Washington, DC-based food and culture writer Rina Rapuano recently traveled to Reykjavik for the annual Iceland Food & Fun Festival.
The festival invites notable chefs from other countries to take over Reykjavik’s toniest kitchens, creating 4-course menus inspired by Icelandic ingredients. Judges eat at each participating restaurant throughout the course of the festival, choosing 3 favorites to compete in a public cook-off (held this year at the Harpa Concert Hall). Anyone is welcome to watch the chefs in action while sampling bites from restaurants that participated in the festival.
While there, Rina was able to get out into the countryside and experience the food and stunning natural beauty of Iceland.
I went here to: Experience Iceland’s unique food culture and taste the creativity of chefs from around the world.
The best way to travel here is: Fly into Keflavik and hop on a FlyBus for the 45-minute drive into Reykjavik, allowing you to sleep (many of the flights are red-eyes) or take in the moon-like landscape.
I stayed at: Hilton Reykjavik Nordica, which offers free shuttles to the downtown area. Rooms evoke Scandinavian design sensibilities; and the hotel’s restaurant, Vox, features a wonderful breakfast spread that includes international sweets and savories plus such Icelandic favorites as skyr, a soft cheese that resembles Greek yogurt.
When it comes to packing, be sure to bring: A coat with a hood, since umbrellas often fall victim to the wind; a bathing suit, because a visit to the relaxing geothermic pools of the Blue Lagoon is a must; outdoorsy clothes if you intend to explore outside the city limits; and dressy clothes for at least one foray into Reykjavik’s wild late-night scene.
The best thing I ate was: … Oh, this is a tough one. It was a food festival, after all, and there were so many memorable dishes from the talented chefs. The one thing I find myself craving most, though, was prepared and eaten during our daytime adventures outside the city. Just steps from the Great Geysir, the Hotel Geysir chef served slices of moist, sweet rye bread slathered with rich Icelandic butter and topped with herring and boiled eggs (cooked in a geothermic pool!).
I wish I hadn’t: Worn heels on my Saturday night out in Reykjavik. The cobblestones, the ferocious winds and the never-say-die approach to partying – which predictably ended in a trip to a circle of food trucks for a late-night sandwich – made for some very sore feet the next day. And the day after that.
Don’t miss: The chance to wander around the enigmatic streets of Reykjavik, where you’ll find cozy coffee shops, a graffiti-covered skate park, houses that look like they were pulled from a fairy tale and a city hall that looks like a modern-art installation. Plus, the shopping is fantastic.
Next time I will definitely: Rent a car. Our bus tour navigating Iceland’s Golden Circle – which included stops at the well-known geyser and the breathtaking Gullfoss falls – was fun to do once, but next time I’ll want the freedom of going off the beaten path and occasionally stopping to take it all in.
My favorite part of the festival was: Meeting chefs from all over the world and learning about the history of Iceland – and how that has shaped its food culture.
My advice for the festival would be: To enjoy as many of the dinners offered by these celebrated chefs as possible, but to be sure and try true Icelandic food, such as lamb, fish soup, langoustine, salt cod and skyr. There are some beautiful things happening with these humble ingredients and dishes.