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Feb 18, 2010 03:44 AM

Icelandic Cuisine in Toronto

Does anyone know if there is a restaurant or deli that I can go for Icelandic Cuisine here in Toronto?

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  1. I was in Iceland about a year ago and have searched around for some Icelandic food in Toronto to no avail. The thing with Icelandic cuisine is that Icelander's don't even eat it too often. Iceland was an isolated country for a long time. It wasn't until the past century that the entire country was connected by the Ring Road. Parts of Iceland remained isolated until 1960's.

    The US military had a strong presence at Keflavik International Airport until recently, which had a strong influence on their eating habits. American food is fairly new for them. Reykjavik is full of Tex-Mex places for a reason...they're crazy for it. Everywhere I went in Iceland, locals were always eating nachos, burgers, pizza and hot dogs. The Icelandic restaurants were full of tourists eating puffin and lobster soup. Really, you shouldn't be eating puffins or whales to begin with but that's a whole other debate.

    Unfortunately, our Whole Foods doesn't carry skyr.

    You could make meat soup easily enough yourself... I highly doubt anywhere in Toronto serves it.

    You probably won't find puffin or whale to dine on in Toronto either.

    If you want some classic Icelandic food, boil a hot dog, get some Wonder Bread buns and cover your hot dog in ketchup, mustard, mayo and crunchy onions. Now that is a delicious Icelandic hot dog!

    1 Reply
    1. re: sarnya

      Loved the crunchy onions. But I thought the sweet congeal-y mustard was kind of icky.

    2. The most authentic Icelandic food usually involves cod that has been buried for six months and other variants of the rotting fish or meat persuasion. They must have been devastated when their McDonalds chain closed down. Fermented whale-burgers from here on in.

      3 Replies
      1. re: munchieHK

        McDonalds was one of many, many, many American restaurants in Reykjavik. There's no shortage of burgers and fries in Iceland. There were big line ups when it closed but it was just to get one last Big Mac.

        The whole idea of Icelandic cuisine being something people seek out to eat is really funny. The traditional food they have eaten for a thousand years was based on what was available. Sheep's head is a very traditional Icelandic meal but now when you have the option of nachos, burgers, pizza vs a sheep's head ... what would you pick? You literally have to pick gravel out of your mouth when you eat a sheep's head. Have fun digging around the nasal cavities, that's where a lot of the gravel is found.

        Burying bread in the ground and baking it from the heat of the Earth is another traditional Icelandic food. I had some of it and I'm not going to lie - it was absolutely awful. I also tried the Hakarl (putrid whale meat) and Lump Fish, both of which are disgusting as well.

        Baking bread in the ground, eating a sheep's head and fermenting shark meat was done out of necessity, not because it tasted good.

        Like I said above, I never encountered an Icelander eating Icelandic food. It's the only country I've been to where the traditional food was for tourists. Most popular/high end restaurants in Reykjavik were Icelandic fusion restaurants... mixing tapas with Icelandic fish dishes or putting a French spin on Icelandic foods. I see this type of thing working well in Toronto... there's definitely an untapped market in Toronto for Scandinavian food.

        All the Icelander's I met didn't eat whale or agree with eating whales either. Whale watching (and puffin spotting) is a big source of tourist money. Husavik in Northern Iceland has some of the best whale watching in Europe. What brings in more money - a $10 whale burger or $120 for a whale watching tour?

        I joked a lot there that Iceland is actually a picky eater's dream... everywhere I went had 3 staples - hot dogs, ham sandwiches and burgers.

        Iceland's food culture is fascinating. Unfortunately, I don't think it's possible to find their traditional food in Toronto. They have an emigration problem right now but their people aren't coming to Toronto. They go to Minnesota, Manitoba and other parts of Scandinavia. You may find an Icelandic restaurant in rural Manitoba as strange as it sounds.

        If you really, really want to try some Icelandic food in Toronto, it can be ordered online here at Nammi. I'd recommend getting some Coca-Cola made with cane sugar and Nizza chocolate bars. Icelanders make a mean chocolate bar.

