Trying Tanzanian Food

The phrases “culinary mecca” or “haute cuisine” are probably not phrases one instantly associates with East Africa. You aren’t wrong. But I’ve always thought that, to truly experience a country, it is important to experience everything possible—especially the local food.

The day after we arrived in Tanzania we met up with an ex-pat and new friend (more on that later). After spending the morning with her at a local school, she asked if there was anything we wanted or needed before dropping us off back at our hotel. I’m reluctant to ask favors of strangers but my travel companion happily announced, “Judi really wants to try Tanzanian food.” And that’s how we found ourselves at Meku’s Bistro.

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Meku’s “Bistro” in Moshi. Yes, the restaurant, coffee shop and sports bar is adjacent to a gas station.

Ugali
The bistro, as our host noted, is not a “bistro” in the Western sense. It’s actually a casual restaurant, coffee bar and cocktail lounge located right next to a gas station in Shanty Town. It was there where we were introduced to Ugali (pronounced “Oooh-Golly”). I liked it very much.

Ugali, is a cornmeal porridge, and it’s probably the closest thing you’ll find to a National dish. It’s eaten at most meals (even when other carbs are present). It is a bit like polenta in that it is a stiff, sticky starch (not.as dense as sticky rice). Ugali itself is quite bland side, but that’s actually a good thing because when it is served with vegetables, meats, and sauces it soaks up the flavors of what it accompanies.

Meku’s Bistro has an entire menu page devoted to local dishes. Our host suggested the Makange (a dish of chicken, ugali, rice, salad and vegetables) and the Meku’s Captain Hot Chicken (spicy chicken with potatoes and vegetables). The Hot Chicken was good, but not nearly as hot/spicy as it was spiced with flavors. These days one can find good African restaurants, but even if it’s the exact dish it just tastes differently in the place that originated the style of food.

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Meku’s Captain Hot Chicken (spicy chicken with potatoes and vegetables)

Nyama Choma
Most of the online blogs and “resource” sites I researched said Tanzanian’s don’t eat a lot of meat and it’s generally saved for special occasions. Certainly restaurants are a special occasion, and it stands to reason that there is meat offered. But having read that, I was surprised by the amount of meat we saw offered at little roadside stands all over Moshi—especially grilled meats. Grilled meat is called Nyama Choma locally, but westerners would recognize it as barbeque and kehabs, of goat, fish or chicken accompanied by barbecue bananas and (of course) Ugali.

After climbing Kilimanjaro, we kept in touch with our guide. Because ours was (we found out) he would not be going back up the mountain for six weeks. We took advantage of that and requested he show us a restaurant that he’d describe as truly traditional to Tanzania. He confirmed we wanted someplace we wouldn’t be able to otherwise experience. He suggested his favorite restaurant, and promptly took us to a local restaurant to eat Nyama Choma.

As advertised, the place we went was in an area that was not somewhere I could ever find again on my own. It was also not a place a tourist would ever be, unaccompanied. However, we were in good hands. This was the best BBQ I have ever tasted, and I’m including Nashville, Texas, and the U.S. east coast. When we got there, the pit master asked us how much we wanted. You order in kilograms. We were offered two cuts, both options were pork. One style was had more fat—it was recommended we try both. For four people, we ordered 3.5 kilograms, which left four people extremely well fed and satisfied. We also ordered sodas, and one large Kilimanjaro beer (more on that later). The BBQ is served in a sauce (versus dry rub).

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The best way to eat it, I found, was to dip the meat into the salt along the side of the plate, put it with a piece of ugali and pop it in your mouth. Simply put: delicious.

The only thing more amazing than the wonderful food (best meal of our trip) was the price. Total, it was about $20.00. That was with tip, which we checked with our guide to ensure it was generous, but appropriate. Tips are not the norm, but it’s at the point where people expect it from visitors. And it is a relatively poor country, so of course you should tip—in my opinion.

