Sunday, May 9, 2010

Icelandic Bounty

So, I went to Iceland on vacation. Perfect timing, right? Actually, I was there about a week before Eyjafjallajokel blew the big one, so I'm feeling pretty smug about things right now. Iceland has a ton to offer in the epic nature/scenery department, but maybe not so much in the culinary treats. It is, after all, a frozen, isolated island just south of the Arctic. (Worth noting, however, is the country's extensive geothermal greenhouse system, which does provide a huge amount of local produce. Check it out here.)Nonetheless, I did manage to find some worthwhile snacks, sampled below:

Plokkfiskur: hashed fish stew with milk, potato, onion, and butter. Typically made with cod or haddock. Not exactly diet food, described by Icelanders alternately as "old-man food" and "a hangover cure." This particular microwaveable specimen was picked up at a gas station near Hvolsvollur, and photographed on the dashboard of our rented Toyota Yaris.

Hakarl: Fermented shark meat. Perhaps Iceland's most well-known stomach-turner. It's shark fermented in an ammonia brine and hung to dry for several months. The smell alone can be vomit-inducing. At fish markets, vendors sell bite-sized pieces with toothpicks, lest you touch it with your bare hands. Typically washed down with a shot of Brennevin, a licorice-tasting spirit that is disgusting in its own right.

Smoked puffin with mustard sauce. Gosh, those little penguins sure are adorable, right? Well, they taste good too. Very lean and iron-y, almost like venison. Made me feel alive.

And last but certainly not least, the Icelandic hotdog. I unfortunately do not have a glamour shot of the sausage itself, but please enjoy this photo instead. What makes the Icelandic hotdog so special? Look, I'm not exaggerating this: hotdogs are often referred to as Iceland's national food, and in August 2006, The Gaurdian selected the Baejarins Beztu Pylsur stand in downtown Reykjavik as Europe's best hotdog. (Full article, in Icelandic, with accompanying Bill Clinton photo, here.) Icelandic hotdogs come with ketchup, sweet mustard, raw onions, fried onions, and a mayo-based remoulade with sweet relish. They are disgusting and amazing all at once, and available literally everywhere, even the most remote parts of the country. I enjoyed my first one so much (see above) that I made the mistake of getting another less than 12 hours later, after which I did not eat any more for the remainder of my time in Iceland. But in that brief, glorious moment outside on Laugavegur at 3 a.m., the pylsur was the best part of my trip.

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