I am one of those people who plan their travel around food. Where do I have my breakfast before setting out on a sightseeing trip, who supplies the best coffee and cake in town and what do the locals do for a dinner out? Luckily, Icelandic culinary scene has been undergoing tremendous change, with local world-class restaurants, chefs, breweries and food producers making news in international press.
The Food & Fun festival that will take place in Reykjavik over five days in the first week of March this year has been a part of this exciting trend for the past 16 years.
“The original aim of Food & Fun was to let people know that Reykjavik is full of top quality restaurants and Iceland has the purest food – meat, dairy and fish,” says chef and festival manager Siggi Hall.
Chefs from the USA and Europe (some of them now hold Michelin stars like chef Ollie Dabbous) travel to Iceland and team up with local restaurants where they combine their skills with Iceland’s culinary heritage – their centre pieces must be made with Icelandic produce. Veterans describe the atmosphere as vibrant as foodies in a party mood descend on Iceland’s capital.
For many centuries in Iceland its harsh climate and scarcity of food shaped the local cuisine and preparation methods. As fresh food was rarely available in the darkness-clad winter months, Icelanders smoked, pickled and preserved everything they could get their hands on. Even today, supermarkets sell hákarl, ammonia-rich fermented shark meat, and diners are invited to try skata, fermented skate, char smoked in sheep’s dung or bread baked for 24 hours in hot geothermal soil.
Although many now will describe Icelandic cooking as exciting and unique, perhaps it’s unsurprising that in the past chefs looked abroad for ingredients and inspiration. But it’s not in Iceland’s nature to stand still. Today, they seek out local produce, from herbs, seaweed and wild berries ingenious to Iceland to vegetables, cheese, fish and meat. Iceland’s many fish are caught in sustainable numbers, while sheep roam free in the summer months drinking pure glacial water and munching on mountain grass and angelica. Any Icelander will tell you that its taste is unrivalled because of it.
The Food & Fun festival could be just a stop on a packed tour of Iceland. Exciting restaurants, bakeries, ice cream shops, coffee houses and distilleries are popping up across the country; given Iceland’s picturesque surroundings, organic produce and daring young chefs, foodie traveler are in for a major treat – no matter where they go.
There are just 15 restaurants that can collaborate at each time during the festival. And places go fast so visitors are advised to book their dining options – and flights – early. Icelandair, the founding partner of the festival, has direct flights from most of the cities in Europe and many cities in the US to Iceland.
The festival takes place on 1-5 March 2017 in Reykjavik, Iceland.
By Svetlana Graudt
Svetlana was born in Moscow, where as many as nine million people use the metro every day. After 12 years in London she moved to Reykjavik for love. Svetlana loves cities and reading long articles in The New Yorker.
Photos by Sigurjón Ragnar – Photographer