In the Iceland area of Lake Mývatn we stayed at Selhotel Mývatn, a charming hotel with lovely antique/vintage furniture in the rooms – but also a very-appreciated elevator to go up to the upper floors. The dining area on the main floor has a small bar area, leading into a large dining room. While we were there, we were very thankful to have a buffet (especially the vegetarian on our tour who had been suffering with the one-size-fits-all meals we had been served everywhere else).
There was a wide variety of items to choose, some very familiar, while others – much less so….
For dinner I started with a “vegetable soup” which was a green soup with large chunks of broccoli. I thought the base of the soup might have been pea… and something else… and my dinner companion suggested asparagus. It was interesting, though not something I’d order again!
I also picked out a slice of dark bread, which was named “glacier bread” though I suspect that’s just a local nickname, and I think the more common name is Rúgbrauð – Icelandic rye bread, which is dense, dark, and slightly sweet. Traditionally the bread was baked in a pot or steamed in a wooden cask – by burying it in the ground near one of the natural hot springs. It’s also called “þrumari” – ‘Thunderbread’.
I figured I’d try “a little of everything” at the buffet – or at least things I hadn’t tried before. This lead me to picking up a small square of seafood pate (which tasted like a VERY fishy crab cake) and a “meat pate” (the meat included wasn’t indicated…) which.. well.. was terrible. I had a bite of it, and then wouldn’t eat the rest of it… it was dry and meaty and ick.
I also sampled the pasta salad (really good) the pickled vegetables (cucumber, cauliflower, carrots) which were also good, the olives with feta & garlic (delicious!), the sundried tomatoes (which were good, but I think might have been meant to go with something else…) amazingly delicious roasted new potatoes, and finally…. the sampler tray….
So.. the sampler tray. At the end of the buffet was the tray from the very top of this post. I hesitantly picked out one or two bits, and then decided to just go for it and try one of everything.. Just one. And they were cut very small…(slightly larger than a regular die..)
From the top center clockwise and around again:
- Hangikjöt – Smoked lamb – the solid pink cube – this actually wasn’t terrible. It had a smoky taste of course, but wasn’t particularly offensive. I wouldn’t want a big plate of it or anything, but I can see someone who enjoys meat more than I do enjoying it.
- Hákarl – fermented shark – the bright white blob – ok. this was revolting. There’s a story that you can only eat it if you take a shot of Brennivin (very strong schnaps) on either side of the taste – I don’t think that makes it better, Brennivin is just so strong that by the time you’re tasting the shark you’re half-drunk I figure. I didn’t have a shot of schnaps, and I wish I had…
- Svidasulta – Sheep head jelly – the mottled tan cube – So… sheep’s head is supposed to be a delicacy in Iceland. They burn the head to remove the wool, cut it in two, remove the brain, and boil it. It’s then either eaten fresh (Svid), or pressed into jelly like this to preserve it. I ate it. I wouldn’t recommend it though! At least it was better than the shark. (That isn’t saying much!)
- Lifrarpylsa – Liver sausage – the smooth tan cube – I had expected something like Liverwurst… nope. It was dry and crumbly and tasted like liver…
- Slatur – Blood sausage – the dark red spotty cube – just as terrible as everything else I’m afraid. It tasted exactly like what it sounds like, without any additional herbs or things that I could taste. I know that there are people who have an affinity for blood sausage (my cousin included) but… no no no no no for me!
- Hardfiskur – Stockfish (dried fish) – the dried-up looking thing behind all of the cubes – I never quite figured out how this is supposed to be eaten. On “Guide to Iceland” they suggest that it’s eaten at any meal of the day, and served with a huge dollop of butter. I can see anything being a delivery system for the absolutely delicious Icelandic butter (what is it about Iceland dairy? – it’s all amazing!) but I tried it without, and it was kind of like biting into a branch or twig. There was a fishy taste to it for sure, but it didn’t really seem to soften up with chewing, and then it kind of all broke apart. Maybe this is an acquired taste too…
Now you might think that this whole tray was just developed to freak out tourists, but I saw the dried stockfish packaged up for sale like jerky in multiple shops around Iceland. (No, I didn’t buy any!) Read more about strange Icelandic food in this article from the BBC.
A little relief
Thank goodness after the sampler tray the restaurant made it up to us… with little shots of delightful flavoured mousse with chocolate decorations.
I had an apple one, and a raspberry one, with a little square of chocolate cake in the middle. (oh.. and more potatoes.. you can just see them at the edge of the photo… )
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Like my other posts, I’m also sharing some photos taken during the day before we arrived at our hotel. Iceland is so beautiful!