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Traveler Tip: Tanzanians tend to eat with their hands. (Not everywhere but certainly in more authentic or casual places.) If you see a something like this off to the side of a room in a local establishment, it’s for hand washing. So, before whipping out your Purell, wait until after you’ve placed your order. The Western equivalent of a server will come back to your table the water pitcher and bowl for you to wash.

Beverages
Coffee is Tanzania’s second biggest cash crop, following bananas. An upcoming blog will touch on my visit to a coffee plantation. Suffice it to say it is abundant. For that reason, it surprised me that at hotels and cafes you are most likely to find Africafe—an instant coffee. If you need a jolt of caffeine it does the job. However, it’s not as flavorful as a freshly ground cup of beans. Seek out a restaurant that uses local beans, you’ll be happy you did and you’ll most likely be supporting small farmers who make the majority of the coffee.

Soda is very prevalent as is bottled water. Tap water is plentiful, but—no surprise—travelers are strongly advised against drinking it.

There is a saying “those who can’t climb Kilimanjaro, drink it.” This is a reference to the most popular beer, named after one of the most popular destinations in Tanzania, Kilimanjaro. The lager is easy drinking with a nice flavor. I liked it more than the Serengeti (another popular tourist site named after a beer…joking). Alcohol, especially beer, is considered very expensive in Tanzania (2500 Tsh), so locals who do drink are considered well-to-do or have a drinking problem (seriously). In terms of cost, it’s equivalent to about $5 USD, but that’s an entire meal here. The alternative that is more popular among Tanzanians is banana beer. You can read more about that wonderful concoction in soon.

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Cheers from Moshi!

Tanzanian food was not the exotic “Parts Unknown” culinary adventure I imagined it would be. But, to be honest that was also a bit of a relief, as I am a finicky eater who can be very sensitive to textures, tastes, combinations and other things. ,I was very satisfied with my mini food adventure. Everything was good and nothing got me sick (the last part cannot be understated, especially for those about to embark on conquering the mountain that made Tanzania the Number One Missing Stamp on my Passport.

One final note of appreciation, I’d like to extend a special thanks to our guide, Israel, with G Adventures, who came into Moshi after our climb to take us out for BBQ. We were incredibly touched that he did this on his day off. It was just one of the many “extras” that made our trip so memorable and fun. I’ve used G Adventures twice now—the first time when I climbed Machu Pichu, and I will use them again in the future.

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Eating Our Way Through Little Havana

Little Havana, is a neighborhood in Miami, Florida. For those who might not know, it is home to a significant number of Cuban immigrant residents. There is a tremendous Cuban influence in Miami, and it makes the city much more interesting and vibrant. The neighborhood of Little Havana is a huge shift from the glitz of Miami Beach. Off of the central drag, Calle Ocho, you’ll find it’s much more “down home” with lots of family owned fruit stands, art galleries, Cuban restaurants and shops.

Doing my planning to visit Miami Beach I found the glossy magazines and e-zines, like Conde Nast Traveler, said that Little Havana was not worth visiting. Gentrification has shrunk the area. As first generation immigrants left, Little Havana slowly slipped from the sprawling cultural oasis it once was to become more of a tourist destination.

These criticisms are accurate and valid. Still, I personally disagreed that it’s not worth the trip. Miami is more than nightlife and five-star restaurants. Cities are ultimately an amalgamation of neighborhoods, large or small, that are rich with culture. And even if it’s smaller, Little Havana is brimming with a culture not easily found anywhere else in America.

On a whim, we booked a Little Havana Food Tour ($59/person and roughly 2.5 hours even though our tour much closer to 3.5 hours) for our last full day in Miami. As a frequent traveler and food lover I always try to combine the two. In my past travels I’ve done food tours (and walking tours). Based on those, I’d rate this one top-notch. It rivals the four-star experience I had with Madrid Food Tours in Spain.

In fact, just like my experience in Madrid, it’s inadequate to think of this one as just a “food tour.” We certainly ate delicious Cuban foods, but we also saw a lot of small businesses and got to hear a little bit about the story behind each location. Really, it was two tours in one. So let’s start with the food portion of the tour.

