There are three foods in Iceland you must try because you probably won’t have something like it anywhere else.
(1) Skyr has been around for a very long time, think 1000 years. Yeah, it’s old. It’s yogurt made from skim milk and is just about everywhere. I think we ate it almost everyday. You can find it at grocery stores, gas stations, for breakfast in your hotel – we even had it for dessert at this little restaurant in the middle of nowhere.
(2) Pylsur is the Icelandic word for hot dog, and it can also be found just about anywhere. We may have even eaten it every day too… which is quite easy to do because also like skyr, you can find it everywhere! We tried hot dogs from both gas stations and the truck that boasts selling the best Pylsur in town, one wasn’t exponentially better than the other but these were the star food of the trip.
(3) Lastly, Icelandic lamb!!! Iceland has some of the best lamb I’ve ever had – and even in the randomest most hole-in-the-wall spots. The lamb burgers at the gas station across from Hotel Skaftafell were so delicious (I never thought I’d say that). It’s something to do with how the sheep are raised, munching and strolling on grassy hillsides, free of grain-fed diets and hormones. This makes the meat incredibly tender and all around amazing. You’ll also find some kind of lamb dish everywhere (lamb soup, lamb burgers, grilled lamb, rack of lamb, SO MUCH LAMB).
While out of the city and traveling through the most deserted parts of Southern Iceland, we stayed at four or five different hotels over the course of a week. Our favorites were Litli Geysir across from the tourist stop Geysir and 37 Apartments back in Reykjavik.
Litli Geysir was cozy and adorable and like many other spots in Iceland, surprisingly like stepping into a Pinterest board. The morning breakfast was also our favorite breakfast during the trip! It’s mostly things like baked beans, a variety of breads, deli meats, cheeses, fish oil shots, skyr (duh), granola, and cereal. But best of all is this place had bacon and geysir bread which the hotel chef picked up that morning.
37 Apartments was my favorite – I couldn’t rave enough about this place. You get your own apartment (request #2 if you can, it’s so cute), which is super spacious for the price, and again a living Pinterest photo. It’s the kind of place I’d want to live in if we lived in Europe. Plus it’s in a very central area of the city, with lots of shopping and places to eat on the street below. But this also means that if you’re staying in an apartment street-side, you may need to bring ear plugs and especially on the weekends. Check out the shop that’s directly below the apartment complex. They have the cutest home goods and kitchen ware.
Trip highlights/stuff I think you should do if you’re in Iceland:
Take your time in Reykjavik
I took the advice of others who said they wished they’d spent more time in the city and made sure we had 2-3 days at the end of our trip to relax and get to know Reykjavik. There are so many places to shop, the downside being that most if it is v $$$. Some fun places to eat at were Reykjavik Roasters, Sandholt, Snaps, and Grillmarkadurinn (Grill Market).
Fish & Chips @ Reykjavik’s oldest restaurant
It could have been getting to escape the cold or being (literally) the only tourists in the restaurant, but this place had the best damn fish and chips. EVER.
The worst decision we made
If you’ve ever looked up photos of Iceland, then you’ve probably seen ones of the abandoned plane on the beach. People used to drive off the main road to it when the gate was open. However, it’s since been closed indefinitely to keep people away. A sign marked the crash site as 2km away, which didn’t seem too far. We could make out people in the distance and thought they were standing near the plane. We were so wrong. We kept walking and the people we could barely make out kept moving away from us. We later realized they were probably half way to the plane. The weird thing about Iceland is the beach is miles and miles from the main road. We were walking through a barren field of nothing but black rocks. It was freezing, windy, and at times rainy. At some point, we thought we’d been walking for an hour and a friendly stranger coming from the plane told us that we still had 30 minutes to go. She also told us to be careful because if we took too long, we’d be walking back in the dark. We only spent 10 minutes at the crash site before booking it back to the car. If we hadn’t used a black patch of mountain as a landmark, we definitely would have missed where we parked the car. We did some very *skeptical* things in Iceland (e.g. snorkeling, see below), but this was the only one that was kind of a disaster. We all agreed that the abandoned plane was not worth the struggle it took to get there. But if we could have driven there, that’d be a different story.
Snorkeling in Silfra
So, I know what you’re thinking. Snorkeling? In below freezing water? Goodbye. I hadn’t realized how cold Iceland was going to be when I booked the snorkeling tour but we were all very worried on the morning of. I’m not going to tell you that you forget about the cold once you’re in the water, like many of the reviews I read suggested, BECAUSE IT WAS SO COLD. But it’s not as cold as you think. You get a dry suit and wear a layer of thermal underwear underneath so you don’t actually get wet. Only your head and hands do, which is very manageable for the 20 minutes you spend in the water. Iceland is the only place you can swim between two tectonic plates. Coupled with the water being filtered through miles of volcanic rock, it’s the freshest and clearest water in the world. It’s a really neat experience that I really recommend. Plus, they give you hot cocoa and digestives after!
Blue Lagoon // #spaday
The the blue lagoon was the exact opposite of snorkeling next to icicles. But 1000x more relaxing. It’s busy and there’s a lot of tourists, but I felt like I was in a spa. The water is warm and a gorgeous milky blue. We put on clay masks and drank skyr smoothies and champagne and floated through the water. We did this the day before we left once we were back in Reykjavik, and is hands down one of the best things we did.
