Sunday, September 25th, 2016

A Bizarre Icelandic Tasting Menu

23

Iceland is well-known for having some of the strangest foods in the world.  I mean, this is a country where rotten shark buried in the ground is a specialty!  Gordon Ramsay couldn’t keep it down!

While I didn’t go quite that far on my trip, I wanted to try an array of typical Icelandic foods.  Amanda from A Dangerous Business wrote about her adventures with traditional Icelandic foods and mentioned Tapas Barinn, a tapas restaurant in Reykjavik that happens to feature an Icelandic tasting menu.

As soon as I read her post, I knew I had to try this menu for myself!

Here’s what I got:

Aperitif: Brennivin

Down the hatch!  Brennivin, an Icelandic liqueur, tastes a bit like sambuca, if you removed some of the flavor and made it more potent and sharp.  Essentially, mix sambuca and cheap vodka and you’ll get something like Brennivin.

Course One: Smoked Puffin

Now, this is the controversial course.  How could anyone eat such an adorable bird?  (My boyfriend is still giving me crap for it.)

So, how did it taste?  Like a salty, meaty fish — like smoked salmon if it had the texture of steak tips.  It was served with blueberry sauce and I’m still not sure how I feel about it.  My waitress, Hilde, told me that people either love it or hate it, but I honestly still can’t make up my mind about how I felt about it.

Now, what they don’t tell you is that you walk home and EVERY STUFFED PUFFIN IN THE GIFT SHOPS STARES AT YOU.

Course Two: Monkfish with Pan-Fried Lobster Tails

This fish was tender and buttery, and the very best part of it was the crispy onions!  They added a lot of nice texture and seasoning to the fish.

The pan-fried lobster tails were small and a bit on the hard side.  The mashed potatoes, filled with lots of parsley, were delicious.

Course Three: Baked Lobster Tails

Wow.  What kind of tasting menu gives you THREE lobster tails for a course?!  Very nice, Tapas Barinn.  Being the kind of girl who willingly drives 90 minutes up to Maine to eat a butter-drenched lobster roll (but mostly the lobster-filled seafood chowda), I’m serious when it comes to this particular crustacean.

These lobster tails really can’t compare to Maine lobster tails in size or taste.  BUT these Icelandic lobster tails are fabulously delicious, tender, buttery and garlicky.

Course Four: Smoked Trout with Roasted Red Pepper Salsa and Estragon Sauce

This was a good course — but the trout really needs both sauces to make an impact.  It’s a nice transitional (and more normal) course between two of the extreme options.

Course Five: Minke Whale

OH MY GOD, I ATE WHALE.  I ATE IT SO FAST I FORGOT TO TAKE  A PICTURE.  Fear not — minke whale is farmed sustainably in Iceland.  It’s not like you’re chomping on an endangered species.

Whale tastes like steak — a bit tougher than regular steak, but with a soft center and a nice flavor that I really enjoyed.  While I LOVED the sweet potato/ginger buttery mash on the side, I thought it was a bit of an odd pairing — ginger and seaweed are more suited for seafood dishes, and though whales live in the sea, they taste much more like beef than fish.

Course Six: Lamb Mint Kabob

By this point, I was absolutely stuffed from the previous five courses, but I knew I had to keep going.  This minty lamb kabob was served on a pile of tomatoes and onions, not unlike what you’d find in fajitas.

I didn’t find Icelandic lamb to be that different from the lamb I’ve had before, only a little bit tougher.  A very good dish.

Course Seven: White Chocolate Skyr Mousse with Passion Fruit Coulis

What a delicious dessert!  I only wish I had room to finish it all.  Skyr is a thick Icelandic yogurt, and in this case, it was used to make a cake with a graham cracker-like crust.  The tart passion fruit sauce was absolutely perfect and the perfect counterpart to the delicately flavored mousse.

I ate skyr in so many forms in Iceland.  I had it in a parfait with berries and white chocolate at The Laundromat Cafe.  I had it for breakfast at another morning cafe.  It was even used instead of mascarpone in my tiramisu at Kex Hostel!

The Verdict on Icelandic Food

Icelanders, just like everyone else in the world, care about their food and love to show it off to visitors with inventive creations.  It may have veered a bit on the fishy and tough side for my personal taste, but it wasn’t as bizarre as I feared.  (Then again, I still haven’t tasted hakarl, the rotten shark.)

