Vegetarian Iceland

Posted on 22 November 2005 in Food and Drink, Travel and Holidays (8 comments)

In August 2005 myself and Catherine went on holiday to Iceland. However there's one thing that makes any travelling vegetarian nervous, it's the issue of food. In a special guest post (cos she doesn't have her own blog), I've allowed Catherine to fill up the server with a post about it.

Being a nervous, almost apologetic vegetarian when travelling (thank you for letting me into your country! Please don't hate me!), you can imagine how I felt when one of the guide books said Icelandic food was "like something out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom". Rotted shark heads, boiled sheep heads, wind-dried herring and other such lovely delicacies were promised. The only vegetarian icelandic food seemed to be a kind of yoghurt. Apart from a couple of veggie restaurants in Reykjavik which are commonly listed online, the internet wasn't much help either. There is an icelandic vegetarian society which has a website, but it's all in icelandic!

So I thought it might help other panicky vegetarian travellers to know where we ate and what we had, especially as I couldn't find out any information about veggie food outside of Reykjavik.

The purpose of this is not necessarily to send you to specific restaurants but to reassure you that you will be absolutely fine as a veggie travelling in the north, east and south around the ring-road.

The Holiday

We started our holiday in the Capital, then flew to Akureyri and then drove around the country on Road 1 via Myvatn, Egilsstaðir, Höfn, Kirkjubæjarklaustur, Selfoss, and back to Reykjavik again.

You'll be pleased to know it wasn't as bad as you'd expect, and it is definitely possible to eat out around Iceland and get veggie food. Let's face it, you never travel to iceland for a gastronomic experience, but neither was I a shrivelled, starving husk at the end of the trip either.

I didn't even have to explain to anyone that I was vegetarian because there was always a choice wherever we went, so avoided being stared at as if I was an alien being from planet weird. Hooray!

I can't comment on how vegans would fare eating out; I would imagine this could be much trickier. You vegans have my utmost respect!

If you found this useful / encouraging I'd be very pleased to know.

Enjoy your holiday - it will be fantastic!

Breakfasts

We stayed in Guesthouses wherever we went, basically bed and breakfasts (as opposed to proper Hotels). The breakfast was essentially the same wherever you go. My fear of being presented with a rotting shark's head for breakfast turned out to be unfounded! In fact you can choose from cereal, tea, coffee, toast, bread rolls, sliced cheese (the ready-sliced individual sliced kind that comes in packets), sliced tomatoes, sliced boiled eggs. The carnivores can choose from small pieces of fish as well. if you're lucky you will get some lovely icelandic bread such as rye bread or steam bread.

Day 1 - Reykjavik

Tea - A Naestru Grosum. (If you google this restaurant, google asks you: "Did you mean: A Maestro Gruesome"!)

Lovely, large portions, filling, good value. Falafels, bean patties, lasangne. Includes tasty icelandic rye bead which comes with hummous and chutneys. Very "wholefood-y". Reminds me a bit of "Food For Thought" in Covent Garden in London (but not as small!). Amazing, scrumptious cakes (sugar free) and nice cafe-style atmosphere. Organic beers. Go up to the counter and ask what they have.

There is a vegan cafe in Reyjavik too called Graenn Kostur which we found but didn't end up going in. Sounded intriguing though, probably a good place for lunch.

Day 2 - Akureyri to Myvatn (Reykjahlíð)

For lunch - we bought some bread rolls and slices of cheese from a supermarket and had a picnic.

For dinner, we ait in Reykjahlíð. There were a few options to eat here.

  1. The cafe/bar raved about in the guidebooks: Gamli Bærinn
  2. the Hotel
  3. a pizza place next to the Strax supermarket
  4. stand about with your mouth open and eat 5 million midges which will fly into your mouth.

Hm... well, apart from the midges, the other three places ALL had vegetarian options. Amazing! See! Iceland isn't as bad for veggies as everyone makes out. What was even more amazing is that the Hotel charged about £20 for stuffed red peppers. So we didn't go there. We went to Gamli Bærinn which is a very popular place with a lovely atmosphere.

