See that bird pathetically attempting to fly? That's a puffin. It's one of Iceland's most prevalent birds, both in the ocean and on your plate. As my Thomas Cook Pocket Guide said about Icelandic food:
“Seabirds are fairly common on the menu, with puffin being the most prevalent. Often served smoked, the taste has been compared to veal....Pickled ram’s testicles served commonly as a sort of pate, and cod chins or cheeks, taken from the fish’s head, are legacies from the days when almost anything was considered edible.”
The only puffins I ever eat come in cereal form and I don't even eat fish. So naturally, I was quite wary of the culinary offerings of Reykjavik.
Except then I got to Reykjavik and found more American diner food than I can in the States. I have a sneaking suspicion that this might be because of the US military base established in Iceland around WWII. Even though it's now defunct, Icelanders have a developed a penchant for American-style burgers, fries and brunch and after not having them for over five months, I didn't mind.
If Don Draper were Scandinavian, I'm sure he'd frequent Grai Kotturinn (or Gray Cat). I'd say the cafe was going for a retro vibe, except I'm pretty sure they just haven't changed the decor or menu since the 1950s. With thick buttermilk pancakes accompanied by crispy bacon and waiters with attitude, you feel like you're in a New York City diner and sure enough, there were even New Yorkers there. While I was pouring maple syrup everywhere, two seemingly interchangeable groups of Big Apple natives came in for bagels and smeared more than just cream cheese around, but also gossip about the Lower East Side art world. It's definitely worth a visit for pancakes and people watching.
However, Icelanders are no stranger to fast food themselves.
I even found the Icelandic version of the Dairy Queen chocolate dip cone. Although, instead of soft-serve ice cream, it was filled with skyr- a strained yogurt similar to Greek yogurt. The cone started melting before I could get an in focus photo, but trust me, it was delicious.
Reykjavik's cafe culture is equally unique.
Like the rest of the city, the cafes open up late, but stay open late too. Cafe Babalu is a hipster haven with its kitschy decor, delectable cheesecake (more American food done better from across the Atlantic), late hours and therefore bottomless coffee refills. Lexie, Kathryn, and I spent hours there conversing over cake. Sitting in cafes all day isn't a nuisance, it's expected in Reykjavik and since that's one of my favorite hobbies anyway, I gladly obliged.
|All mochas are called Swiss mochas in Iceland, making them extra decadent.|
Kaffitar is the Icelandic equivalent of Starbucks, except with better coffee. It's one of the few chains Iceland has (well other than the omnipresent Dominoes, Subway, and KFC), with locations in The National Museum and Keflavik airport. The cafe's colorful decor gives you as much of a jolt as espresso does.
By seamlessly combining a retro throwback atmosphere with the cafe culture, Mokka is the epitome of the hipster dining scene in Reykjavik. It's one of the oldest cafes in the city and has the chic minimalist lighting and leather booths of the 1950s to prove its longevity.
However, it hasn't stayed in business for over half a century because its hip, but because the drinks and desserts are some of the best in the city. Hot chocolate shows up on a lot of Reykjavik cafe menus, but Mokka's is particularly rich and warming on one of the city's windy days.
From all of my traveling, I've become a waffle connoisseur of sorts. I was never that impressed by the typical American waffle drowned in maple syrup. However, in Europe, waffles don't even pretend to masquerade as breakfast, but dessert and I can't resist dessert. Consequently, I have to try all of the waffle variations. For example, Germany's waffles are smothered in custard and berries. Mokka is especially known for its waffles, so I had to taste Iceland's take on them. Their waffle is served with a generous helping of whipped cream and strawberry jam, which is as tasty as it sounds. Although, to be honest, German waffles are still my favorite.