After a brief introductions and an overview of the Little Havana area, we stopped at El Pub, a family owned “traditional” Cuban restaurant. What makes it traditional? According to our guide Ralph, traditional restaurants feature a sandwich station (think 50s style diners) and a separate more formal dining room. 

Here we sampled empanadas. In case you haven’t had an empanada, it’s a protein -in this case ground beef- wrapped in wheat flour dough and fried. Empanadas are more of a South American dish than Cuban food. What makes these uniquely “Cuban” are the spices used when cooking the beef. It’s blend of Cumin, olives, bay leaves among others that leaves you with a flavorful, Creole-like taste. It’s important to point out that Cuban food is spiced, but not “spicy.” Think flavor explosion in your mouth more than four-alarm fire.

The Beef Empanada at El Pub in Miami, FL.
The Beef Empanada at El Pub in Miami, FL.

After El Pub’s Empanada, we sampled molded plantains stuffed with chicken. The plantain was molded into a cup like shape and baked (or fried, I’m not 100% certain). Whenever I’ve tried plantains in the past, the result has not been good. But wow, these were delicious and so filling! Overall, the plantain had a more “starchy” feel compared to the empanada but the chicken, featuring more of the Creole seasoning, was an excellent combination.

"Molded" plantain with chicken was the second food we sampled on our tour of LIttle Havana.
“Molded” plantain with chicken was the second food we sampled on our tour of LIttle Havana.

One fun feature at El Pub was that the recipes are posted on the walls. Some were slapped on, others framed but they are all pre-Castro recipes that the family uses as a foundation for their cooking.

Some of the recipes you'll find on the wall at El Pub.
An example of the recipes you’ll find on the wall at El Pub.

We walked a few blocks and went to Exquisito Restaurant for a Cuban Midnight sandwich. A traditional Cuban sandwich includes sliced ham, sliced roast pork, swiss cheese, pickles, mustard and is served on a baguette. The Midnight version is served on a yellow bun that is similar to challah bread. The result is a slightly sweeter sandwich. All I have to say is: wow, wow, wow. I will never think of a Cuban sandwich the same way, and it was worth the trip just to bit into a Cuban Midnight.

This might be heaven on a plate: the Cuban midnight.
This might be heaven on a plate: the Cuban midnight.

After so much food, some Cuban Coffee was in order. Cuban coffee is basically a darker espresso roast that is more finely ground. It’s a very, very bitter and an acquired taste. With a tablespoon of sugar, it’s not bad and certainly worth at least trying. It’s got a jolt to it.

Our itty, bitty samples of Cuban Coffee (I had three).
Our itty, bitty samples of Cuban Coffee (I had three).

I was wondering how Ralph could top the food selections we’d already tried, but he didn’t disappoint. We walked, stopping by a local park to watch some feisty games of dominos—in Little Havana, dominos is a contact sport—and then headed to Yisell Bakery for a guava pastry. The shop is unique because most restaurants outsource their bread making… to Yisell. The pastry is a filo dough-like pastry filled with guava paste and cream cheese. Again, amazing. It’s sinfully delicious, and you won’t realize you ate the entire square until it’s too late. Luckily you can get another, and it pairs nicely with the bitter sweet Cuban coffee.

You can get guava pastry almost anywhere in Miami but if you want the best, I strongly recommend Yisell Bakery
You can get guava pastry almost anywhere in Miami but if you want the best, I strongly recommend Yisell Bakery.

After this sensational treat, we stopped at Pinareos Fruteria, a 112-year-old fruit stand. Being in the south, you’ll see much more tropical fruit. In fact, I was introduced to mamey and brought one home to try. Note: if you take the tour, get the mamey and try this recipe. I wouldn’t eat it every day, but I thoroughly enjoyed getting to bring some of Miami home. 

A mamey fruit.
A mamey fruit.

Ice cream has to be one of my food weaknesses so it was perfectly fitting that our final stop was Azucar Ice Cream Company. The shop is run by a second generation Cuban-American who strives to make ice cream like her grandmother did. We were all offered tastes of any flavor. Ralph highly recommended the Abuela Maria ice cream. Since he hadn’t gone wrong yet, I figured it was a solid recommendation. I was right. Abuela Maria is cream cheese, guava, vanilla and maria crackers (similar to a sweet biscuit served with tea) . Simply amazing.

