Iceland is expensive. Nobody is surprised.
During my three weeks in the country last year, my diet consisted mostly of ramen noodles and hotdogs. But then on one of my final nights in Reykjavik, the Obesity Gods intervened.
I had a bunch of change in my pocket, and my friend suggested we hit up a casino. I’ve never done such a thing; I’ve never put my hands on a slot machine. So when I pulled the lever and the sirens started wailing – and wailing, and wailing – I stood there in shock while dedicated gamblers stared at me in revulsion and hatred. I watched the numbers climb.
I won $150, on my first try.
The woman at the bar handed me my payout and tried to coax me into having a beer. “Nice try,” I said, and fled the casino like it was on fire. I knew exactly where I wanted to spend my money.
My friend Katie had recommended the restaurant Tapas Barinn for some traditional Icelandic food. I figured, why not go all out? This is the land of boiled sheep’s head, after all. So I decided to treat my friend and I to the full gourmet menu.
It looks a little something like this:
A shot of Brennivin to start (the national liquor)
Smoked puffin in blueberry sauce
Icelandic sea trout with salsa
Lobster tails baked in garlic
Pan-fried blue ling with lobster sauce
Grilled Icelandic lamb
Minke whale with cranberry-sauce
And a mousse for a dessert
Two things to note about this menu: It’s very meat oriented, and the puffin is Newfoundland’s most coveted bird. In fact, it’s a heavily protected species of the most adorable order. Hunting puffins in my home province is treason.
Obviously I had to eat one in Iceland.*
(Let’s not even get started on the minke whale.)
The restaurant itself is a classy wine bar-esque setting. To suit the theme of the evening, our waiter was one of the quirkiest people I’ve ever met. When my friend told him he was from Montana, the waiter responded with “I knew a porn star named Montana once.”
And then, on the topic of eating Newfoundland’s sacred bird: “If I had met you a week earlier, I could have lend you my friend’s gun, and we could have went hunting.” Completely straight faced, standing there all tall and rigid. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I think my friend got his number later.
Surprisingly, the puffin was delicious. In Newfoundland we eat seabirds like turr, which have a particularly fishy taste that I’m not so fond of. But the puffin was prepared in such a way that you’d hardly know you were eating one of the most adorable creatures on earth. It’s also served cold.
The irony that I spent the previous summer covering a puffin rescue story in Witless Bay was not lost on me. I had gone from releasing baby puffins back into wild, to mowing down on one sitting on my plate. I’m not sure why eating puffin in Iceland is legal but not in Newfoundland, but like Newfoundland, Iceland is a big crazy rock with not much vegetation. Ya gotta eat something.