        1. re: sarnya

          Actually Hakarl is fermented shark meat.

          I encountered (and lived and worked with) many Icelanders eating Icelandic food along with regular junk North American food.

          The ritual of eating Hakarl and washing it down with Brennivin is still going strong.

          I did eat puffin, and sheep with the locals when I was there. But mostly they enjoy barbequed horse meat, which was delicious.

          There was a recent thread about where to obtain skyr here in Toronto.

          But as middydd says, your best bet is to contact the Icelandic Canadian Club of Toronto where every year they celebrate Thorrablot-sometimes as late as March. Everyone brings some food. Its great fun.


          1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

            Here is the link to the discussion on skyr:


            Estufarian recently traveled to Iceland as well-he may weigh in with some of his thoughts on the cuisine. I had a less touristic food experience while I was there as it was work related. Sadly, because of the economic crisis, I would imagine the country to be very different in some respects than when I visited in 2001-2002, particularly with respect to tourists.

      2. You could contact the Icelandic Canadian Club of Toronto.

        I've noticed in their newsletter that they put on dinners on occasion and order Icelandic delicacies for Christmas from Gimli, Manitoba. Don't know if they still do so.

        1. I'm surprised you actually want to find Icelandic food. You should go find the Iceland episode of No Reservations. It was one of the worst shows ever simply because there wasn't any good food to base the show on.

          12 Replies
          1. re: sbug206

            Wow. What a terrible attitude towards a traditional cuisine. I just returned from Iceland and sampled a wide variety of Icelandic foods. I had a few fantastic meals, many utilitarian efforts and a handful of dismal meals. The highlights were Icelandic lamb, prepared as seared and oven roasted fillets, lamb soup, fish and seafood soups, which varied in quality and taste from place to place, fresh fish, cured (but not the smoked) trout, salmon and char, pickled herring, hearty breads and savoury multi-grain rye crackers. A few more exotic items included: puffin, horse, porpoise, whale, shark, cod cheeks and chins, reindeer carpaccio, goose and pureed potatoes with seaweed. Products such as skyr, preserves and chutneys made from local wild berries, cheeses made from cows milked on-site, breads encased in containers and boiled in geysirs were sensory treats. All eggs tasted fantastic, no matter how simply they were prepared. My main complaint about average mid-range restaurants is the lack of creativity with available produce. I had a few meals which counted jarred peas and pickled red cabbage as the vegetable sides. Too many meals were sided with boiled or roasted tiny potatoes and a depressing iceberg lettuce salad. It's tough to blame these restaurants too much though, when many are located far from geothermal-powered greenhouses. Imported produce is terribly expensive and not always in good condition when it arrives in local stores. I supplemented my guesthouse/hotel breakfasts and restaurant dinners with fruit-based snacks (mostly bananas and apples), with a little wild blueberry foraging during hikes. A few restaurants turned out exquisite dishes that I hope to experience again sometime. I never had to resort to a hotdog or hamburger, though I tried a hamburger for fun, in the Westfjords. The burger itself was not thrilling, but the bun was substantial, and nicely toasted and the toppings were pretty tasty together, though messy (pickled red cabbage, ketchup, pickles, mustard, mayonnaise, onions and cheese. I had a couple of very odd pizzas in tiny towns, one of which was tasty and the other a disaster. The key, I found, was to go with Iceland's strengths, which are fresh fish, delicious lamb, expertly cured, dried and/or smoked proteins, hearth breads, tasty eggs and dairy products, game birds and other animals, and potato dishes. My chief complaint after the lack of produce was the reliance on heavy cream to jazz up too many dishes. At times, the cloying cream was overwhelming to delicate flavours. The very best meals I had were the absolute definition of locavore cuisine. The best chefs let the ingredients' flavours shine through and focus efforts on beautiful preparation and spot-on cooking timing. Would I send a foodie to Iceland? Probably not, but any foodie can do very well by by exploring and savouring the quality ingredients that Iceland has in abundance.

