"That is cheesecake!?"

"If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion & avoid the people, you might better stay home."
-- James Michener

When calculating the amount of money to convert to both NOK a.k.a. Norwegian krona and ISK a.k.a. Icelandic krona, Mom & I were clueless how much to allot for meals.  We could not afford to eat like kings, but wanted to try the local cuisine.

We aimed for $30 USD per meal per day (with the intent to skip breakfast or have it at our flat) thus totaling $120 USD/whatever that equated to in krona. However, after our first meal in Reykjavík, Mom & I discovered dining out would be considerably more expensive than eating in.  For example, a stop at the ubiquitous 10-11 convenience store cost between $20-25 USD altogether, which was lofty considering we mostly bought soda & snacks.  However, a meal out averaged $90 USD in whole – quite a difference compared to gas station fare!  So we really tightened our money belts.  On the nights we returned to Welcome Apartments late, Mom whipped up something simple albeit hasty on the dual, over-sized Bunsen burners.

Usually, we spent just the evenings dining at restaurants near Reykjavík and Bergen’s city centre.  Our first full day in Iceland, ravenous and jet-lagged, we found deserted Skólabrú by wandering the streets.  I was unsure whether water or bread would be complimentary (given that it was not in Italy + Greece).   It turned out almost every restaurant supplied bread gratis.  Furthermore, the carbohydrates in Scandinavia were delicious & far better than anything I sampled in Italy!  There was such diversity too: warm sourdough; a bread with a pizza-tasting crust and thin, white center at Enhjørningen (Bergen), flavorless – but healthy – whole wheat with poppy seeds at Graenn Kostur (Reykjavík); fresh French bread with balsamic vinegar drizzled over top at FG (Bergen); plain bread with savory garlic butter at Einar Ben (Reykjavík); crusty bread coupled with tapenade + the best hummus I have ever tasted at Tapas Barinn (Reykjavík).
As one would expect from an island or coastal nation, seafood was plentiful in Iceland and Norway.  I consumed a few familiar foods such as Shrimp crepes and salted Cod, but most dishes were new: Salmon ceviche, Oysters and Bacalao.  I tried Sea Wolf which the waitress alleged was similar to Catfish, but it was much better and not bony! At Reykjavík’s premiere seafood restaurant, the hot, “pan-fried Blueling” flaked apart in my mouth.  Although I did not partake, Bergen’s touristy Fish Market area thrived with hot-off-the-grill Crabcakes, live Langoustine a.k.a. Lobster, every type of local fish, and Prawns a.k.a. Shrimp daily.  Ironically, the biggest draw to the marina was not a meal!  Hordes of children and adults surrounded the water tank where spindly-legged crabs the size of watermelons were piled.
Sadly, Minke (pronounced “mink-ee”) whale was on the menu throughout mainland Norway, Svalbard & Iceland.  Mom & I were more than pleased to sign a postcard on behalf of International Fund for Animal Welfare a.k.a. IFAW.org addressed to the Icelandic Minister of Fisheries, urging the government to prohibit hunting mammals.  Did you know that the refusal to cease whaling is part of the reason these Scandinavian countries are banned from the European Union? Ergo, the use of Krona instead of Euros.
There were other, eccentric animal dishes too.  I learned from a family that the national dish of Iceland was cured shark.  Basically, the fish was buried to ferment in its own urine for a few months.  The father from this same family also dined on foal in Reykjavik.  Although this past year I have oscillated between Pescatarianism (no meats except seafood) & occasionally-eating-meat, curiosity got the best of me twice.  I tried just a bite of my friend David’s Moose in Svalbard.  The filet was rather tough, but had a mild & bearable flavor.  I assumed the carnivorous gods could overlook my slight indulgence, but then, I committed the ultimate Pescatarian sin: I intentionally ordered “Puffin with blueberry Brennivin” compote.  Two bites assured me that Puffin a.k.a. Lundy should remain adorable, colorful and wild, instead of on a tapas plate.  The pieces of bird were a peculiar dark purple/almost black color, very salty, gamey and had the repulsive aftertaste of licorice.

Icelandic cuisine generated many questions as well.  For instance, what was skyr (pronounced “sk-eer”)? In short, it was yogurt.  Technically, it was the strained, floating milk clumps found in the yogurt process.  At a local Vegan restaurant in Reykjavik, the two salad dressing options were Basil Mint or Peanut Skyr.  I opted for the latter which tasted like watered down Ranch.  Also, what was mixed into the Forest Berry muffin my mother bought at a local bakery?  Was it simply a combination of berries one might find in an Icelandic forest?  I never found the answer (& for the record: I do not believe there are woods in Iceland).
There was one food item, sold in petrol stations & supermarkets alike, that bested Iceland’s Skyr and anything in the United States: Norwegian vanilla yogurt.

