Fishing exports account for some 40% of Iceland’s export income and employs some 7% of the workforce. I remember riding a bus from Háholt In Mossfellsbær to Borgarnes with the first mate of a fishing trawler, who explained that he would be off for several weeks because of the rigid quota system employed by the fisheries. As soon as it was possible to go to sea without the danger of exceeding the quota, they would set sail.
Needless to say, I ate a lot of fish in Iceland, sometimes as often as twice a day. In addition to Icelandic cod, my favorite, there was ling cod, sea wolf, salt-water catfish, langoustines, mussels, shrimp, halibut, haddock, monkfish, and probably half a dozen other varieties. Since the vast majority of the population lives within sight of the North Atlantic, I could look out the window while I was eating fish and see the trawlers and other fishing vessels (such as the one above) parked in the harbor waiting for their next outing.
Unlike the United States, where seafood is usually the priciest item on the menu, in Iceland, it is usually the cheapest.
Many people don’t know this, but some fifty years ago, Iceland fought a “cod war” with the United Kingdom. It was the first country to declare an extended territorial limit, mainly to protect its fisheries from British fishing boats. Nets were cut by the Icelandic Coast Guard, and a British frigate once threaten to ram the offending ship. Fortunately, the two NATO nations avoided a shooting war.
In the end, the Brits lost, and the British fishing industry is now but a shadow of what it once was. Now all countries, including the United States and Britain, have extended territorial limits. One interesting result is the possibility that Iceland could become an oil-producing country. There is an possible oil field within the territorial limits called the Dragon Zone which Iceland and Norway are thinking of sharing, much to the dismay of the Chinese and Russians, who would like to exploit the resources for themselves.
One would not think that Iceland would be a good place for what A People’s Guide to Mexico called “street grunting.” Tucked away near the old port is an 80-year-old hot dog stand called Bæjarin’s Beztu (roughly translated as “the best in town”).
Icelandic hot dogs are called pylsur. They are made with a combination of meats, including lamb, and are served in hot dog buns with ketchup, sweet mustard, fried onions, and remoulade, which includes mayonnaise and relish.
Generations of Reykjavík residents have made their way to Bjarin’s Beztu for a quick and relative cheap snack.
If you are in the boonies, not to worry: You can get decent pylsur at gast station roadhouses throughout the island. Also available are pizza, burgers, and fish and franskum (chips).
Finally, there is one Icelandic dairy product that is widely available to which I became addicted, and that is skyr. While similar to yogurt, it is much creamier and richer in texture. Made with pasteurized skim milk, it can be found virtually everywhere, either plain or in various fruit flavors.
The above picture was taken by me on my first day in Iceland. I went into a downtown market and purchased the above tub of the ambrosial treat. You can find out more by going to the manufacturer’s website.
I don’t think I lost any weight during my recent trip, but I did have a lot of tasty and, for the most part, healthy food.