            1. re: 1sweetpea

              It has been nearly a year since I was in Iceland and I'm still pining for Icelandic lamb, skyr, herring, cod cheeks and other seafood treasures I enjoyed in Iceland. I should also give a shout out to Icelandic butter, which is so delicious that I smeared it on bread with abandon (I almost never butter bread in Canada, unless the bread is terrible and I'm famished while awaiting a meal in a restaurant). I'd be thrilled if I could find a store in the GTA that imports Icelandic lamb, skyr or herring. Ontario lamb, by comparison, is flavourless. The herring we get here is also not nearly as rich in flavour.

              1. re: 1sweetpea

                Great comments about the Icelandic butter and herring!

                I survived on that butter (also smeared with abandon) on bread topped with herring while hiking across Iceland's largest glacier- one of the most physically grueling things I've ever done. Eating that while sitting on the top of that ash covered glacier was incredible.

                1. re: 1sweetpea

                  Just got back on Friday and brought almost nothing back with us except the rest of the butter that was in the fridge. Most delicious butter ever. Luckily, it was a big chunk.

                  1. re: suse

                    Hotdogs, butter and skyr! oh my (but not together). Seriously, has anyone found skyr in Toronto, I couldn't find any useful links.

                    1. re: DDD

                      I've been on a skyr quest for several years.

                      In Toronto, the only current option is a 'skyr-like substance' from Siggy's (a New York company). It's not bad, but doesn't have the full skyr 'tang'. It's also a bit heavier. Several flavours available at Summerhill Market (saw it last weekend).

                      But if you're addicted, think of it as methadone, rather than heroin.

                      For the 'real stuff' the closest place is across the border at Whole Foods (U.S. only last time I checked). Started in New York City, then entire Eastern Seaboard (including Buffalo - which is included in that regions warehousing). Now has been expanded to mid-west warehouse - I've bought it in Chicago this year (for the first time).

                      Haven't checked with the Canadian Whole Foods for about a year - they didn't stock it then.

                      On the other foods:

                      Hotdogs aren't my thing - never found a single one I enjoyed. But AmuseGirl likes the crunch in the Icelandic version - but not enough to make a special journey for.

                      Butter - OK it's good - but many European butters have a similar high-fat content. If you look, may find French & Italian producers that are comparable. All are MUCH superior to Ontario butter (I'm talking taste). The best Ontario butter (IMO) is the Lactantia Cultured Salted (almost as hard to find as Skyr!), which I get from Fiesta Farms.

                      Icelandic Lamb - I found the flavour a bit mild for my taste - but I've had similar from Quebec. My preferred is Washington State (and even that I can't find fresh in Toronto - have to make do with frozen), but for 'widely' available I will settle for Australian Lamb - except it's not too wide even then!

                      Summerhill Market
                      446 Summerhill Ave, Toronto, ON M4W, CA

                      Fiesta Farms
                      200 Christie St, Toronto, ON M6G, CA

                      1. re: estufarian

                        I spent a couple of nights on a farm that raises Icelandic sheep. It was time for the fall roundup of the free range animals and I sampled some extremely fresh lamb. It was quite tough, a little dry and not super gamey. The owner's wife, also our tour guide for a highlands adventure, informed us that lamb tastes much better after it has "rested" or aged a bit. The gamey taste becomes more pronounced, the meat relaxes and becomes more tender and the cooked product is juicier. I assume that the restaurants use this or else last season's yield that is frozen while fresh, which is why the examples I ate in restaurants, especially higher end ones, were so lovely.

                        1. re: estufarian

                          Sorry, but there's no Whole Foods in Buffalo. Closest one is Cleveland, I think.

                          1. re: Cliocooks

                            I have recipes for making skyr, but they always come with the warning that it won't taste the same as the Icelandic stuff, because the dairy there is so vastly superior to anything we're getting here. We simply can't mimic the diet and terrain of Icelandic cows.

                            1. re: Cliocooks

                              Hadn't realized that. Too bad.

