A first lady’s guide to Ice­landic food

Cana­dian-born El­iza Reid on bur­geon­ing Reyk­javik

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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

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