Pictures will never truly do this Abuela Maria ice cream justice.
Pictures will never truly do this Abuela Maria ice cream justice.

 

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D.C. Sandwiches You Need to Try (or Not): Sandwich One

 

Zagats, the gold standard of all things foodie, recently published it’s list of “DC Sandwiches You Need to Try Right Now.” DC is not exactly a food mecca, so anytime a restaurant other than Potbelly’s opens, we celebrate. The District is improving, and we have national caliber chef’s whose names are recognized outside the beltway. So, being an aspiring foodie, as I read the Zagats list I instantly decided THIS was blog fodder.

My plan: eat all nine sandwiches by Labor Day (hopefully sooner, but I’m balancing that with trying not to eat too many carbs, so I’m pacing). Readers and friends are welcome to join me. My only rule is that I have to order the sandwich noted on Zagat’s list, and take at least one full bite.

First up? The Kingston at SUNdeVich in the Shaw Neighborhood. Zagat’s describes the sandwich as, “the Jamaican-inspired flavors of jerk chicken, pineapple salsa, greens, spicy slaw and garlic mayo are the type of thing that transport you to a warmer happier place with each bit. Of all the sandwiches here named after cities around the world, this is consistently our favorite trip to take.”

The Kingston sandwich available at Sundevich
The Kingston sandwich available at SUNdeVICH

Now, let me preface the summary of my SUNdeVich experience by saying that Mr. Os., in his infinite wisdom, knew where this was going as soon as he read the description of the sandwich I ordered. In a preemptive move, he decided on “The Havana” (roasted pork, Gruyère, pickles and dijonnaise), since he knew there was no way I’d like my Kingston.

As soon as I opened my sandwich wrapper, I was overwhelmed with the smell of garlic. That was pretty much strike one, two and three. I’m not technically one of those super smellers, but when I catch a whiff of something like that, its instant dislike. But in the spirit of this challenge, I picked up the monstrous sandwich and took a massive bit. And then it was over for real.

The sandwich was advertised as spicy, I mistakenly thought it would be something I would enjoy (or at least tolerate). Not so much. If you are spice averse, skip this one. You’ll thank me later. Since I fulfilled my challenge rules, I happily swapped sandwiches, and enjoyed the Havana. Mr. Os., by the way, gave both sandwiches high marks, along with the restaurant.

Shaw is a neighborhood in transition, but I think it’s worth a visit. Especially if you happen to be in town for a conference since it’s just up from the Washington Convention Center. That said, at $24 for two sandwiches and one soda, it isn’t cheap. Also, the vibe is very “neighborhood.” While our money was politely accepted, we were clearly not considered locals, based on the reaction of the staff.

Sundevich is technically off 9th Street, so keep an eye out for this wall sign.
SUNdeVICH is technically off 9th Street, so keep an eye out for this wall sign.

My overall verdict: definitely an instance where Zagat’s suggested sandwich was not in line with my tastes. But these sandwiches are absolutely worth seeking out if you’re interested in trying something new and different.

 

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Eating In and Making New Friends

I love to eat. Food is, for better or worse, a large part of how i socialize, open up and talk with people. As someone who loves to eat, it will hardly surprise you to know that I enjoy eating out, especially when i’m on vacation. However, eating out three times a day can get on my nerves when i’m on vacation. There just comes a point when you want a home cooked meal.

This ideology is what brought me to Not Just A Tourist. This local tour operator offers a variety of intimate and unique tours of Seville, one of which happens to be a cooking class. The class features 3+ hours of our host, David’s time, including a tour of the Seville market, homemade sangria and then hands on instruction in preparing and cooking three Andalucía dishes.

Why Andalucía? This area, being so close to the Mediterranean and Middle East, blends dishes and flavors from both regions to create some really delicious food. I actually forgot how good one of our dishes was until i started writing this.

