After being in Reykjavík for two weeks, I needed to try some traditional Icelandic food, so I headed over to Café Loki – conveniently located on Lokastígur or Loki’s lane.
I ordered two traditional Icelandic dishes – skyr and harðfiskur. Skyr is something I’d had before. Similar in taste and texture to Greek yogurt, fruit-flavored skyr is in all of the grocery stores, and it quickly became a favorite of mine after I arrived in Iceland. At Café Loki, however, I tried skyr the traditional way: plain, in a pool of cream, and with sugar sprinkled on top.
I asked the chef – an Icelander named Bertha – why skyr was so popular. She explained that skyr is popular now because it is very healthy; it’s lacking in fat and sugar but chock full of protein. It’s also extremely filling; a single dish of skyr can substitute for an entire meal. Bertha also explained that skyr has been popular in Iceland since the island’s settlement in the 9th century. Skyr is easily made and has a long shelf life, which was useful for the settlers. Additionally and surprisingly, skyr is not a kind of yogurt but actually a kind of cheese (yogurt is made by the fermentation of milk, while cheese is made by the acidification of milk).
After the skyr I had some harðfiskur, which is essentially dried fish; Bertha compared it to beef jerky. It’s usually eaten covered in lots of butter.
Harðfiskur has a mild flavor almost overpowered by the butter and is very chewy. Bertha said that, like skyr, harðfiskur also dates back to the settlers and was another protein-laden food with a long shelf-life and is still quite popular in Iceland. Interestingly, Bertha also said that harðfiskur is often given to Icelandic children as candy or treats. So much healthier than the candy I’m used to!
Café Loki was so fantastic that I went back for more Icelandic food later and this meal was also delicious! Well, all except for the rotten shark; it tasted, as my friend in the program Courtney Cook said, “like nail polish remover smells.” Even some Icelanders, like Bertha, are not fans of such fermented meats. But other than that Icelandic food is frábært!