                              DEFINITELY found it in Ann Arbor last time I was through(this year), and I note that there are other stores in Detroit suburbs - so they may be a bit closer. And apparently Whole Foods also stock Icelandic Butter.

                            2. re: estufarian

                              Just read an article in the Toronto Star about Summerhill and they mentioned the "skyr" in there. Wish they were bring in the original stuff from Iceland but as estufarian mentioned they have the Siggi's stuff -

                              Says in the article "For the last two years, it has secured a 25,000-kilogram/per year yogurt quota from the federal government so it can import yogurt" They also import a few Greek yogurts...

                              Thought Skyr was actually a cheese so why don't more people import it on that basis? I guess it is all very complicated but I would love to see it available here).

                              1. re: ylsf

                                Will have to go up to the market to stock up on some skyr.. still think about starting every day with Skyr when I was in ICeland last year!

                  2. If you are missing Icelandic hot dogs, I just read about an art event serving them on Friday (August 5):


                    I would have gone but unfortunately have other plans already.

                    I wish some retailer would carry Skyr(the authentic one vs. the one they make in New York state) here too. Last few times I went to Whole Foods in the USA they did have the authentic skyr. I am guessing it is a mess of paperwork to try to import something like that into Canada with various dairy boards/etc.

                    10 Replies
                    1. re: ylsf

                      When I was in Iceland last year, I brought back 3 containers of Skyr in my purse, (bought at the airport). I strongly suspect this wasn't entirely legal.. oh well. Not being a fish lover, I wasn't too big on the traditional cuisine... but I loved the baked goods, which are probably quite traditionally Scandinavian? Lots of jam-based cookies and pastries. I really liked the coffee, but could have done without all of the mayonnaise on sandwiches!
                      Oddly enough. I was just in Gimli, and visited an Icelandic bakery. Sadly, they were all sold out of Vinarterta.. but they had some delicious Icelandic doughnuts..

                      1. re: rstuart

                        I just came back from Iceland and smuggled some skyr -- hoping to use it as a starter to make my own (if only I could find vegetable rennet!).

                        I'm surprised by some of the reactions upthread to Icelandic food. My friends and I all ate wonderfully there. Granted, I'm vegetarian, so I didn't eat any of the more unusual dishes, but the dairy and bread were delicious and I had no issues finding veg options. (I agree with everyone who raved about the butter, btw.) The only exception was the shark, which everyone -- even the fish lovers -- hated.

                        1. re: piccola

                          Agree about the dairy and bread! I did eat well there.. just not a fish fan, which was a problem!

                          1. re: rstuart

                            I really enjoyed Icelandic food. I think I ate my body weight in skyr when I was there. I miss the fish and the incredible butter.

                            1. re: petra_reuter

                              The coffee was really good too.
                              All of this thinking about iceland has me pining for a trip back!

                              1. re: rstuart

                                The coffee was really good! Although I think part of that was due to the great dairy (I drank mostly cappuccinos there).

                                I also ate my bodyweight in skyr, and didn't have any trouble finding veg (so also non-fish) food. Even outside of Reykjavik, there were always options, though it's true the produce options were a little limited -- mostly carrots and root veg. Except at this one veg restaurant across the street from the Hilton...

                          2. re: piccola

                            I found some vegetable rennet at Fiesta Farms.

                            1. re: Dean Tudor

                              Woooo! Thanks for letting me know. Here's hoping my skyr experiment works out.

                              1. re: piccola

                                I did not eat my body weight in skyr, but inhaled all the fish and seafood I could get my hands on. If I wasn't a herring lover before going to Iceland, I certainly am now. As well, the lamb was outstanding. The game birds, however, were a little more gamey than I'd bargained for. Well prepared, though.

                                I would love to have access to skyr. The healthy desserts that can be made from this rich tasting, but not high fat, dairy product are incredible.

                                1. re: 1sweetpea

                                  We went to a fish and chips place that had "skyronnaire".. sauces made with skyr instead of mayonnaise. really good.!