An Ashevillian Eats Iceland

An Ashevillian Eats Iceland

Late this fall, this food lover headed to Iceland. I got my fill of several Asheville favorites before I left, worried I’d starve: I was prepared to see menus brimming with fermented shark (called Hákarl), puffin, and whale but not actually prepared to dine on any of these delicacies—I’m no Andrew Zimmern. While these foods could be found if sought out, I discovered the average restaurant serves dishes that are less “bizarre” and more banal: think pizza and panini.

In fact, marketing materials for Reykjavík boast that the capital’s most popular restaurant is a hot dog stand.To be sure, my fellow travel companions and I tried a dog, or pylsur. It was the cheapest meal we ate by far—a simple sandwich or basic breakfast could cost upwards of $20 per person; if you go, be ready to, ahem, fork over some dough. But, it didn’t taste it: The mixture of beef, pork, and Icelandic lamb (which the ratio is heavy on) was surprisingly complex and savory, and the toppings were delicious and abundant, from crispy onions to remoulade to “special” ketchup rumored to contain applesauce. (Mouth watering for one now? Head to Foothills Deli & Butchery where they also handcraft hog dogs with local meats; learn more in this previous blog post).

In fact, all of the Icelandic lamb dishes I ordered or tasted were my favorites of the trip. (I now have intense lamb cravings. I, admittedly, have eaten the delicious new local lamb burger at King Daddy’s once a week since I’ve been back.) The best of the best? A lamb goulash at a small gas station, yes gas station, in the village of Vík on the country’s south coast. It was the definition of comfort food and warmed me right up on a freezing day, just as it does regularly for Icelanders. Metro areas like Reykjavík and Akureyri bustle with every type of eatery imaginable. There are tiny noodle shops, Thai restaurants, 1950s-style American diners, you name it; there’s even a hamburger grill named after Chuck Norris. But in smaller towns and villages, like Vík, the focus is on readily available food prepared simply: white fish, trout, salmon, and lamb served with potatoes and carrots, as well as bread and Icelandic butter—their geyser bread, a rye called Rúgbrauð that’s cooked buried in the geothermal ground for 24 hours, is something I literally wrote home about. Thanks to these classic, local food dishes, not only did I not starve, I feasted.They reminded me of Asheville: a place with a little something for everyone and where the food on your plate was grown or raised nearby. It’s good to be home.

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