Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Iceland for the weekend?

You’re going where in February?
A strange unsettled look on their face as they gaze at you with disbelief.
Like there just might be something wrong with you that they hadn’t considered yet. 
Oh well, I’ve seen that look before.

300,000 people
600,000 sheep
110,000 shaggy little ponies, er, I mean horses, but more about them later.
And 1% of the landscape is covered in trees.
You do the math, what do you think covers the other 99%?
Well, it certainly wasn’t cities and towns with that few of people...  It was snow, snow, snow, glaciers and black volcanic rocks.

I’d been watching the weather for weeks before our departure. 
It always showed about the same weather in Rekyjavik as it did in Seattle.
I didn’t even take snow boots. Silly me.  My point was, I’d just got back from Japan where they had 1-2’ of snow, and didn’t need boots.Why would I need snow boots in Iceland?
Well.. because your feet will be cold and wet as the snow kerplunks into the side of your patent leather flats.  Silly me. Lucky I brought a decent coat that covered more layers of clothing than I have ever worn, a pair of gloves, and a hat.

We made the arrangements months ago when we saw an offer for a “Winter Wellness Getaway” to Iceland for President's Day weekend. 
Winter Wellness? Gosh, everyone needs that! 
We flew all Thursday night, arriving in Iceland early Friday Morning.  No one really seems to sleep on a plane, so the six of us were all disheveled and groggy- - geez, now we needed ‘wellness’ more than ever.  

It was strange to figure out new money, I guess I mistakenly thought that Iceland, being in Europe, was naturally part of the European Union and use Euros. Nope. Icelandic’s refer to “the crisis” which is something you may, or may not, remember as their financial crisis when their three major commercial banks collapsed.  I heard people refer to “the crisis” more than once, as part of regular conversation.  Iceland is not yet in the European Union, I guess the EU has enough other crisis on their hands.

Kroner’s are a bit hard to get used to, but basically you pay 1,000 kroner for a beer. 
The trick is to remove the last two zeros from the price to get the ‘real’ dollar price.  Ten bucks for a draft beer… hey, that’s pretty much a crisis in my books.  Actually, even though removing the two zeros gets you in the right ball part, it’s really a bit better of an exchange at about $8.00 a beer. 
Awesome, right? 
We found out beer was outlawed in Iceland until March 1,1989.
What?  How can that be right?  Apparently there was so much trouble with hard alcohol, like vodka and aquavit, that the government didn’t want to allow more refreshing low alcoholic beverages to the economy. 
 I’d say they were lucky they didn’t have “the crisis” sooner.  We’ve heard that allowing beer in the Icelandic society actually helped reduce the amount of drunkenness.  I knew you’d want some good news after all those “crisis” stories.  March 1st is the national "Beer Day" in Iceland, in case you want to plan your own getaway.

I could go on and on about the beauty of Iceland, and I just might… in a bit… but actually this is a FOOD blog, so I plan on telling you about the food.
I hope you aren’t upset with me.
It might be a bit alarming or shocking to you.
I hope you don’t block me, or unfriend me, but I wanted to talk about it.
To get it off my chest, shall we say?  Having a blog is cheaper than having a counselor.

My hubby pretty much rules the adventurous eater club.  He ordered the putrid shark much to the dismay of the rest of the table.  It comes in a jar… with a TIGHT lid.  That’s because they don’t want to smell up the whole joint when bringing you your dish.  The jar he ordered had two chunks in it.  Our server said that’s because “you only need a little”.  Doesn’t that strike fear into your heart, it did mine.  I tend to be a sensible girl… I said ‘no thank you’. 
Later, it was easy to say “I would have tried it…. But you only had two little pieces”.  Hahaha.

Maybe you’ve heard about the putrid shark dish that is customary in Iceland?   
Putrid is just another word for fermented…. you know beer is fermented, right?
Oh… well let’s just say it’s not quite as refreshing as beer.
They douse it with ammonia (can you say poison?) and bury it in the ground for 6 months and then they hang dry it for a bunch more months.  It stops being poison after that I guess, since someone is still alive and kicking... I've been watching him closely.
It will pretty much clear a room when you open the container.  It’s served with brinniven, a local booze, that effectively cuts the stench from your breath so that you may even think it’s a good idea to try to kiss your wife.  No chance there bucko. I was ready for you. 

The strangest things on the menu, besides putrid shark, have got to be Minke Whale, Foal and Puffins. Oh yowza… who knew they ate all that crazy stuff?
I guess you would too if you lived on one of the newest landmasses in the world that was filled with active volcanoes. Food is very difficult to grow there (except in greenhouses) and proteins have to come from the sea, or be especially hardy livestock. The only local animal indigenous to Iceland is the Arctic fox.  The animals that they have these days are fox, horse, sheep, cows, dogs, cats, chickens and mink (introduced in the 1950’s) and now a rampant pest they are trying to eradicate, but luckily no mink on the menu.

They are very proud of their horses.  Except most people look at those cute little things and automatically say ponies.  They are chubby, short legged, shaggy creatures with a head of hair like Farrah Fawcett in the 1970’s. 

They are immensely hardy and live 100% of the time outside.  They are very, very proud of their horses.  I didn’t ask where the foal came from advertised on the menu.  Proud of their national horses, but not above eating them, I guess.  I didn’t order the foal, but I did try a bite. Yummy… I’d rather not admit it, but it was good- really good.

Minke whale… I don’t feel bad for Eskimos anymore. That stuff is amazing.  Would I order whale anywhere else in the world? No way. It just seems wrong on so many levels. It looks and tastes like tender, rich beefsteak served with a red wine reduction, caramelized red onions and horseradish mashed potatoes you will be happy you ordered it.

Puffins?  Really?
That’s just a crime.  Isn’t a puffin like the cutest bird you ever, ever saw?
Someone in my party (who shall remain nameless to protect the not so innocent) tried to order it.  The waitress said they were “out” as there weren’t enough puffins right now. 
Now, that sort of sounds like a nice way to say‘endangered’, now doesn’t it? 
But the server made it sound like they weren’t ‘in season’, oh... yeah, that’s definitely nicer, huh?  Puffin season?  Who knew? 
Either way, please don’t eat the puffins. 
I heard they taste like gamey birds with a distinct fishy flavor. 
Ummm… that’s just gross.  Leave the puffins to be the national bird, and not dinner. Okay?


  1. Too funny! Loved this retelling of your trip!

  2. Sooo much fun! Great company, and delicious unusual foods. Only in Iceland- highly recommend it for those looking for an out of the ordinary get away.