I chose "vegetable sandwich". I was thinking that this would be a kind of toasted pannini type thing. But in fact it was literally some marinated, roasted vegetables in between two slices of toast, with salad. It was nice though.

Day 3 - Around Myvatn

Lunch - we bought pre-packaged sandwiches from the Strax supermarket. In Iceland these all seem to be in a soft baguette format.

There are two main sandwich companies in Iceland. In the south, sandwiches had good, English descriptions. But in the north, well BEWARE! They do not have english translations on the packets; they all have the same picture on them and - this is important - the one with the green label is NOT vegetarian! (How could they break the international vegetarian code?!) The vegetarian one is something unlikely, like pink, or blue.

We found it by prising open the pieces of bread inside the packet and looking at the contents. By a process of elimination we found a cheese salad with pineapple, and an egg mayonnaise. The cheese one was nice but the egg one had some suspicious pink speckles in it. It might have been nothing, it was hard to tell, but it made me think of prawns. But you can risk it if you want.

Tea - we were going to go to the pizza / grill bar next to the supermarket but it was closed (on the menu they did have a couple of veggie pizzas that sounded nice). So we went back to Gamli Bærinn. This time I had "vegetable pie" which turned out to be quiche with salad.

Day 4 - Myvatn - Ásbyrgi - Egilsstaðir

Lunch - we had ours at the roadside cafe at the Ásbyrgi canyon, a bit greasy-spoonish. There were a few things I could have had here. I had a big mug of tea and I chose some fries and "a bowl of vegetables". This turned out to be a bowl of salad (iceberg lettuce, tomato, cucumber, bits of cheese). Apparently in Iceland "vegetables" often means salad. Probably explains why veggies are known as "salad eaters".

Tea - Egilsstaðir. There was a nice looking cafe in this small town which I think had a veggie option (pasta?), but we decided to go for the cheaper option and have pizza in the cafe in the Esso petrol station. Sounds silly, but in Iceland petrol stations all have huge cafes attached to them. This was a bit like Pizza Hut, and there was at least two veggie pizzas on the menu. They also had chips and onion rings and stuff like that.

Day 5 - Egilsstaðir - Höfn

Lunch - we had sandwiches which we'd bought from the supermarket at Egilsstaðir.

Tea - Höfn. We ate at the Kaffi Hornið. Quite expensive, but nice. There was indeed a veggie option on the menu: it was a huge portion of pasta with vegetables (not salad this time!) in a creamy sauce.

Day 6 - Höfn - Skaftafell -Kirkjubæjarklaustur

Lunch - sandwiches again. Sorry to be predictable here.

Tea - Kirkjubæjarklaustur, Systrakaffi cafe. This place was really lovely and had fantastic pizzas including a veggie one. The garlic bread was amazing. I'd definitely recommend it if you're not fed up with pizzas.

Day 7 - Kirkjubæjarklaustur - Vik - Selfoss / Hveragerdi

Lunch - at the petrol station cafe at Vik. Had vegetable soup and a roll. I asked if the soup had fish in it, but it didn't.

Further along the road towards Selfoss there is a place called Skogafoss which has a lovely cafe in the Museum of Transport which looked like it did nice food. We had an absolutely gorgeous cake here.

Tea - we got to Selfoss quite late and wandered around for ages trying to find somewhere, but everywhere looked dodgy or scary, or sold pizza (enough is enough!) or was KFC. So we ended up driving to a nearby town, Hveragerdi, where there were a couple of places that sounded ok, but they had both just closed when we got there. So in desperation we ended up in Pizza Hveragerdi, not for pizza but for a toasted sandwich and a bit of limp salad that cost about £6. They were listed in a proper hardback menu and all had fancy names like "Exotic" simply because it had some mushroom on it. I had one with cheese, mushroom and pinapple.

Not one of the best days for food, it has to be said.

Day 8 - Thingvellir - Selfoss

Lunch - back to the sandwiches again.

Tea - Menam Thai restaurant in Selfoss. Really hard to miss as it has no sign outside, but extremely popular, filled with tourists and locals and rightly so because it was lovely. I had some noodle thing which was very nice indeed. If you go here, check out the leaflet; it is written in that hillarious style you get when someone has obviously written it who doesn't write much english very often. Phrases like "we try to create a domestical atmosphere" and so on. Hee hee.

