As nearly any transatlantic traveler knows, Icelandair is kind of awesome. The fares are cheap, and you can arrange a stopover in beachy Iceland for no additional charge. Plus, Icelandair’s seat-back screens show awesome things, like images of Yule cats, humongous beasts who eat misbehaving Icelanders before Christmas:
On our way home from Namibia and Germany, we stopped in Iceland for a day or two, since, you know, Iceland is somewhere between Namibia and the United States. While in Iceland, I ate a whale again. Not the whole thing. Just a few pieces. And now I’m in trouble with an environmental attorney again.
Iceland is one of a small handful of countries that allows commercial whaling, and it is not unusual for whale to appear on menus throughout the country, though I’m told that tourists eat it more frequently than locals do. On a visit to Reykjavik’s Islenski Barinn (“Icelandic Bar”), we started with an appetizer of minke whale – but only because the kitchen had run out of puffin that evening.
The minke whale (not endangered) was served in chilled, bite-sized pieces, closely resembling chunks of ruby-hued, barely-seared ahi tuna steak. It was delicious – perhaps a little bit meatier than sushi-grade tuna, but otherwise similar in flavor. The whale was served with a light cheese sauce – which reminded me of an unusually classy thousand island dressing – and fresh potato chips.
I would tell you that my wife loved it too, but she’s an environmental attorney, and has already filed a lawsuit against me for what I did to that dolphin at the Saint Lucia creole festival last fall.
There’s no shortage of other interesting food options in Reykjavik, though we barely scratched the surface in our overly-quick layover. As an appetizer at Islenski Barinn, we sampled crispy puffed cod skin, which reminded me of an unusually high-quality prawn cracker. We ate plenty of excellent Icelandic seafood, including a spectacular fish bisque and some nice chunks of fresh ling, a tasty, cod-like beast. Unfortunately, we weren’t drunk enough to try the hakarl (putrefied shark), which apparently has exited the mainstream Icelandic diet, and is now mostly a curiosity sold to foreign tourists.
We did, however, sample the legendary Icelandic hot dogs at Baejarins Beztu Pylsur (literally, “best hot dog in town”), which has repeatedly been lauded as one of the world’s best hot dog stands by international media outlets, including The Guardian, Forbes, and the Huffington Post. Icelandic hot dogs are generally made from locally raised lamb, mixed with bits of beef and pork – and that’s cool, since lamb is pretty tasty. The version at Baejarins Beztu Pylsur is served with a sweet brown mustard, a mayonnaise-and-relish remoulade, fried onions, and raw onions. It’s delicious. I don’t see why it’s such a big deal. It’s a nice hot dog. That’s it.
Back at Islenski Barinn, we ate a hamburger that was far more interesting: beef topped with bacon, gouda, and a bacon-and-gouda-stuffed Icelandic pancake (similar to a crepe, but a bit denser), which was then topped with a pepper cheese sauce, which was also made from gouda cheese. A burger topped with a pancake, two doses of bacon, and three versions of gouda cheese? Now we’re talking!
And whale? I hate to admit it, but I really liked it yet again. And just because I wrote that, I might be sleeping on the couch again tonight.