Reykjavik is one of the few places in Europe I have felt awkward as a vegetarian.
I was travelling with a meat-eater who was keen to experience ‘traditional Icelandic cuisine’ – which, I sound learned, consists almost entirely of fish, rotten shark and hot dogs. Unfortunately, while Reykjavik is certainly not short of restaurants serving traditional Icelandic fare, many of these don’t offer any vegetarian alternatives. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts to find somewhere suitable on our first evening in Reykjavik, my companion was getting impatient and I was getting hungry.
Veggie-friendly restaurants in Reykjavik
Luckily, we stumbled upon Café Loki, an unassuming restaurant opposite Hallgrímskirkja that boasts a great selection of traditional Icelandic platters – including a vegetarian one! The photo above doesn’t do it justice, as that rye bread was delicious.
Moving outside of the capital city, finding veggie-friendly eating options can be harder (although by no means impossible). As such, self-catering can be a better option than relying on eating out.
If you do find yourself in a restaurant without anything vegetarian on the menu, you can always ask if anything can be adapted for you. Luckily, English is commonly spoken across much of the country, so you’re unlikely to need to grapple with the Icelandic phrase for “I am vegetarian” (“Ég er grænmetisæta”).
Grabbing vegetarian food on the go
When buying food while out and about in Iceland, veggie options can be limited, especially as you move further away from Reykjavik. We’re talking about a perhaps-one-veggie-sandwich-if-you’re-lucky scenario. For this reason, it pays to stock up beforehand in supermarkets.
Luckily, one of Iceland’s most iconic foods is also meat-free: skyr! It’s technically a soft cheese, but looks and tastes more like yoghurt. You can buy it plain or flavoured, and paired with a banana or nuts it makes a great breakfast or snack. It’s also insanely good for you, as it is probiotic and packed full of protein, calcium and vitamins.
Also keep an eye out for rúgbrauð, a type of dense rye bread. But be careful: its tendency to cause flatulence has led to its earning the nickname ‘thunderbread’!
Is it easy to be vegetarian in Iceland?
Well, it’s certainly doable: you will not starve in Iceland. In fact, you will probably eat some very nice meals. But that said, I have to admit that Iceland is no India. The traditional cuisine is very much meat-based, and most of the vegetables have to be imported.
All in all, don’t let Iceland’s reputation for dishing up whale meat and sheep heads put you off from visiting this fantastic country. If you research the restaurants beforehand and back this up with a mixture of self-catering and snacking, you will easily be able to keep hunger at bay.
How have you found the food in Iceland, vegetarian or otherwise? Share your tips and experiences below.