new or had a cold. I don’t know. But overall, I wasn’t too impressed by Vinyl.

Salka Valka, Skólavörðustígur 23, 101 Reykjavik – This was my favorite place by far. I found it by chance while wandering around. I realized I was hungry and walked into the first place that looked like it had more than cookies and coffee and was greeted right away by a friendly server who directed me to a little table by the window. The menu was small, but everything looked so good on it! Since I was in Iceland, I picked the one that said, “traditional Icelandic dish”, the plokkifiskur, a dish made with cod, halibut, potatoes, onion, and béchamel sauce.

My food arrived quickly, was hot, and looked attractive on the plate (I don’t photograph my food). And it tasted wonderful! The side dishes were steamed broccoli with cheese sauce, baked sweet potato strips, white rice, and a slice of dark rye bread. Hungry as I was, I kept myself from scarfing the whole meal down. I wanted to enjoy the food and the ambiance. Being by the window, I had a perfect view of the street with all the people outside walking up and down the street

I went there twice, once on Saturday, and then again on Tuesday evening, the night before I left. I wanted stop into my favorite places in Reykjavik, just to solidify them in my memory. If you’re ever in Reykjavik, I highly recommend Salka Valka.

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I don’t normally remember too much about the people around me at restaurants unless they do something noticeable that makes them memorable. At Salka Valka, there was a couple at the table next to me who were dissatisfied about everything. Their table was in a bad place (it was the only one left when they came in), the menu lacked variety, and the fish-of-the-day was a subpar variety (in their eyes). They couldn’t conjure up a smile, even for each other. It made me wonder what made them so unhappy that they’d be snippy about everything around them, because there are far, far worse places two people could be than near the window of a cozy restaurant on a sunny August day in Iceland.


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