The idea of spending this much time with strangers while being forced to cook, might seem daunting and hardly something you’d want to do on holiday. But we found David put any concerns to rest. While soft spoken, he is instantly likeable because he is so warm and friendly. He doesn’t criticize while you are cooking, and takes time to talk and engage you throughout the process.

While touring Mercado de Feria (that’s the Seville market) we were got more great “insiders tips.” For instance, you should not visit a market looking for seafood on a Monday. The shops have sold out and sent their boats to fetch more. That seems obvious but in the US, we don’t visit markets daily for food. (Yes, we should but that’s someone else’s story).

After agreeing on our likes, dislikes for food, purchasing ingredients and some AMAZING olives, we headed back to David’s kitchen.

Oh my, the most delicious olives!
Oh my, the most delicious olives!

Along the way David wove around the streets, pointing out noteworthy sites and offering suggestions on things to visit for the remainder of our stay.

David showed us another group of Cloistered Nuns, these sell great marmalade.
David showed us another group of Cloistered Nuns, these sell great marmalade.

We arrived an an open kitchen space and David had us begin preparations for lunch, patiently walking us through the instructions for preparing our dishes:

  • Salmorejo. This tomato based soup combines egg, olive oil, bread, garlic and salt for a delicious result. You can also also sprinkle jamon on the top for an even more decadent dish. Absolutely my favorite thing from our lunch!
  • Espinacas con Garbanzos. Served as an entree this dish features a lot of cumin, paprika and garlic with spinach and chic peas. It is incredibly filling and as a picky spinach eater, i can say, this too was suprisingly fantastic.
  • Pisto. Served along with the Espinacas con Garbanzo, this is another vegetable based dish that includes onions, peppers, zucchini, eggplant and tomatoes. This was my least favorite but only because i personally don’t care for eggplant. Mr Os thought is was spectacular.
  • Polea. Last but not least, dessert! This would be a real crowd pleaser if you were preparing a traditional Spanish meal for friends and was a great finale for our lunch. It’s a milk and bread based dessert seasoned with cinnamon and sugar. Yum.

There was so much food, i had to take a “pause” at one point to make room for dessert. I think David thought i didn’t care for the food, which is completely wrong. (I have a minor stomach problem so i have to pause often to avoid issues.) I really look forward to making these dishes at home, especially when the ingredients are back in season.

Cooking espinacas con garbanzos
Cooking espinacas con garbanzos.

If you are in Seville, i recommend looking up David regardless of whether or not you want a cooking class. We found him to be charming in all the right ways and really committed to helping visitors enjoy everything Seville has to offer. You really would not be in bad hands. If you feel the same way i do about food, i would strongly recommend his cooking class. You’ll spend about a half day with David but you’ll come away with a very unique memory and a new friend!

Heading to Madrid? My Thoughts On the First Thing You Should Do

Well, i’m back from adventures in Spain with Mr. Os. We both agree, the trip was a mix of fun, culture and wonderful, unexpected things along the way. There is so much to share, beginning in Madrid, then on to Seville and wrapping up in Barcelona. Yep, there will be lots of Spain-related blogging in the upcoming weeks. Spoiler Alert: Spain is a must-see destination, and when you realize that it was once the ruler of the seas, and the seat of world power…well, why wouldn’t it be?

Before i jump in, there is one thing that i wanted to share immediately. Why? Well, aside from the obvious sites we’ll visit, I thought “which one moved me the most?” When i look back on this trip, this experience was one of my fondest memories—and it improved the rest of our experience.

As you can imagine, there is a ton to do in Madrid. Like any major city, although the highlights can be fit in to a week, to truly uncover the gems and understand what makes a city “tick” it can take months, years, a lifetime.

But, me, I just want my holiday to start on the right foot. And for that, there’s nothing like a local. Take my advice, a good start is the Madrid Food Tour. I stumbled across this company while i researching walking tours for the city (another thing to do to kick off any city visit—you’ll get a lay of the land, hit major sights, and feel less like a fish out of water). They have several options for tours so review them and decide what appeals most to you. We did the tapas, taverns and history tour which was absolutely fantastic. They had me at tapas, and Mr. Os at history…and taverns, who are we joking? While i cannot speak to the company’s other tours, after having been on this one, i cannot imagine they would be anything less than stellar. That said, it may also depend on the tour guide, and there we lucked out.

