Photographs by Sigurjón Ragnar
42’s North Dining has a new vibe
out over 1,655 vessels each year and contributes to one of the largest segments of an Icelander’s livelihood. The catch is then sorted, beheaded, gutted, trimmed, some salted and then packed at the Thorbjörn factory, an overwhelming operation and odorous process for which I now have a tremendous respect for (I was unable to handle the enormity of the stench and the visuals of the process and performed a not-so graceful exit…). But, no need for you to do anything more than just enjoy the marvelous fish highlighted in restaurants throughout the country and its export friends in Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal, to name a few. www.visitgrindavik.is, www.fisheries.is Back on land and eager to take in the fresh Icelandic air and its mossy landscape and midland waterfalls, I enjoyed the contradiction of the land’s frozen glacier crust and its geothermal heat from beneath. You see, Iceland’s geological location is over a volcano, and its abundant geothermal energy has enabled renewable energy initiatives that far surpass any other country across the globe. So how in the world does such a country grow its vegetation? A fabulous place to learn about Iceland’s sustainable practices is at Friðheimar, an advanced horticulture greenhouse in Selfoss. When greeted with a hollowed out plum tomato cup filled with Birkir (birch schnapps), I knew I was in for a treat. Lead by agronomist Knútur Rafn Ármann and his wife and horticulturalist Helena Hermundardóttir, Friðheimar specializes in cultivating tomatoes and increasing the diversity in the Icelandic tomato market. They were the first growers to cultivate plum tomatoes and Flavorino cocktail tomatoes in Iceland on a year-round basis, and most recently they have introduced the delicious and sweet Piccolo tomato. The tomatoes are now grown all year, using state-of-the-art technology in an environmentally-friendly way. Green energy, natural hot spring water and biological pest controls (“good” flies are brought in to eat the bad flies and Holland bumble bees are let loose to pollinate the tomato flowers) are at the forefront of the 5,000 sq. meter cultivation center which is equipped with a climate-control computer system for temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide and lighting. Tourists can enjoy tours, tastings, and group seminars. There is a wonderful café which features tomato based dishes, herbs, hot geyser-baked black bread and locally caught salmon prepared by Chef Jón K.B.
42’s North Dining has a new vibe
Sigfússon, who has developed the Friðheimar packaged food product line which includes tomato jam, cucumber salsa, tomato juice and sauce, and even a pungent BBQ sauce. www.fridheimar.is/en Back on the bus, and with a few stops along the way for scenic snapshots of the land and its boisterous river waterfalls which are fed by the north Atlantic climate that produces frequent rain and snow, we headed to Efsti-Dalur in Bláskógabyggð, a charming farm with a country inn and restaurant right on the property. Owned and operated by Snæbjörn and Björg and their son Sölvi and his wife Día, the farm’s main production is from beef and dairy cattle. The restaurant features burgers and steaks, as well as homemade cheese, skyr (Icelandic yogurt) and ice cream and the majority of the ingredients come from other local farmers including tomatoes and cucumbers from Friðheimar and potatoes, turnips and carrots from neighboring Reykholt farms. Vanilla praline ice cream can be enjoyed in the company of the milk-bearing cow that helped to produce this rich and creamy treat – a true countryside experience. www.efstidalur.is I’d be remiss to leave out the popular, and slightly commercialized, Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa, located in a lava field in Grindavík on the Reykjanes Peninsula in southwest Iceland. Every year, thousands of people flock to this natural hot spring lagoon (70% sea water) which heats up to a consistent 98–102 °F. It is said to be mineral rich in silica and sulphur, of which the white mud is smeared on the body and is promoted as a healing remedy for internal and external ailments. Half naked bodies revel and swish about while sipping cocktails and self-body painting. More structured spa treatments are available and I recommend paying
the extra money for the private lounge as opposed to the public locker room. Blue Lagoon’s rather upscale restaurant, LAVA, is a highly rated dining destination. We were treated by a Food & Fun guest chef, Mikaela Población from Bilbao, Spain, to a wonderful lunch at LAVA which featured several dishes made from the salt cod from Thorbjörn Fishery. LAVA’s Executive Chef is Viktor Örn Andrésson, voted Iceland’s Chef of the Year in 2013. The sophisticated menu is matched by stunning views and a stellar wine list, yet off-putting at times due to guests who are allowed to dine in their white terrycloth bathrobes while coming from and going to the lagoon. Best to dine later in the evening when patrons are fully clothed! www.bluelagoon.com Where there is food, let there be drink! There are an abundance of pubs in and around Reykjavík, all of which capture the heart and soul of this modest country, while embracing many cultures. Although there are many places to imbibe, Iceland has only just begun to produce craft beer. Kaldi Bar, hailed as one of the “coolest bars in Reykjavík” by Reykjavík Grapevine Magazine, features the Icelandic microbrewery Kaldi, the country’s first microbrewer. The idea for Kaldi came after Agnes and Ólafur Ólafsson, looking for work in a new vocation, who saw a news report about the growing popularity of microbrews in Denmark. They ceased the opportunity and embarked on new adventure, hiring Czech brewmaster David Masa to assist them in the process. The beer is produced with fresh water which they get from a mountain in Arskogssandur and has no added sugar or any preservatives, and is not pasteurized. The company, Bruggsmidjan, now produces Kaldi, Kaldi dark, Kaldi lite and its IPA cousin Gullfoss. www.bruggsmidjan.is, www.kaldibar.is My favorite places to eat in Iceland Sjávargrillið Seafood Grill – sleek, dark and sexy with eclectic fare, www.sjavargrillid.com Steikhúsið, The Steakhouse – dry-aged local beef, high energy, neighborhood hang-out, wwwsteik.is/vefur Tjörnin – on the lake, seafood driven, playful décor, www.vidtjornina.is Rub 23 – farm to table, Asian inspired, sushi, contemporary décor, www.rub23.is Check out: The Farmers’ Market at Harpa Concert Hall, www.farmersmarket.is/shops A hot dog from Baejarins Beztu Pylsur, a kiosk near the waterfront by Harpa. Ask for it “with everything” and the dog (a blend of beef, pork, and lamb) comes with sweet Icelandic brown mustard and tangy rémoulade, all sandwiched into a soft bun with both raw and crunchy deep-fried onions, www.bbp.is/en Foss Distillery’s Birkir birch schnapps and Bjork birch liqueur – this stuff is lethal…but tasty. Find it everywhere, including the airport, www.facebook.com/fossdistillery Arctic Sea Salt – it doesn’t get any better than these Icelandic flavor boosters. Choose from sea, lava, licorice, thyme, and birch smoked salts, www.saltverk.com Northern Lights – the Aurora Borealis of Iceland. Unfortunately, you will just need to keep your eyes peeled for this natural light show caused by the collision of energetic charged particles with atoms in the high altitude atmosphere.