As for the Icelandic Gourmet Feast, it may seem on the expensive side at 5,890 ISK ($46), but when you consider how much food you get, how many different foods you try, and how expensive Iceland is overall, it’s actually a good deal.  I totally plan on bringing people here when I return to Iceland.

And maybe, someday, I’ll get the urge to try that rotten shark after all.

Many thanks to Tapas Barinn for the complimentary meal.  All opinions, as always, are my own.

Comments

23 Responses to “A Bizarre Icelandic Tasting Menu”
  1. Waegook Tom says:

    I thought that mousse was a great big lump of feta cheese?! The kebab and monkfish look amazing – although I can’t believe you ate an adorable puffin! They ARE staring at you in the giftshop.

  2. Maybe you should change the name of your blog to “Adventurous Meats”???? 😉

  3. Some of this sounds delicious – that dessert? the lobster and fish? – but I don’t know if I could eat whale. Even though this particular whale is sustainably farmed, the campaign against whale hunting would be in the back of my mind making me feel guilty.

  4. Amanda says:

    Hahaha, you are SO right about all the stuffed puffins in stores staring at you after having this meal! They are still doing it to me up here in Canada… They know…

  5. Now that’s an epicurean dream of a tasting menu! It was smart of them to have the tasting menu start with an aperitif, probably makes all the diners a bit more at ease when served puffin & whale 😉

  6. Looks amazing, although i’m not sure I’m brave enough for whale eating just yet. But definitely two thumbs up from me Kate!

  7. Ayngelina says:

    As long as the puffin isn’t endangered there’s nothing wrong with eating it, after all cows are cute too.

  8. Earthdfifter says:

    Very interesting! Calling that food exotic might be an understatement. I tried whale in Japan and your description brought back the memory. $46 seems like a lot for a meal, but considering the number of courses and the unique experience, it appears to be a great value.

  9. Alex says:

    I’m going to leave a very similar comment to the one I left on A Dangerous Business recently, because this stirs up similar emotions for me.

    I think you were fairly dismissive about taking responsibility for eating whale. You say they are “sustainably farmed” which is inaccurate. First of all, whales are not farmed, they are caught in the wild. And the sustainable part is highly controversial. I will admit that I have read the claims that minke whale is sustainably caught in Iceland and while I am skeptical I haven’t done any research to disprove this. Still, whaling on a global level (even with only three countries willing to break international treaties and take part) is unsustainable. So I think I would use the same argument people use about visiting consenting, adult prostitutes- sure, in that specific case maybe you’re not committing a crime, but you are supporting a deeply corrupt and damaging industry. For example, Iceland has been accused of exporting endangered whale meat (fin whale) which violates every international agreement on this matter.

    I hope that others visiting Iceland will take time to read up on this… some things are more important that sating our curiosity and courting shock value!

    • Hi, Alex —

      “Farmed” was improperly worded — I should have said “caught.” That said, I took the restaurant at their word when they said that they were sustainably caught. Should I have done research beforehand to verify that they weren’t lying to my face? We can debate that.

      That said, I disagree with you wholly on the fact that supporting sustainable hunting in Iceland is encouraging illegal hunting elsewhere.

      Using your example of prostitution: take the legal brothels in Nevada. They maintain a safe environment for their employees, test them on a regular basis for STIs, and provide them with benefits. Having safe, legal brothels does not increase the percentage of men going to illegal prostitutes. It does the opposite — it encourages them to take the legal, safe, legitimate route, which protects everyone. If more people perused prostitution legally, it could encourage the government to make prostitution legal across the nation. This is something that I support wholeheartedly, in part because legalizing prostitution would decrease the demand for illegal prostitutes, including sex trafficking. It wouldn’t eliminate it completely — nothing eliminates anything entirely — but it would decrease it, and that’s a good thing.

      • Nicole says:

        I know I’m a bit late to the party, but HUH? It would seem to me that as a travel blogger you have a bit of a duty to double check what people tell you when they are directly profiting off of what they tell you.

        Google is a quick and easy place to find all of this information out. You can easily find recent articles where whale watch companies in Iceland are having a significantly harder time finding whales for people to see. There was also drama last year when a large shipment of the whale meat being sent to Japan was returned to Iceland because shipping companies along the way do not want to take part in Illegal killing of whales. Iceland’s own local shipping company has refused to ship whale meat from now on.

