The foodie’s guide to the Golden Circle

At the moment I am obsessed with food. It may be because I’m trying to eat better which means I need to deny myself of certain things more than I’ve done in the past or it may also be due to the fact that I haven’t had a kitchen for weeks and I’ve been tormenting myself endlessly with Pinterest recipes I cannot cook. Mostly I blame Phil Rosenthal and his stupidly endearing voyage around the world on Somebody Feed Phil and I’ll have what’s Phil’s having on Netflix.

He’s made me want to travel the world just for food and make a show about it. Or at least Iceland. The only problem is that I have zero filmmaking skills and I hate being in front of the camera so these new desires are somewhat unrealistic.

You can look at this post as my sad attempt to satisfy my new food show host aspiration or just a handy guide on what to try food-wise on the Golden Circle.

Geothermal rye bread at Fontana Spa

Icelanders hold a lot of world records, per capita, and we tend to think we’re best in everything. As a worldly woman who has traveled a fair share outside of Iceland, I try to avoid these hyperbolic and verging on nationalistic generalizations. I’m so above that and all. However, I have to say – Icelandic rye bread is probably the best rye bread in the world.

I’m sure its deliciousness has a lot to do with the fact that it’s full of sugar and therefore, duh, very sweet but some claim that geothermal rye bread is even better. This version of the rye bread is usually baked in the ground at least overnight and it’s extra moist and yummy. Icelandic rye bread really shines when it’s paired with a generous amount of butter and toppings such as cheese and all kinds of fish (trout, herring etc).

At Fontana Spa they’ve made this into an experience (aptly named The Rye Bread Experience) where you can visit the geothermal area where they bake the bread and see it taken out of the ground and taste it while it’s still warm. You can join them at 11:30 and 14:30 every day and you don’t need to book in advance unless you have group of 10 or more.

If you just want to taste the bread, there’s a bakery in Hveragerði called Almar Bakari (named after the baker Almar) that bakes their own geothermal rye bread every day. I haven’t tried their rye bread but I often stop in this bakery on my way through Hveragerði and I always find something good there.

Pizza and craft beers at Ölverk in Hveragerði

I don’t know about you guys but sometimes I don’t care about local delicacies when I travel and I just want a good pizza. Lucky for you, there’s a great little pizzeria in Hveragerði called Ölverk that offers pretty decent fire-baked pizzas. To sweeten the deal, they’re also a microbrewery and brewpub so you can really go to town with your carbohydrates by ordering pizza and a flight of locally brewed beers.

I’ve been there a couple of times and I really enjoyed it. When they first started they got some flak for slow service but I think they just got too popular too quickly and according to recent reviews they seem to have that under control now.

I am really a fan of places like Ölverk that are opening up all over Iceland now, bringing something new to places that were once maybe thought of by most as culinary wastelands. I remember a time where you would drive the ring road and all that was available to eat on the way was either bad gas station hamburgers or overpriced fine dining that maybe wasn’t all that fine. To me, it feels like that these places are not only opening up to take advantage of the tourist boom, although our guests definitely help them thrive, but because their owners have a passion for what they are doing. Slippurinn in Vestmannaeyjar and Norð Austur in Seyðisfjörður are good examples of this as well.

Icelandic Meat Soup at Gullfoss Café

Every family in Iceland has their own recipe for Icelandic meat soup and every family claims theirs is the best. It’s a clear soup, that some actually call a stew although I don’t agree with that characterization, full of meat and vegetables. Some places also add rice or barley to it to make it more filling. It’s really good and there are many excellent versions of it in restaurants and cafés all over Iceland.

Gulfoss café is kind of known for it’s meat soup, or kjötsúpa as we call it, and I can confirm that it’s pretty good. Not as good as my mom’s soup, obviously, but not too bad considering no members of my family were involved with making it. The food at the actual tourist stops tend to be a bit pricey but the meat soup at Gullfoss is actually quite reasonable, all things considered.

The famous tomato soup at Friðheimar farm

At this point the tomato soup at Friðheimar shouldn’t need any introduction – it’s been featured in every Iceland related publication under the sun and even Kim and Kanye have been there and done that. The restaurant is located inside one of the farm’s greenhouses where they grow the tomatoes they use for their famous tomato soup. It’s always warm and cozy and is especially welcoming after a rainy day of sightseeing.

The soup is very yummy but if you’re a lover of good bread the bread buffet is pretty amazing too. I also just like the atmosphere of the place and I always enjoy visiting it. They have a little gift shop as well with tomato-related products that you can bring home for your friends and family. Or, you know, yourself!

The restaurant is open between 12:00 and 16:00 daily and reservations are recommended, especially during lunch hours.

Ice cream at Efstidalur farm

Efstidalur is a dairy farm not far from Laugarvatn and in the middle of the Golden Circle area. They have a guesthouse, a farm-to-table restaurant and a horse rental but what they are best known for is their ice cream. They make it on-site and they often have delicious local flavors like rhubarb and blueberries.

I don’t know what more to tell you about this ice cream – it’s there, it’s delicious and you should try it. I’ve also once dined at their restaurant and they do a pretty decent burger.

If you are vegan or lactose intolerant you’ll need to go somewhere else though since they don’t do any gelatos – just ice cream made out of cow’s milk.

Smoked Trout at Útey

There are few things better than freshly baked Icelandic scones (which are kind of like American pancakes except bigger and less sugary) with a generous layer of butter topped with smoked trout. My mouth starts to water just thinking about it. People tend to love smoked salmon, which is so quintessentially Scandinavian somehow, and although I like that too I prefer the smoked trout. Maybe because it’s a treat I don’t get as often but it’s also less fatty and if it’s good it has a very intense smoked flavor.

There’s a farm called Útey on the Golden Circle that makes very good smoked trout which you can buy in selected stores here in Reykjavík. During the summer months, you can also go to the farm and buy the smoked trout directly from them and this is something my family and I often do when we’re in the neighborhood. They also offer fresh trout which is super delicious too and is caught in the lakes around the farm.

The smoked trout goes fabulously well with the sweet geothermal rye bread so if the weather is nice you might want to buy these two items and then have a picnic somewhere along the way. Just remember to bring a knife to cut the trout and some butter. And maybe some Kókómjólk (chocolate milk) – an Icelandic road trip stable.

Bonus round: Minilik in Flúðir

I love Minilik because it’s so unexpected somehow to find delicious Ethiopian food in Flúðir of all places. Not because there’s something wrong with Flúðir, it’s just tiny and kind of in the middle of nowhere. There are almost no restaurants there and then you have this little gem in a shed that served as the campsite’s reception when I was a kid.

This place is run by a husband/wife duo and she works the kitchen while he serves the guests. The service is warm and friendly and charmingly offbeat and even though you have to wait a while for your food (they make everything on the spot and to order) you don’t mind because the whole situation, and the people themselves, are so endearing. Just remember to bring your patience and good mood.

For coffee lovers, they also offer an Ethiopian coffee ceremony which, although I haven’t tried it myself because I don’t drink coffee, I’ve heard is great and not to be missed.

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