DISCLAIMER:

I am going to respect our guide’s list, and withhold the names and locations of the pubs we visited. I feel like it could take business away from his company. Besides, if you’re just going for the tapas and taverns, you’re missing the point. It’s about learning the finer points of how to behave in a tapas bar, where to put your olive pits, how to engage the bartender, and learn about the history of the city while winding through narrow streets that lead to hidden gems you’ll be hard pressed to find again. Like a place to buy handmade leather bags at great prices.

I will say we were at first taken aback by the price, and concerned about the price/tapas ratio. Before you get sticker shock, remember you’re getting four hours of not only a guided tour (and our guide, James, *really* is a student of history, not just a student fluent in Spanish and can point to a tourist site). The drinks were plentiful and ranged from vermouth, wine (your choice: red, white), beer was available and in one spot we tried a flight of Sherry. The food was also plentiful and delicious. We ended the tour very well fed and extremely satisfied with our monetary investment.

Instead of naming names and places, i will elaborate on why i think this is the first thing you should do in Madrid. James was waiting at the designated meeting location with an easy-to-spot sign. Right away i knew we were in good hands. James was personable, engaging and welcoming. Being from New Zealand, his English was flawless (i mention this because many people in Spain understand English but have a hard time speaking the language. You can imagine how interesting the tour would be under those circumstances.) Once our group of eight assembled, which seemed to happen almost instantly, James gave us a short introduction of what we’d see, what to expect, encouragement to ask questions, and with that we were off to our first stop, seconds away.

Here James introduced us to Spain’s best kept secret. The country’s Vermouth (known as Vermut in Spain) is not anything like what we’re familiar with from Italy. In fact, it’s very drinkable—immensely quaffable, as a friend of ours says—and in the instance of our first stop, it comes from a tap. I did not know that Spain makes vermut and it’s not uncommon to get it as an aperitif, and James confides that just like keg beer, it’s better from the tap. The drink consists of a (in most cases) healthy pour, over one ice cubes (generally two to three large ones) and a slice of orange in the glass. It tastes very, for lack of a better description, “even”: not overly strong, not too sweet, or bitter. Just a smooth beverage that goes well with olives and orange peel, or with tapas like that delicious jamon…or really anything, according to Mr. Os, who developed an instant taste for them.

While we sipped vermut James explained the history and tradition behind the tapas. We also learned -at least depending on the person’s point of view- that in Madrid tapas are a bars way of thanking patrons for visiting. Another historical rendering of this is that way back when the working class lacked the money for drinks AND food. So, during the midday break they would visit a bar and leave completely snookered because they opted to drink and forego the food. As a result, a King passed a law saying bars had to serve food any time they served alcohol. He felt this would curb the drunkness that was plaguing the noon hours. So, enter the tapas: a small food item, maybe olives, maybe jamon or tomato on bread. As an aside: bread is very big in Spain. In fact, they probably would offer you a side of bread with bread, if you asked, and not look at you twice. But note, that at times there is a “bread charge,” so if you aren’t going to eat the bread, ask them to take it away. And double check the bill. It’s not a big deal, but now you know.

During our tour we traversed the old city, going into its history as we hopped from one tapas place to the next. It’s a truncated version of a walking tour, but it covers the basics and you become familiar with key streets. This is a great way to familiarize yourself with Madrid and it gets you thinking about what you want to visit again in more depth and detail. You will also discover unique bars that you would likely never find on your own, or you would blow right by them because they’re on a narrow side street. James, and by extension our group, was warmly welcomed but not catered to especially. We were treated as locals who could enjoy the vibe and conversation.