Day 9 - Selfoss - Blue Lagoon - Reykjavik

Lunch - we ate at the Blue Lagoon cafe. There is a cafe and an expensive looking restaurant here. We had a bowl of soup in the cafe but didn't really pay it much attention as we were dying to get into the lagoon.

Tea - Back at Reykjavik. We wandered around for a while but nothing caught our fancy, so I'm sorry to say we went back to A Naestru Grosum. And very nice it was too.

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Your Comments

Kate said:

Thanks for the write up. I'm hoping to eventually travel to Iceland and wondered about the food. I'm glad to hear about your experiences. Fortunately, we can eat pizza pretty regularly so I think we'll be in good shape! Best wishes, Kate

Posted on 16 November 2009 at 4:54 AM

Sarah said:

I'm heading off to Iceland on Sunday morning, as my honeymoon (getting married on Saturday!) ... and am thankful I found this ahead of my departure! Nice job writing about your experiences, and thoughtful to put this info out there for vegetarian travellers! Sarah

Posted on 17 December 2009 at 2:13 PM

Sarah said:

I'm heading off to Iceland on Sunday morning, as my honeymoon (getting married on Saturday!) ... and am thankful I found this ahead of my departure! Nice job writing about your experiences, and thoughtful to put this info out there for vegetarian travellers! Sarah

Posted on 17 December 2009 at 2:13 PM

Moray said:

A very good review!

I've just come back from Iceland, and Á Næstu Grösum was indeed very good. The service was good, and it was nice to get my meal straight away rather than having to wait.

I found that I had no trouble at all finding vegetarian food in Iceland, and I probably even ate better than I do at home (then again, I stayed in Reykjavík the whole time.

Sushibarinn, on Laugevegur, did a lovely vegetarian sushi selection with a generous supply of dipping sauce. I'd certainly recommend it if you like sushi.

There is also a vegetarian cafe in one of the art galleries at the harbour called Suppubarinn. I had a lovely carrot and coconut soup there, and I was offered more bread if I wanted it.

The National Gallery of Iceland had a nice cafe as well, I had more soup there as well, this time with sweet potato. The lady in the cafe sprinkled some nuts on top so it certainly had enough protein!

I was dying to try out skyr, but I heard it was made with rennet. Luckily, I found out that one brand is vegetarian, so I tried three different flavours - very nice!

It was good to read your review, as I have been wondering about the availability of vegetarian food outside of Reykjavík. I'll definitely go back to Iceland, so it's nice to know that I won't be stuck if I travel the country.

Posted on 15 January 2010 at 5:31 AM

Mark Thomas said:

Thanks for your review!

I'm visiting Reykjavik in a few weeks' time and I to can be, as you put it, a "nervous, almost apologetic vegetarian". Google revealed a few vegetarian restaurants in the centre of town but it's always nice to read reviews from a fellow veggie.

I was flicking through your site and was interested to learn that you're in FM&T. I worked briefly in R&D at Kingswood (sadly no longer with us) with CRID-related stuff.

Posted on 30 April 2010 at 10:00 AM

Malay Dave said:

Thanks for the wonderful advice. We are vegetarian by birth and food is always a problem during travelling to exotic destinations.

Since we also do not eat eggs - do you think that will be a problem?

Posted on 14 July 2010 at 8:53 PM

Andrew Bowden said:

It will be a bit more difficult, however if it's just eggs (rather than all dairy) then you should be fine. And as a country, it's worth it!

Posted on 14 July 2010 at 10:27 PM

Hrafn said:

As Moray suggests, most Skyr contains animal rennet. The ones that are vegetarian are Bio-Bu brand or the flavoured Skyr.is (the flavoured ones have rennet).

Also, even though its offered as a vegetarian option, Icelandic cheese is practically never vegetarian. It always contains animal rennet as does certain things such as sour cream and the mascarpone contains gelatin. Be wary as even the vegetarian restaurants contain cheeses as an ingredient in some dishes, make sure to ask!

Posted on 19 September 2011 at 11:40 AM

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