An Icelandic Tasting Menu

I’m writing now from the Blue Lagoon in Iceland, wondering whether it’s worth it to wash the ash out of my hair before dinner. Given how much is currently stuck in my eyebrows, it’s probably a good idea. But first, some photos from the past few days.

First, one of the best meals I’ve had in my life — a tasting menu at the Fish Company in Reykjavik. Dear lord. We’d been trying to sample as much as possible of Icelandic cuisine (see Skyr factory below) — the semantic highlight of which was probably a seafood restaurant that described itself as being a place “where golden lobsters hook their claws together and dance a belly dance while mermaids serve tables amongst shrimp wrapped in seaweed, clapping shellfish and inquisitive haddock.”  (Of their famous lobster soup: “This is the most famous soup in the Republic of Iceland, prepared by handsome cooks who step naked out of the ocean at Stokkseyri with their catch.”) But the naked cooks and inquisitive haddock were put to shame by the meal at the Fish Company, a four-course affair prepared by a 23-year-old chef named Gustave that involved beautifully plated samples of Icelandic lamb, lobster, smoked cod and Skyr ice cream, among other delicious things. Check out my appetizer:

Next we picked up our rental car and headed to the famous Golden Circle of Iceland, the highlights of which were a geyser (pronounced “GAY-zeer”) that erupted about once every two minutes and kept me entertained for more than 45 — and the famous Gullfoss waterfall, which came complete with a rainbow.

I’d enjoyed the day’s sights, but it had been  nearly 24 hours since the last time we soaked in a thermal pool, and we both were getting a little antsy. Thank goodness, then, for the Frost and Fire guesthouse in Hverageroi, which overlooked steaming hills and had a set of “hot pots,” as they call tubs, along the river bank. I think it’s a little funny that they’re called hot pots, considering the eponymous Mongolian dish that involves dipping raw meat into boiling broth and then eating it, but I wasn’t complaining.

But oh, that wasn’t the nicest bathing experience we had in store. The next day we took a hike in the hills overlooking our guest house, where we passed rust-colored volcanic formations and another huge waterfall before coming across a geothermal area bubbling with boiling mud. Usually when Peter and I go hiking we end up at some frigid mountain stream where Peter jumps into the ice cold water and splashes around like a happy dog as I stand on the bank, beating myself up for not joining him, even though I can get chilled by opening the refrigerator, and he has occasionally been known to go swimming in the snow. But not yesterday — thanks to the geothermal/volcanic activity beneath us, we found a stream that was exactly the temperature of a hot bath. It was perfect.

And I haven’t even mentioned the Skyr — you know that thick, fat-free Icelandic yogurt stuff that has started showing up in the United States? It’s made here, at a factory with a rather obscene cow statue outside. And since I’m interested by all dairy products, I contacted the company to set up a tour.  We met a nice young food scientist named Olafur, who used a coffee filter and some fermented skim milk to demonstrate how Skyr is made before walking us through the actual factory. As opposed to other plants I have visited — namely, a fish oil processing factory, and several sewage treatment plants — this one smelled quite nice (like strawberry milk). Its equipment, however — much of which is specially designed to separate water from solids — is bizarrely similar to that at waste treatment facilities. But whatever. When I get home, I’m making my own Skyr. How can something that fat-free be so delicious? Whoever designed this statue clearly had the same question.

It had been a great day, so we decided to cap it off with a drive to Skogar, a town that happens to be directly south of the (now dormant?) volcano. I mean, the rest of Iceland had been beautiful — completely clear, blue skies, fantastic visibility. How bad could it really be?

Answer: pretty bad.

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