In June I was feeling spontaneous and wanted to treat myself after completing my most recent book, Gluten-free Bites: Backyard BBQ, so I booked a trip to Iceland. I have two very good friends there who I hadn’t seen since December 2012, when I visited Iceland for the first time. Back then I had planned to blog about it, but unfortunately I caught a horrible cold on the plane and was pretty ill the whole week.
As (bad) luck would have it I also caught a cold on the plane on this trip, but I still managed to get out and about (through sheer determination more than anything else), so I finally had some places to review!
Sushibarinn, Laugavegur 2, 101 Reykjavik
Sushibarinn is on one of the main streets of Reykjavik. It’s a tiny city – so there are only really 2 or 3 “main streets”. Barinn means “bar”, and this tiny takeaway place seats no more than 6 people. Fortunately they have an agreement with the adjoining cafe, Prikið, so after ordering they directed me next door where I ordered a liquorice and mint tea and waited for my sushi to be brought to me.
As far as understanding of gluten-free goes, I found it a little tricky communicating with them, but the message eventually got through and my chef’s special came with gluten-free soy sauce.
It was fantastic sushi – melt-in-your-mouth fresh, while being simple at the same time. Like any city on the coast, Reykjavik has an abundance of fresh fish, and you can see why sushi is so popular here!
It was 2750 ISK (about £13/€18), which I didn’t think was too bad for Reykjavik prices.
(If you want an evening meal, try Sakebarinn which is right round the corner, and state on their website they have options for the gluten intolerant. They weren’t open for lunch, unfortunately.)
Gló, Laugavegur 20b, 101 Reykjavík
This place is right next to a health food shop, Heilsuhúsið, which has an excellent variety of gluten-free items – and trust me, if you venture much outside of Reykjavik, you will NEED to stock up.
I actually ate food from Gló by accident – one of the days I was ill my friend brought me a box back as lunch. Although they call themselves a “healthy eating/vegetarian/raw food/juice bar” kind of place, they do actually serve meat, and they have several options each day that are gluten-free. My friend said the woman seemed very knowledgeable and knew exactly what I could have. I ended up with some sort of chicken salad, which was delicious.
It was fresh, tasty and ever so slightly sweet (I think it was mango chutney on top of the chicken). Highly recommended as a gluten-free stop for lunch. They also have amazing gluten-free desserts (think flourless brownies and the like!).
They are a chain and have 5 branches in the area.
Sægreifinn (Sea Baron), Tryggvagata, 101 Reykjavík
A building by the harbour which serves kebabed meat and soups, as well as some delicious dried fish, which you will see for sale throughout Iceland. We went there in 2012, and I had the whale kebabs as I was curious to try it, although I now have mixed feelings/opinions on eating it so I abstained this time.
Saffran, various locations in the Reykjavik area
The hallmark of this place seems to be the saffron chicken, which I had on my first night there (unfortunately didn’t get pictures of it!). Their menu lists allergens with symbols, so the gluten-free options were easy to see, although I got the impression they weren’t especially clued up on cross-contamination issues. Having said that, I didn’t get sick either time I ate there.
I guess I could compare it to a posh, healthy Nandos. The second time we went I had the lobster and garlic salad.
It was really tasty but could have been a bit more substantial. The chicken and rice combos were much better at belly filling. The saffron chicken was 1990 isk (about £9.40/€13.50) and the lobster salad was 1890 isk (£8.95/€12.80).
Out and about
Although Reykjavik has a great food scene, once you get out of the city your options start to dwindle. Bear in mind this is a country that basically has a single ring road around it, and you start to get an idea of just how unpopulated the place is. Tourism is booming though (especially in summer) which means that there seemed to be many hotels/restaurants under construction.
One day I took a 14 hour coach trip all the way down the South coast as far as Jökulsárlón, the ice lagoon. I brought a bag of food with me – including protein bars, beef jerky, mini Babybels, cookies, crackers and some sad sandwiches made with tiny Schär bread, but I was still hungry come dinner, and the place we stopped in the evening was busy and cafeteria-like. I was so tired I couldn’t face asking about gluten-free and quizzing them about their cross-contamination so I ended up getting a bag of crisps for my dinner. Be warned if you do a similar long trip, as you won’t have much choice about where you stop.
Having said that, I did find amazing sustenance on the road and throughout my stay in Iceland from eating copious amounts of skyr. This pseudo-yoghurt is technically a soft cheese, but could well be considered a superfood as it is very high in protein but low in fat and sugar. Tubs of Skyr can be found in almost every service stop (although if you need lactose-free Skyr, you’ll have to find a supermarket), and they are a great snack at around 100 calories a pot.
Oh, and they taste like the most creamy, delicious, sinful pudding you could imagine. If anyone knows where I can find this in the Netherlands, please let me know!!
Edit: Since posting I have discovered the Skyr is very similar to Quark, which is freely available throughout Europe. Win!
Other places to try
When I was researching eating gluten-free in Iceland, these other places came up (although I didn’t get to try them on this trip):
3 Frakkar Baldursgata 14, 101 Reykjavík (I e-mailed them in 2012, before I got sick, so I never got to go here, but they have a good awareness of gluten-free)
Sushi Samba, Þingholtsstræti 5, 101 Reykjavík (I was desperate to go here, but they only opened in the evenings so I couldn’t fit them into my lunch plans)
Madame Free From’s account of her stay in Iceland (2013)
The Hungry Boyfriend’s recommendations for Reykjavik (2013)
Gluten-free Traveller’s recommendations for Rekyjavik (2009)
Overall, Icelandic people are very friendly, with a great sense of humour and eager to help you. You shouldn’t find any raised eyebrows when you mention gluten-free – although you are unlikely to encounter specialist restaurants or products there should be plenty for you to eat, although you might need to get a bit creative at the roadside stops.
Even though I’ve been there twice now, I can’t wait to go back for a longer time and with a larger budget 😉