Whether it’s geyseros, glaciers or guillemots, Iceland is a country bursting with natural wonders and one that you really must try to visit at least once. Hopefully my posts from our recent trip have demonstrated just how much there is to see and do – the landscapes and waterfalls, the geothermal wonders and the wealth of unique experiences. But perhaps you noticed one thing missing? Whilst we have met lots of people on the way, much of what we did was very much geared towards tourists and, aside from the occasional guide, most of our interactions were also with other tourists.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could experience the real Iceland for a day, or even just a few hours? A more authentic experience where you get to meet local Icelandic people and learn a little about their culture and day-to-day lives, perhaps over a traditional Icelandic meal. This is where Dining with Icelanders comes in.
Dining with Icelanders is the brainchild of Helga Kristin Fridjonsdottir, herself an Icelander, and owner of travel advisory Iceland Unwrapped. Iceland Unwrapped is all about connecting people with Helga’s homeland in a more immersive way, bringing the interactions between people more to the fore than might be possible with a traditional tour experience, for example.
Dining with Icelanders is a completely different way to get to know Iceland and Icelanders. Helga is an experienced traveller herself – having lived in Brazil, Austria, Denmark, Portugal and the Netherlands, as well as Iceland of course – and connects visitors to Iceland with local people, over a dining encounter, for a truly unique experience. In our case, we were lucky enough that Helga invited our family to join her own family for dinner at her house on one of our last evenings in Iceland, although this wouldn’t always be the case since Helga has a number of different hosts with which she connects her travel clients at a variety of different venues.
We were very warmly welcomed into Helga’s home. She is fluent in Icelandic, English, Danish and Portuguese, and returned from the Netherlands (from where she had already started her company some years earlier) in 2020 to live in Reykjavik with her husband, Mike, a communications consultant from Chicago, and teenage son, Gabriel.
We were very much made to feel at home and encouraged to help ourselves to some appetisers that included delicious smoked lamb and smoked salmon on buttered rúgbrauð. This rye bread would traditionally be made in the ground, with the dough often put into a container such as a milk carton and left in the geothermally heated earth for 24 hours, and then it’s ready.
I was also interested to try the harðfiskur – dried fish (in this case, haddock) with salted butter as I had read about this being a popular Icelandic snack. It’s Iceland’s answer to fish jerky and has been popular in the country for centuries… and is of course also packed with protein, vitamins and Omega 3 so quite a healthy snack, too. Once you’ve tasted it, you’ll see why it’s a staple in Iceland!
It was lovely to get to know Helga and her family, and we had an enjoyable chat about a whole range of topics, from learning about how Icelanders live and the Icelandic education system, to the country’s innovative energy projects and living with earthquakes. We even chatted about elves and road diversions, the Katla series on Netflix, and Gabby and Mike’s love of Tottenham Hotspur.
For our main, we had cod that was simply cooked in butter, and seasoned with salt and pepper. This is a great example of how not trying to over-complicate a dish pays huge dividends as the cod was so tasty that it didn’t need anything more.
It was served with potatoes and greens, as the conversation moved on to Icelandic cuisine, our Arctic rafting experience, the pandemic, politics, innovative companies in Iceland and more. I was really interested to hear how the recent boom in travel to Iceland was seeing the tourism industry overtake the fishing industry, and yet Iceland could survive from fishing alone since this was proven during the COVID pandemic.
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For dessert, we had pönnukökur served with jam – wonderfully delicate Icelandic pancakes that are much like crêpes. They were served with rhubarb jam and whipped cream and we were shown how they were traditionally filled, folded in half and then folded again into quarters.
I later discovered that these golden pancakes, which resemble the sun, are often made to welcome the first sunshine in late January in a celebration called “Sólarkaffi” when the sun rises high enough above the mountains to shine its rays over the locals.
Before we knew it, three hours had flown by. We’d had a really enjoyable evening and had been made to feel exceptionally welcome; we’d enjoyed an experience that very few tourists visiting Iceland would ever get to experience. If this sounds like something you’d enjoy, be sure to contact Helga. She is very approachable (in fact, I spoke to her online prior to our own visit to Iceland and picked up all sorts of useful tips), and will be only too happy to help you. Her Dining with Icelanders experience can be booked as part of a holistic package that encompasses hidden gems, off-the-beaten-track experiences, music and culture, as well as dining.
Planning a trip to Iceland yourself? You can watch a video from our trip to Iceland here:
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Iceland Unwrapped. Our trip to Iceland was also sponsored by Helly Hansen.