And of course there were significant but meaningful “extra touches,” to back up my first-thing-to-do-recommendation. At the end of the evening, we each received an insiders guide to Madrid, compliments of Madrid Food Tour. This included restaurants and hidden adventures to consider while in town. It also had some quick and helpful Spanish phrases (beyond “donde esta el bano”). And, as if James wasn’t fabulous enough, he guided us to the Metro, called our hotel to confirm we were on the correct line and then double checked the location on his phone, showing us the route to walk when we got off the train.

This was an all around excellent way to spend the evening, and a great way to begin a trip in Madrid if you want to get an instant feel for the city and a general sense of direction. I recommend this type of approach generally as a good activity when you visit a new city, and if you’re traveling to Madrid, then this group has my stamp of approval.

Iceland, Naturally! (the foodie version)

I don’t follow Anthony Bourdain much but i get the gist of what he does. Armed with this little knowledge, i can say if he hasn’t been to Iceland, he’s really missing out.

Let me preface, i am no Anthony. What I am, is a picky eater. I am polite in public situations but when left to my own devices, i would eat a very limited number of foods that are probably not healthy. It’s a texture thing. Either you understand what i’m talking about or you don’t.Texture aside, Iceland was going to push me to the limits as far as my eating habits go.

Obviously, the country has an abundance of seafood. The absolute best place to go is Sagreifinn (Sea Baron). It is a tiny, tiny place on the water and the owner speaks very little English. Bring your patience and flexibility as you will need them both when trying to communicate. Rest assured, it’s worth it. We had the most amazing lobster stew. I grew up in New England so that tells you something. The menu also includes a range of sushi, cooked fish and other soups and stews. It’s all delicious and worth the walk (roughly 20 minutes from Hotel Centrum).

If you get hungry along the way, stop at the hot dog push cart. There you can sink your teeth into a hot dog. But not just any hot dog – a hot dog that combines sheep and lamb meat. Was a bit tough for me to enjoy especially loaded with onions on top. I’m hot dog purist (ketchup and a bun, thank you very much).

You won’t find the cart in many guides so here’s a shot of what you are looking for.

Baejarins hot dog cart in Reykjavik. Home of the sheep & lamb hot dog.
Baejarins hot dog cart in Reykjavik. Home of the sheep & lamb hot dog.

Puffin is really popular in Iceland. You can try it in a lot of restaurants around Reykjavik, but i recommend Tapas. The menu consists of over 50 types of tapas, which can be overwhelming if you’ve got jet lag or are hung over. In addition to some exotic eats, you can also find “safer” tapas like chicken, lamb, etc. The restaurant is quite popular so it’s worth having your hotel make a reservation for you. In case you were wondering, Puffin tastes like chicken.

Another popular dish in Iceland is lamb stew. If you venture outside of Reykjavik, i recommend grabbing this for lunch. The stew looks deceptively light but is warming and quite filling. It’s great meal after walking around pingvellir national park or the Geysir area.

Delicious Lamb Stew. It looks light but is actually very filling.
Delicious Lamb Stew. It looks light but is actually very filling.

I am told petrified shark is a big deal to Icelanders. We asked a few and they were non-committal. I was warned not to try this “delicacy” and heeded that advice.

I did this because i was daring and tried the “traditional” Icelandic dinner that consists of: whale, fish salad, potatoes with parsley and feta, monk fish and lamb pate.

Traditional Icelandic Dinner
Traditional Icelandic Dinner (the before picture)

Believe it or not, i tried everything on the plate. Here’s my “after” shot to prove it.

Traditional Icelandic Dinner (the after picture)
Traditional Icelandic Dinner (the after picture)

Never eat whale. That’s all i can say. It’s just wrong, wrong, wrong. Beyond the texture, i found whale has an accompanying smell. It must be an acquired thing but, man, i had to use my best big girl attitude and a whole lot of water to swallow the food and not spit it out across the table. After feeling that way about whale, there was no way in hell i was going to try petrified shark.

It’s clear Anthony Bourdain would scoff at having to travel and eat with me. While i did not love everything i ate in Iceland, it opened my eyes up to a lot of food adventures i was ignoring. Since then, i’ve been a much slightly more adventurous eater. For that reason alone, Iceland holds a special place in my heart.