Endless Road Trip Iceland: I Ate a Whale and I Liked It
What does whale taste like? GUILT. Sweet, meaty guilt.
I recently took a trip to Iceland and one of its (many, many) highlights was the seafood. While the expected specialty dishes, such as arctic char and langoustine, were incredibly fresh, I want to talk bigger. I want to talk WHALE.
The first night we had dinner in Reykjavik we headed to Tapasbarinn, a dark, romantic little tapas bar (yep, tapas in Iceland! Who knew”) where we ordered the “Icelandic Feast” tapas set to share. One of the first dishes brought out was whale, and I can’t deny that I was excited to try it. I had expected something really blubbery, but it was really lean! I would describe whale meat like kind of like a rich, rare steak. It was absolutely delicious. I don’t have any photos of our food from that first night, because I meant what I said—that place was super atmospheric, but super dark, and I didn’t want to be the a-hole with the flash photography ruining the ambiance.
Anyway, let’s talk. You can’t deny the controversy surrounding the consumption of whale. Whaling is internationally banned, but three countries choose to ignore the ban: Japan, Norway, and Iceland. In defense of Iceland, I only saw minke whale, an un-endangered breed, served in restaurants. Plus they don’t have a ton of natural resources that far north, so I suppose that traditionally they had to take what they could get. Boyfriend Rob and I took a whale-watching tour (recommended!) on the last day of our trip, though, and the guide explained to us that only about 10-15% of whale is eaten by native Icelanders, and the rest is just for tourists. That made me feel kind of bad.
But not that bad, apparently. After our boat trip, for our last meal in Reykjavik, Rob and I went to Grillmarkaðurinn (Grill Market), one of Reykjavik’s hippest restaurants, with an upscale gastropub atmosphere and a menu focusing on super fresh produce, seafood, and meats. What did we eat? You guessed it… whale. Whale! We didn’t technically order it intentionally, though. We hemmed and hawed over pricing for a few minutes and ultimately decided we had to get the chef’s choice eight-course tasting menu, for the equivalent of $90ish a person (plus a little extra for some drinks, obviously). What does a $200+ meal for two look like at one of Iceland’s most popular restaurants? Take a look:
Before the real supper started, we were treated to freshly baked bread with soft Icelandic butter and black lava salt to sprinkle on top.
First Course: Deep fried salt fish and squid. As you can probably guess, it was indeed super salty. It might sound weird to fry dried fish, but the textures worked really well together.
Second Course: Grilled minke whale. The sweet taste of controversy strikes again. This was more tender and flavorful than any beef steak.
Third Course: Duck confit salad with roasted sweet potatoes and fresh mozzarella—while the most simple, this might have been our favorite course out of the whole decadent meal! Mozzarella combined with duck and sweet potato is a real winner.
Fourth Course: BBQ pork ribs. Just as good (or better) as any ribs I’ve had in Texas. Different, but definitely just as good.
Fifth Course: Fresh salmon with broccoli. I’m not sure how to explain this besides, well, fresh. Iceland’s seafood is just amazing.
Sixth Course: Roast lamb with sesame-carrot slaw and crispy roasted potatoes. The textures were perfect together.
Seventh Course: Rare steak (I believe a ribeye?) with a whole roasted garlic, coarse black lava salt, and greens. This was the richest meat dish, so fatty and savory in the best way possible.
Eighth Course: GIANT PLATTER OF DESSERTS! Mug of chocolate mousse, chocolate ice cream with a hot caramel sauce poured over it in a tableside presentation, creme brulee, and sour sorbets over crispy cookie crumbs topped with dark chocolate. Oh, and a few slices of fresh fruit. Ridic.
In the end, I can say without a doubt that whale was one of my favorite food discoveries on my Icelandic journey. I definitely felt kind of strange essentially giving money to the controversial whaling industry, but hey, when in Iceland.
Also on The Endless Road Trip: Iceland
1. The Best Hot Dogs in the World?
For more Iceland travel tips (not to mention cocktails, healthy recipes, and restaurant reviews), check out ES Emily’s individual blog, A Time to Kale, or tweet her @emilyteachout with all your burning food travel questions.