Squidbeak’s Jill has been to Iceland. No, not the frozen food store, but the country. Eating in Iceland means you eat very well and often differently on barley, pickles, kale, beetroot, sorrel, herring, bacalao, Arctic char and tender Icelandic lamb.
We sampled a hearty fish mash pie in the northern village of Siglufjrdur and breakfasted on the yoghurt-like skyr. We declined the horsemeat in Rekjavik’s Foretta Barinn and the minke whale in swanky Fish Market. Their smoked puffin and guillemot was off, so we chose langoustines and edamame puree and lightly salted cod and spiced lime zest with a sweet celery salad. It was all very delicious, how could it not be with such wonderful fresh fish available.
The most original ingredients we found though were at the Vogafjos Cowshed Restaurant beside Lake Myvatn in the snowy wilds of northern Iceland. The restaurant really is in the cowshed. We were only separated from the cows and calves by a sheet of glass, and if you are there for milking at 7.30am you can have a glass of warm milk straight from the cow. Not something I relish after learning to loathe the sun-warmed bottles we were force fed at primary school.
Everything we ate here came from the farm: home made mozzarella and feta-style cheese, smoked lamb and Arctic char, smoked over cow and sheep dung which gave it a unique smokiness. Strangest of all though was the rugbraud or geysir bread, a rye dough that is packed into plastic buckets and placed in an underground hole for 24 hours to bake in the geothermal heat that warms Icelanders homes and keeps the amazing ‘nature baths’ at a comfortable 38ºC so that you can bathe as we did surrounded by the deepest winter snows.
When the rusty iron lids of the underground bread ovens are lifted and a plume of steam escapes, the thick sticky mass has cooked into a moist, heavy, dark and slightly sweet rye bread, best eaten, Icelanders say, with plenty of butter and topped with Arctic char and served in our case with a shot of the Cowshed’s own Angelica schnapps.
It’s a traditional bread that’s been baked like this for generations but is increasingly rare. The small supplies made this way on small farms of northern Iceland are now snapped up by the smart delis and restaurants of Reykavik. Luckily we were able to buy a loaf fresh from the ground from one of the last bakers in Myvatn and at half the price it sells for in Reykjavik.