Grill Market Iceland Whale Steak

Endless Road Trip Iceland: I Ate a Whale and I Liked It

Grill Market Iceland Whale Steak

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:

Grill Market Iceland Bread and Butter

Before the real supper started, we were treated to freshly baked bread with soft Icelandic butter and black lava salt to sprinkle on top.

Grill Market Iceland Dried Fish

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.

Grill Market Iceland Whale Steak

Second Course: Grilled minke whale. The sweet taste of controversy strikes again. This was more tender and flavorful than any beef steak.

Grill Market Iceland Duck Salad

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.

Grill Market Iceland Ribs

Fourth Course: BBQ pork ribs. Just as good (or better) as any ribs I’ve had in Texas. Different, but definitely just as good.

Grill Market Iceland Salmon

Fifth Course: Fresh salmon with broccoli. I’m not sure how to explain this besides, well, fresh. Iceland’s seafood is just amazing.

Grill Market Iceland Lamb

Sixth Course: Roast lamb with sesame-carrot slaw and crispy roasted potatoes. The textures were perfect together.

Grill Market Iceland Steak

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.

Grill Market Iceland Dessert

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.

You may also like


  • Whale was SO GOOD. And I think they ONLY can hunt the minke whale, so that’s good. Did you try puffin? I did, at that same tapas bar, and was NOT impressed. Oh well. Whale was more than enough to satiate me 🙂

  • Emily August 21, 2013  

    I did try puffin! Also at the tapas place I went to 🙂 I thought the same thing as you… a little too smoky, gamey, and tough in my opinion. They did a good job of serving it with a nice blueberry sauce that compliments the flavor, but it still wasn’t my fave.

  • AnimuX August 22, 2013  

    By consuming minke whale meat you’re effectively undermining international conservation efforts.

    Common minke whales may not be listed as an endangered species but they are protected by several international conventions.

    Iceland also kills endangered fin whales to mass produce meat for export to Japan — 100 have been slaughtered just this year (so far).

    Iceland’s tourism industry is openly opposed to whaling but there are elements of the government and major fishing companies linked to the trade.

  • Dianne April 6, 2014  

    I recently returned for Reykjavik and ate at the tapas restaurant, the whale was very good, my daughter would not share this experience because of her beliefs….too bad,
    I took a picture of the whale meat if you would like me to send it
    Very much liked your comments,
    Dianne from canada

    Would not like my email to be published

  • Michelle May 11, 2014  

    I am traveling to Iceland this summer, and am looking forward to trying the whale. Detractors can mind their own business. Whaling is a legal industry in Iceland.

  • Matthew February 23, 2015  

    Oh lord yes. I too indulged in the unforgivable while in Keflavík and fell in love with whale – I wish I could report otherwise, but it really was delicious. I’ve had the opportunity to discuss whale meat with several other who have tried it and opinions have fallen into one of two camps: those like myself who adore it and find the flavour to be beef-like and tender with a wonderful inherent salinity presumably derived from the ocean habitat, while others have reported the meat to be a bit gamey and even fishy. The reason for the disparity has clearly been geographical – those who have loved it experienced it in Iceland, while those who have found it gamey and underwhelming have experienced it in Japan. Not sure what that means – different species? Preparations? Not sure, but interesting that the offerings of these two countries seem to hit the Western palette so differently.

  • worried March 2, 2015  

    “When in Iceland…” doesn’t apply here, since most of the whale meat eaten in Iceland is consumed by tourists. Only 3 percent of Icelanders eat whale meat regularly (defined as six times or more in the last 12 months). This means that every tourist tasting whale meat is making a contribution towards continuing commercial whaling.

    Anyone reading this post: please do not eat whale or support whaling companies in any other way. Here’s why:

Leave a comment