This week saw us visiting Iceland. The scenery alone is worth the visit, think Game of Thrones, the Wall in Winter and you have it right there.
We arrived to be met by the first snowfall of winter, but were also told that we were lucky that it was not windy. However the wind decided to greet us the next morning, just as we were heading out to “DO” the Golden circle. Fortunately , we had a car, so we were not restrained by tours and Tour busses. We set out at about 9 am and it was still pitch dark and remained so until almost 11am ! But by then we had reached out first port of call Pingvellir National Park. I really liked the look of the little church, but could get not closer than a quick look. I was amused by a sign that was by a stream, but even more amused by seeing the Scuba divers getting ready to dive! However, the church is Alþing (Althing), the site of Iceland’s parliament from the 10th to 18th centuries. And as for the scuba divers, this area is one of the best spots for diving in Iceland and as Iceland sits on the Atlantic ridge ( it is actually splitting in two by an inch a year) it is internationally famous. Apparently the water is very clear ( and cold). The rift is in the lake itself and becomes deep.
The park sits in a rift valley caused by the separation of 2 tectonic plates, with rocky cliffs and fissures like the huge Almannagjá fault.
We continued on to the Geysir area, where there is a very obliging Geysir, (Strokkur) which blows every couple of minutes. We retired to the Cafe/tourist shop for a coffee and a pit stop, where I saw another sign which amused me.
Moving on, quickly as it not only gets light very late, it gets dark very early, so daylight time is very precious. We went to the waterfalls on the Golden Circle, which at this time were only partially frozen but no doubt they would be completely frozen in a few days time.
So onto Food. We ate in three very different restaurants. One with a Michelin star, ( the only one in Iceland I am led to believe ), one more Home Style and reputedly A.A.Gills favourite restaurant, and finally an Icelandic Fish and Chip shop.
But, I am getting ahead of myself. Bacon, I am sure we all know what bacon is and in some countries there is an alternative, which is Turkey bacon. It is a bit of a contradiction as Bacon comes from pigs and has a certain amount of fat, which adds to the flavour, which of course is missing with Turkey. However, and this was a first for me, Lamb Bacon, breast of lamb makes excellent bacon, the rashers are a bit on the skinny side but delicious. I have just googled this and it is available in the UK, if you are looking for something different, for your Full English !
Our first restaurant was called 3 Frakkar, ( the three overcoats) where we ate good food, albeit not terribly exciting. I had no idea what to expect from Icelandic cuisine. Fish, Fish and more Fish, is what sprang to mind. I was therefore really surprised to find that the Icelanders have over the centuries been really creative with their food. Needs must I suppose. When you consider that Iceland, which is part of Europe is 1,368 miles away, and from Canada it is 2,800 miles, so certainly during the winter months in years gone by, Iceland probably didn’t get much in the way of imported goods !
Our waitress Kristin from France was delightful, spoke excellent English( as did all of the Icelandic people we met) and she talked us through the menu. They certainly had several options of local fare, including Whale, Puffin, Guillemot, Horse, Lamb, Cod, Halibut, Shark, Herrings and Artic Char. Himself chose the Roast Whale, which came with apples and Balsamic, he could also have chosen the Raw Whale which came as Sashimi. I had the plate of herrings , three ways, and the version I preferred was the one in a mustard sauce.
For our mains, he chose the Halibut, which was good but we both felt that it would have been better without the sauce , and I had the Lamb which was delicious.
I had not thought that there would be a good source of Lamb in Iceland, but given that Lamb from Lundy ( an Island in the Bristol Channel) is good, the sheep just graze on grass and herbs, and I assume likewise in Iceland.
The roast Whale looked and tasted like roast beef, but apparently the raw Whale dish is a bit more fishy. For centuries Whales have played an important part in Icelandic life, and eaten Fresh, Salted or Smoked. The whale Fat or Blubber was an important source for lights. They no longer export Whale products and it is only for domestic use. They also eat Seals and Seal fat can be used as a substitute for butter. One could be excused for thinking “oh, they don’t eat Puffins /Guillemots do they? But why not? Here we eat all sorts of birds, Pheasants, grouse, Ducks of various shapes and sizes, so why not!
As I said previously, Icelanders were and still are very creative with what is available to them naturally. I am sure that every bit of a Lamb, a Cow, a Whale is used. None would have been wasted. Lamb Liver sausage was considered an Aphrodisiac, whilst Dung smoked Lamb is a National dish. Fermented Skate, or often called Smelly Skate is a traditional Christmas dish, as is roasted Lambs Head. I often buy a cookery book when I am in a land that is new to me, but I declined this one on the grounds of” Where on earth would I be able to get a Lambs Head?” Well the answer is SmithfieldMeat Market in the City of London! Who would have believed it?
To be continued, there is plenty more to say about Iceland, and I cant wait to go back, but maybe next time in the summer.