Eating puffin in Iceland

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.

Tapas Barinn

Tapas Barinn.

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.

Would you?

Puffin patrol in Newfoundland

Thankfully I am fairly certain this wasn’t the one I ate, as puffins return to the same burrows each year.
*The whole menu cost about $150CAD for the two of us, including a wine and a beer. Not too bad, as far as a multi-course meal goes.

  • January 09 2015
    Lauren @BonVoyageLauren

    You gamble AND eat adorable animals?!??! Wild as hell. But seriously, what a crazy awesome meal. It’s all about the experience, right? ;)

    • January 19 2015

      Hahaha, sometimes I even gamble WHILE eating adorable animals.

  • January 10 2015

    I have a rule not to eat pets and although I don’t have a puffin as a pet, I wish I did, so therefore I wouldn’t eat one. I love the lobster and blue ling in Iceland though – so damn good!

    • January 19 2015

      That’s a pretty good rule in general, although I did eat guinea pig in Peru. I’m a heathen.

  • January 17 2015

    I did the same tasting menu when I was there a couple years ago! I wasn’t really a fan of the puffin (but I’m unsure if it was the taste, or the fact that I was eating an adorable creature), and I could not eat the whale. But the rest was pretty good!

    • January 19 2015

      Hahaha. I will apparently eat just about anything…