“About this time we celebrate the food of our ancestors, the old people,” the Maitre D’ was guiding us through the buffet selection. Pointing to the various choices of offal he went on, “This is sheep leg, and this is breast. Though not really,” he said with a slicing action between nipple and armpit, “this bit, but we call it breast.” I nodded, genuinely interested, though not to my taste tonight. I’m a fish man and tonight would be fish heaven. “This is sheep’s head,” a slice of marbled chunks, and then, pointing to a lardy looking slice with cream coloured circles about an inch across, “this is testicles.”
“Ah,” I said. “Fish for me,” I thought.
Our first night in Iceland and we were cold and hungry. The traditional food aside, the seafood looked splendid, and washed down with a couple of large Gull’s (the local beer brand – not the birds) it was delicious. All this whilst listening to some Hot Club of France jazz. We had arrived in our kind of town.
The winter in Iceland brings the shortest days and with sunrise at 10.30 am and setting at 4.30pm catching your surroundings in daylight has to be focused.
The country has a population of just 320,000 and Reykjavik, the capital, has a small town feel with an upfront attitude. Not aggressive in any way… this place has a jaunty smile on it’s face. In fact, it’s quite clear that Icelanders have an upfront sense of humour. Maybe that’s where the sheep testicles come in. Maybe they were just slices of butter. Are sheep testicles perfectly round?
We travelled by WOW Air, Iceland’s recent foray into the budget airline business. There’s that sense of humour again. Head down in your newspaper – just another safety demonstration – until you wonder why everyone is giggling and so you pay attention to catch the jokes. The Inflight Mag had me crying with laughter.
But it’s not all light hearted. The islanders use the endless resource of naturally heated water to generate power, to heat and light huge greenhouses to grow vegetables as well as heat their houses. One power station manned by just 2 people generates enough wattage from natural resources for all of Reykjavik with stacks to spare.
All this is set in the most dramatic landscape of volcanic rock and tabletop mountains which teem with Nordic history and legend.
I know Iceland holds a special place in the history of financial crashes but they, and we, are getting over that. If this is Iceland bouncing back I was mightily impressed. I kept thinking that “Woh. Just 320,000 people pulled this off.”
Our Maitre D’ sauntered over to our table with a bottle and two shot glasses. “Try our latest vintage of Schnapps”, he offered. It would be impolite not to, I thought.. and we walked home through the frosted streets, glowing inside from schnapps and fine food, and ready to face another wintery morning in an icy volcanic wonderland.