A first lady’s guide to Icelandic food
Canadian-born Eliza Reid on burgeoning Reykjavik
It’s been just over a year since Ottawa native Eliza Reid became the first lady of Iceland after her husband, Gudni Johannesson, won the country’s presidential election in June 2016.
Since then, Reid, a writer and editor, has taken on championing Iceland’s literary culture and was in Toronto last week for the annual Taste of Iceland festival, which has helped the country become a popular vacation destination for Canadians in recent years.
In the event you’re one of the remaining people in your social circle who haven’t visited Iceland, Reid filled us in on Reykjavik’s burgeoning food scene.
You’re here to promote Icelandic culture, but what other roles do you have as first lady?
There is no handbook. The advantage of that is that I can make it my own. Just last week, for the ninth year in a row, Iceland was voted the most gender-equal country in the world, and I’m keen on working on issues of gender equality and empowering girls and women. Within the country I try to do a lot of events whether it’s delivering remarks or a speech. It’s important that as a spouse, when the two of us are often seen together, that I also have my own voice and opinions and not be a silent accessory.
How would you describe Icelandic cuisine? Broadly speaking within the Nordic family of food, it’s about simplicity and food at the source. There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles. It’s flavourful from the herbs you’ll find on the landscape, but it’s not a spicy cuisine. The cuisine builds on centuriesold techniques of pickling and dairy-making. Reykjavik is actually a great destination for foodies and I recommend just going there for a weekend to eat, even if you don’t want to climb a glacier or see a volcano. There are very fresh ingredients, the vegetables are grown in greenhouses, the lamb is free-range and (fed on) moss and seaweed. My parents have sheep here in Ontario and they say Icelandic lamb is better.
How is Reykjavik’s food scene?
It’s a burgeoning food scene and we have visitors to thank for that simply because the size of the local population wouldn’t support the number of restaurants that are there now. There’s a restaurant called Dill that got Iceland’s
first Michelin star earlier this year and it uses almost exclusively local ingredients so you won’t find chocolate or olive oil, but they do wonderful things with herbs, fish and dairy. The trends overall are simplicity and sourcing locally, just like with global trends. Ten years ago I used to write restaurant reviews for a local paper and it was all about how much dry ice you can have at the table or imported kangaroo that was barbecued. There isn’t as much what you’d call international cuisines so you’ll have a harder time finding Korean food, but there’s a fabulous Indian
restaurant I take people to.
Is there anything in Iceland’s food scene you think should get more attention?
Like I mentioned before, the lamb. We also have a great beer scene. Every restaurant will have a Christmas buffet menu on offer and everyone goes to at least one. There are all kinds of salads, Danish-influenced crackling pork, lamb, risalamande (Danish rice pudding), this thin fried flat bread called laufabraud that you put butter on, potatoes cooked in sugar. The sweet tooth really comes out around this time.
Ottawa native eliza Reid suggests visitors to iceland try the lamb. pictured is a fried lamb fillet and sirloin dish. Karon Liu/torstar news service