As we drive around the countryside of rural Iceland, we are treated to spectacular views of snow-covered peaks, beautiful clear mountain streams rushing down the valleys, and wide expanses of open fields with not a tree in sight. Evidence of Iceland’s volcanic roots surround us. Vast expanses of black rocks and gravel from previous volcanic eruptions are everywhere. Relatively high peaks with deep gullies down all sides show the remains of lava flows from years long past. Horses casually graze in the pastures and large flocks of free-range sheep roam everywhere.
Although the sheep were bushy and plump-looking with their winter coats of wool that won’t be shorn until spring, the sight conjures up images of those absolutely adorable little innocent lambs that surely prance in those meadows. Their cute faces staring at you in wonder. Idyllic. I can just imagine holding one gently in my lap, petting its cute head, and nuzzling its soft coat.
…until dinner time!
While traveling, we avoid the touristy restaurants and chains. Rather, because food is so intertwined in a culture, we purposely seek out the small restaurants tucked away off the tourist track that specialize in local cuisine …in this case, Icelandic …where the locals eat.
On Tuesday evening we decided to try a restaurant called Old Iceland, a cozy, casual place frequented by the locals that has only about a dozen tables, but the service was true Icelandic hospitality and the food… Oh, the food!!! In the USA, I never order lamb–don’t care for the taste. But, I ordered lamb roast with lamb shoulder and cooked root vegetables (parsips, potatoes, and beets). The root vegetables were very good, the roasted lamb quite tasty, but the lamb shoulder (the small portion of shredded meat on the right in the photo) was extraordinary.
Not just “Wow, this is good.” extraordinary. Not “OMG!” But rather, place it in your mouth, suck on the flavor with your eyes closed for as long as possible, and then chew it until it disintegrates in your mouth extraordinary. The last thing you want to do is swallow it to end the experience. As many tiny bites as you can divide the serving into–no gulping allowed.
Shots of Iceland’s “Black Death,” Brennevín, a clear unsweetened schnapps considered Iceland’s signature distilled beverage further enhanced our feast. Brennevín is a fiery drink that detonates in your mouth and throat and spreads like a mushroom cloud to every cell in your body. It is the antifreeze that gets Icelanders through the harsh winter and made our evening sparkle.
Tourist traps aside, the food and people are worth the trip!