        Iceland is going directly against what has been agreed to be sustainable worldwide. Even if you don’t believe any of that or think any of it actually makes it unsustainable. This year Iceland has killed 75 Fin whales (it’s actually fewer than in years past). Fin whales are considered and endangered species. Are you actually suggesting that it’s sustainable to kill and eat endangered species?

        I’m not some whale crusader, I’m just researching my Sept trip to Iceland and this information has all landed in my lap quite easily. It’s not hard to find and it is flat out irresponsible to not research the things you put out there as fact

        • Simmi says:

          No whales that are hunted around Iceland are endangered in Icelandic waters. Iceland is one of few countries that has a sustainable fishing industry. Everything is hunted trough quota, whales also.Countries that can’t control their own fishing grounds are not the best advice givers about what is sustainable or not. IWC or International Whaling Commission controls what is considered endangered or not. It has been their policy to stop all whaling, sustainable or not. IWC is like FIFA, corrupt and out of place. Next time you and Alex go on google to check facts, you should leave out Greenpeace and Shea Shepherd websites. What is endangered is common sense, replaced by emotion and hysteria. Whales are just like any other animals, not more special or better. Pigs are smarter than whales, something you and Alex should think about next time you eat pork roast.
          Greetings from Norway

  10. John King says:

    Dude…..your blog is INCREDIBLE! I haven’t had much time to fully check it out yet, but I will! Ahhh the food! Amazing

  11. len says:

    whale meat? full of the waste of the oceans (cos it concentrates in species at the end of the food chain)? well even sustainable” caught minkis die a long death due to their size!!!

  12. what?? Whale? i believe that’s really tasty.

  13. Our first trip to Iceland we had a number of interesting meals. The one thing we ate that is not listed here is a horse steak. The horse steak was phenomenal. One of the best steaks I’ve ever had. So tender, juicy, and flavorful.

    We agree with the smoked puffin. It was neither bad nor good. By itself we were both indifferent, the mustard that it was served with us what made it enjoyable.

    The Minke whale steak that I had was tasty. I had no idea what to expect. It was very similar to beef at first although it had a very rich red color. Flavor wise it started off like a gamey tasting steak with a seafoody finish. Strange, but no complaints!

  14. Anki says:

    Before I read your post some time ago, I didn’t know they serve whale meat in Iceland. Now that I’m finally going to Iceland myself, I decided to find out if eating whale in Iceland is ok. I didn’t think it would be and quickly found many websites to confirm that. Here’s some information for future readers who consider visiting Iceland.

    The common belief of tourists is that whaling and eating whale meat are an essential part of Icelandic culture. This is not true, even though whaling companies and the like want you to believe it is and promote whale meat as an exotic delicacy. Only 3 percent of Icelanders eat whale meat regularly (defined as six times or more in the last 12 months), so most of the whale meat eaten in Iceland is eaten by tourists.

    To inform tourists about the impact their whale tasting has on whaling, IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) and IceWhale (the Association of Icelandic Whale Watchers) have launched “Meet Us Don’t Eat Us”, which is a campaign to take whale meat off the menu for tourists. They have listed restaurants who serve whale meat and are asking tourists to boycott them. They also provide a list of whale-friendly restaurants, which are also marked by blue stickers on their windows and doors.

    You’ll find more info behind these links:
    http://www.ifaw.org/united-states/our-work/whales/meet-us-don’t-eat-us-campaign-take-whale-meat-menu-tourists
    http://dontbuyfromicelandicwhalers.com/iceland-whaling-myths-facts.html

    Long story short: PLEASE DON’T SUPPORT WHALING BY EATING WHALE MEAT.

    • Simmi says:

      Eating whale was essential part of Icelandic culture. Whale was a seasonal delicacy in all fishing villages in Iceland. I should know, I was raised in one. Popularity of whale meat has decreased with other types of meat coming more available, (pork and chicken). Whale meat is still popular grilled in the summer when it is in “season”. The reason for IceWhale campaign against whale hunting, is their fear that whales will get scared with boats, therefore it would be difficult to show whales to tourists. Their campaign is very controversial in Iceland because fishermen have been hunting whales for centuries. Whale watching is c.a. 30 years old business and many think that they are getting ahead of them selves. These two can coexist with reasonable rules and regulations.

      Greetings from Norway

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