I was happily surprised that Iceland – an island the size of Portugal or [for you Americans] the state of Kentucky – had such diverse cuisine.   Their bubble gum came in unique flavors like Melon Mint, Sweet Licorice & Eucalyptus.  Kleina was the staple dessert of the country, served warm.  Essentially, it was a thick doughnut without the glaze, cinnamon, toppings, sprinkles, or fruit filling.  The doughnut was hearty but I was a diabetic, sugar-deprived American, so I craved more sweetness.  On the main street in Bergen, Norway, my blood sugar went low & lead to the discovery of the creamiest ice cream Mom or I have ever tasted!
My friend David – who sampled a new bottle of wine every night aboard the MS Expedition – was flabbergasted that I did not imbibe whilst on vacation.  In my mind, it seemed so logical.  I wanted to wake up every day healthy to make the most of it.  Traveling for a month was exhausting in itself; I did not need to add dehydration and a hangover to the mix.  I would opt to eat a delicious, foreign dessert rather than waste my money & the calories on wine.  Furthermore, I wanted to spend my money for once-in-a-lifetime excursions, not fancy drinks.

I did sip some of his wine throughout our week together & even downed a shot of Norway’s hallmark alcohol: Aquavit (pronounced “aw-qwuh-veet”).  Lorelei – whom I met on a lava tube expedition – raved about Iceland’s national alcohol made from its trees.  So Mom & I saved our ISK until the last leg of our holiday to purchase Björk a.k.a. Birch liquer and Birkir a.k.a. Birch snaps on the flight back to the U.S.A.  The Birkir was tolerable; the Bjork was not. I even tried eating the Birch branch preserved in each bottle, but it was leathery & probably for decorative purposes. I thought about purchasing green bottles of Brennivin -- sledgehammer schnapps made from potatoes & flavored with caraway -- with my leftover krona until I had a swig at the airport on an empty stomach.  It was so disgusting I had to force it down & deserving of its nickname – black death.
Another, unpleasant surprise was slicing peanut butter while eating brekkie a.k.a. breakfast at Preikestolen Fjellstue. It struck me as odd to have a mound of peanut butter, but I assumed this was normal for Scandinavian countries.  I put the peanut butter on my bread, but it would not spread since it was still cold.  After I tried a bite, my mother pointed out the tan slices were Norway's famed, Jarlsburg cheese.  Despite the unappealing tan color, the sweet cheese wasn't terrible, but I do not think I would eat it of my own volition.

Nowadays the best souvenirs people receive from me are postcards… except for my mom & grandmother.  At KEF I scoured the duty-free shop for a small, thoughtful souvenir for my Grandma Marilyn, but had no luck finding what I knew existed (I saw the gift when we flew to Norway).  I learned there were two duty-free stores at Keflavik Airport: one for departures to America & one for departures to Europe.  So, I doubled back through customs & security – which technically meant I left & returned to Iceland within 7 minutes.  Nonetheless, at the other boutique I bought my grandma a combination pack of jams with unusual names like Hrútaberja a.k.a. Stone Bramble berry, Bilberry, Rowan Berry, and Cloudberry -- a relative to raspberries. I also bought an assortment of salts, whose names sounded like everything inedible: kelp, Icelandic moss, blueberry, black lava, wild mushroom, and Icelandic crystal black beach sand.

So what was the best meal?  From a cumulative standpoint, I appoint Tapas Barinn in Reykjavík’s heart.  As mentioned previously, the hummus was to die for, the tapas were scrumptious & the dessert sampler featured the epitome of crème brulee, in addition to chocolate cake with fresh berries + chocolate “Fantasy” (similar to pudding) + white chocolate skyr with passionfruit coulee.
In my mother’s opinion, Reykjavík's Fiskmarkaðurinn a.k.a. Fish Market was the epitome of fine dining, proven by the fact a reservation was compulsory.  I admit it was on my top three meals, and certainly the most unique experience.  We feasted on tender Salmon tartar wontons + satay gratinated Blueling (as mentioned earlier) with coconut creamed barley and dates + salted Cod with lime zest, potato puree and sweet celery salad.  We wanted to splurge our last night in Reykjavik so we saved room for dessert.  I tried the “apple cake with foamy buttermilk, pears in beet root syrup & baked white chocolate.” Mom ordered  “white chocolate cheesecake with rice crispy merengue, passionfruit sorbet and sauce.”
What arrived at the table was definitely a work of art.  After the waiter set the desserts down and left, Mom & I inspected each other’s dish & simultaneously looked up at each other, perplexed. My treat resembled a granola bar in shape and grated texture with chunks of bread and pear inside.  I imagined the apple cake would be like American cake – fluffy and moist.  The blobs of white adjacent each piece was actually whipped cream, though it was unsweetened & nothing like the sugary Cool Whip in America.
That is cheesecake!?” I gawked.  Mom & I both laughed at the sight of “cheesecake” in a bowl with an egg atop.  One bite shut us up.  Although the dessert had the consistency of mashed potatoes and looked unappealing, it was delicious!  We deduced the pink & white things that resembled Bacon Bits were the rice crispies. They added a nice crunch to the mushy dish.  Mom found the passionfruit sorbet incredibly sour so I devoured it with the fresh berries.  I hated cheesecake, but this tasted divine!
Yes, the quail with bacon crumbles & Sherry sauce at Bergen’s Escalon was mouth-watering; G Adventures’ Pea Soup and Tiramisu was delectable; and I ate enough salted corn kernels in Svalbard to feed a small country, but in all truth, Iceland's cuisine initially set the bar so high that Norway never stood a chance.

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