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Tuesday, 04 March 2008

Beware of Sharks in Iceland

Written by  Katie Trew
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Dig a large hole in coarse gravel in an isolated spot, so the smell of uric acid won’t offend anyone. Bury the flesh in the hole for 2-3 months until all the fluid has drained off and putrefaction has set in. Then, hang the flesh out on a drying rack for a few more weeks, garnish and serve. Et voila – cured shark, Icelandic style.

Dig a large hole in coarse gravel in an isolated spot, so the smell of uric acid won’t offend anyone. Bury the flesh in the hole for 2-3 months until all the fluid has drained off and putrefaction has set in. Then, hang the flesh out on a drying rack for a few more weeks, garnish and serve. Et voila – cured shark, Icelandic style.

If that doesn't sound appealing, there are plenty more tempting dishes on the menu during Reykjavik's annual Fun and Food Festival, where chefs come from around the globe to cook in local restaurants with local produce.

Having won a holiday in Reykjavik, my boyfriend and I headed off to sample the gastronomic delights of this festival, armed with only our preconceived ideas and a host of restaurant reservations. We had heard tales of exorbitant food prices and to that extent, the stories proved true; a bowl of pasta can set you back £20 and a plate of meat, any meat, goes for £35. But what we found in Reykjavik was a city full of culinary diversity and what we found in Iceland and its people was a country that exceeded all of our expectations.

Iceland is a land of contradictions, from volcanic ash landscapes to snow-capped mountains. But nowhere is this more apparent than in its two distinct styles of restaurants. There’s the warm, homely restaurant where diners sit at chunky, wooden tables and read from hand-made menus; where crockery lines the walls and a yellow glow emanates from the windows to entice the passer-by. The kind of place diners want to stay in long after they’ve finished eating (and where that is welcomed). Then there’s the ultra-stylish, modern restaurant with interior decoration reminiscent of a Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen Changing Rooms episode. The kind of restaurant with chandeliers and plasma screens; frequented by fashion designers, DJs and the unemployed, over-dressed offspring of the Icelandic elite.

Einar Ben,  Pure Iceland, Reykjavik's annual Fun and Food Festival In the first class of restaurant you'll find Einar Ben, a 100 year old house converted into a restaurant 13 years ago, with subtle lighting and an array of local art adorning the walls; the centre piece of which is a huge collage revealing Icelandic folk lore, from the early Icelandic sagas to, rather strangely, a depiction of Barbie, symbolising Icelandic feminine beauty. Our waiter, Ludwig, was more than happy to talk us through the collage while he expertly served us the seven course extravaganza on the menu, aptly named “Pure Iceland”.


My boyfriend, not being a fan of fish, was somewhat dubious about whether he would enjoy this meal and was ready with a napkin in hand to hide any uneaten remnants. In the Fun and Food festival, it is not unusual to begin dinner with three courses of fish - a proposition that might seem intolerable to the average British diner (my boyfriend included) – desperate for some "hearty" food and that stable of the British diet, steak and chips. But in Iceland, even the most hardened Friday night kebab fan will find themselves craving more fish by the end of their visit. Fish in Iceland is like a saveloy in Blackpool, it’s nourishing, flavourful and appetite-quenching. Above all, it’s meaty! I can attest to the quality and tastiness of the fish served at Einar Ben because my boyfriend ate every single bit of it. His napkin lay on his lap fulfilling only the task it was meant for.

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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