Iceland has a lot of waterfalls. We went to most of the well-known ones, but our favorites were the two more “off the beaten path” ones we stumbled upon. Next to the Seljalandsfoss waterfall is another one called, Gljúfrabúi. You won’t see it upon approaching but will find a river coming through a large crack in the mountain. You have to step through the water/balance on top of river rocks to get inside where the waterfall is but it’s absolutely gorgeous. I don’t know the name of the second hidden waterfall we went to, but it’s near Skógafoss. I wanted to go to the museum, Skogasafn, near the waterfall but it was closed when we got there. To life out spirits, one of the museum workers gave us directions to a secret waterfall behind the museum. If you’re interested, I suggest asking someone at the museum how to get there. Icelanders are the friendliest people!
A few other things to note:
+ Don’t worry about not knowing Icelandic or being unfamiliar with how words are pronounced. Everyone we interacted with spoke English very well and we never had to deal with any language barrier.
+ IT WAS SO COLD. I heard time and time again how cold Iceland can get, especially during the winter months, but none of us were prepared for the weather. The hard part about going in Spring is that it’s a bit warmer than winter but much rainier. Couple that with wind and snow and that photo of Steph and I frowny-faced under a waterfall is a very accurate depiction of how we felt. Make sure to bring appropriate clothes for the time of year you’re going!
+ Shopping and eating are very pricey. On average, about $30-40 for a plate at an average restaurant. The hotels near major tourist spots can also be very pricey, especially if they’re the only lodging around. On the plus side, lodging is very reasonable in the city. Most of the places I looked at were between $100-200 a night.
So I know I’ve been kind of ignoring the other thing in this post besides Iceland – a marzipan cake. But to be very honest with you, I don’t have much to say about it. While stopping by a grocery store to buy pylsusinnep aka Icelandic hot dog mustard aka yaaaaaaas, I found myself flipping through a food magazine. I can’t remember the name of the cake I read about, aside from understanding the word “marzipan”, but the photos had me craving it with one glance. This marzipan cake with strawberries and a chocolate glaze is my interpretation of it – a dessert I discovered in Iceland and grew eager to attempt back in my little kitchen in sunny California.
There is something magical about Marzipan, which made this cake absolutely stunning. I don’t even know if I’ve ever called a cake that before but it blew me away. It’s moist and rich with a dense and chewy crumb. It’s the kind of cake you don’t forget. Apparently, after putting the last few pieces up for grabs in the kitchen at school, I got declarations of marriage. Essentially what I’m saying is yes, try this cake. It is delicious.
Strawberry & Chocolate Glaze Marzipan Cake
Adapted from The Daring Gourmet. Recipe makes one 8-inch cake.
for the marzipan cake
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup marzipan
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
optional: jam of choice (I used raspberry)
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and line an 8 inch springform pan with parchment paper. Set aside.
2. In a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together for a few minutes until light and fluffy. Add in the marzipan and vanilla extract and continue to beat until combined. Add in egg and beat for another 30 seconds.
3. In another bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together.
4. Pour in half of the buttermilk and half of the dry ingredients to the wet mixture. Use a rubber spatula to fold everything together until lightly combined. Mix in the rest of both the buttermilk and the dry ingredients. Fold together until just combined. Do not over mix. The batter should be thick and sticky.
5. Transfer the batter to the springform pan. Additionally, you can spread half of the batter along the bottom of the pan and to the edges. Add a thin layer of jam and cover with the rest of the batter. Use a small offset spatula to smooth out the top of the batter.
6. Bake for 45-55 minutes on the middle rack, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool for at least 10 minutes before removing it from the pan. Remove the parchment paper and let it cool completely on a wire rack. The cake can be made a few days ahead of time and can be stored at room temperature, tightly wrapped in plastic and inside a ziplock bag.
for the chocolate glaze
10g gelatin sheets (or powdered gelatin)
65g cocoa powder
65g heavy cream
50g dark chocolate
7. In a small bowl, bloom the gelatin sheets by covering them in cold water. If using powdered gelatin, in a bowl, add the powder to 50g of cold water. Let the gelatin bloom for at least 10 minutes.
8. In a saucepan, combine the sugar, water, cocoa powder, and heavy cream. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Once the mixture reaches a boil, add in the chocolate and stir until completely dissolved.
9. Remove the bloomed gelatin sheets from the water. Add the gelatin into the saucepan and mix until dissolved.
10. Run the chocolate mixture through a fine mesh sieve several times. You can also use an immersion blender to make it smoother. Remove any bubbles by running it through the sieve again as needed.
11. Let the glaze cool down slightly before using. Set the marzipan cake on top of a cooling rack and with a large bowl or rimmed baking tray underneath. I flipped the cake so the bottom of the cake when baked is now right side up. This created a more even surface for the glaze. Pour the chocolate glaze over the entire cake, making sure it drips down all sides. Transfer the cake to the fridge to let the glaze set up.
12. Once the glaze has hardened, add fresh strawberries to the top and dust with powdered sugar before serving. Enjoy!