It usually takes us what feels like months to decide where we want to go for our summer get away, but one blustery autumn day a couple of years ago, my daughter brought a letter home from school informing us of an optional three day trip to Iceland. Glancing at the cost whilst eating dinner that night, I casually remarked that the whole family could go to Iceland for seven days for that price. Our eyes met around the dinner table, the laptop was for once invited to join us during a meal time, and it took us just a little while to work out that, although we could not all go for a week for that price as I had sarcastically quipped, we could all go for eight nights for only double that price – flights, accommodation and car hire included. Within a couple of days the holiday was booked and eight months later we touched down on the lunar landscape that was to blow us away with its incredible array of natural phenomena and its rugged beauty.
Our journey along Iceland’s one and only main road wasn’t long, about 90 minutes, and gave us a fantastic introduction to the island. Initially the ground covering was lava rock, often covered in a 10–15 cm depth of lichen that has been growing, untouched, for thousands of years. As we neared Reykjavik an array of wild flowers covered the treeless ground, all low level and understated, and mountains loomed to our right, the occasional dirt track zigzagging its perilous way up their sides.
Driving through Reykjavik itself was bizarre. It’s wide, tidy roads, edged by low level buildings, were practically deserted. The most cars I saw stopping at any traffic light was four, and this was 2pm. We could see the wide blue bay, from where we were due to head out whale watching in a few days, large, rocky mountains rising out of the sea beyond. As we drove out of the other side of the capital we were met by a sea of purple-blue lupins, stretching for miles, for which the city is famous. The road clear, with the coast to our right, we drove at holiday pace heading into the mountains. Steam rose from hidden cracks within them and snow nestled in shady crevices. Icelandic ponies grazed in the fields below.
We passed the occasional village, the single storey corrugated iron houses painted in bright reds and yellows or fresh whites. Apart from the odd local, also driving at holiday pace because Iceland is an incredibly relaxed country, the road was ours. It was the most stress free holiday arrival we have ever had.
Iceland has a reputation for being expensive so we were pleasantly surprised, upon reaching Selfoss, the nearest town to our accommodation, to find a restaurant that was very fairly priced. I’d done a little research before we came (why waste a meal eating in a rubbish restaurant?) and knew that Kaffi Krus had good reviews and would do us well for an ‘up at 4am, just off the plane and in a totally new country’ kind of meal.
We parked the car down a little side street next to the restaurant and, foregoing the opportunity to dine al fresco as some of the hardened locals were, we headed inside, swiftly shutting the door against the chilly air. The restaurant was more café cum restaurant than fine dining, with cakes displayed in a counter, a chalk board menu on the wall and a large bubbling tureen of soup, which we would later realise was synonymous with practically every eating establishment in Iceland, in the corner. The staff were friendly and the patrons – local families eating Sunday lunch or couples popping in for a slice of cake – sometimes took their woolly hats off and sometimes didn’t bother. Everyone, and I mean everyone, wore bright zip up waterproof jackets layered up with fleeces underneath, walking boots on their feet. Outdoor wear is the national dress it seems.
I got a little twitchy about the hire car being parked down a side street and popped out once or twice to check on it. Later we laughed about this. Iceland is incredibly safe with very little crime, and it doesn’t take you too long to realise this.
Lunch finished, we headed back outside. With the incredibly fresh, icy cold air and the beautifully warm sunshine confusing our senses, we walked down the road to look at the glacier fed river, its milky, turquoise waters swirling at our feet. Nearby you could see half sphere craters in the rock covering the ground, each a metre or more across. Millions of years ago lava bubbles had formed and then popped leaving the big bubble craters.
Our fantastic host had suggested that we shop in Bónus, a supermarket on the edge of town, but our restaurant had been next to Kronan so we decided to pop in there instead.
Stepping inside was bizarre, the whole shop feeling old and tired. It didn’t look like it had been refurbed since the 70s, the way the food was displayed was messy – all higgledy piggledy, and in many areas it looked as if there had been a spate of panic buying. I know people say that food in Iceland is expensive but we would have liked the opportunity to find that out for ourselves.
To be fair, it wasn’t quite this bad, but initially it did feel it. There were lots of little gaps on the shelves and when there was food on them it was all incredibly random. We could buy a strange mix of ready prepared foods such as jars of Jamie Oliver pesto, but none of his other products. These were displayed right next to an apple puree we eat for breakfast when on holiday in France, which themselves were right next to packets of Batchelors Super Noodles and Super Rice. It was as if someone had walked into a western supermarket, chosen 100 random items, and ordered a big delivery of those items and those items only.
Our youngest was thrilled to find large boxes of Lucky Charms imported from America, and we could have bought as many boxes of Red Nose Day Weetabix as we wished, even though this was late July. It seems that Iceland is the final destination of many a food product that is no longer desirable in the rest of the Western world. To top the whole bizarre experience off, it seemed that supermarket own brands barely existed, leaving us with a feeling of bemusement as to what the islanders actually eat.
I was pleased to see pots of skyr, the Icelandic equivalent of yogurt. In fact this was one of the best stocked items, a wide choice of flavours being available. I also noticed some bottles of juice in the fridge section. Judging by the pictures of the contents on the label it seemed the ingredient list was much like that of our smoothies. We couldn’t read the bottle but opted for the one with a picture of oranges, apples, mangos, passion fruit and turmeric root on the front.
Understandably the fresh fruit and veg section was limited – Reykjavik, its capital, having an average July temperature of just 11°C. We could have bought ready foiled potatoes for baking, and fresh turmeric was also plentiful, something I had never seen in British supermarkets at this point. There was a small offering of bendy celery and broccoli at a very high price although cherry tomatoes seemed plentiful enough. To set this section off nicely, the loo rolls were sold as single items, and displayed in a plastic basket amongst the fruit and veg.
And the meat….that was where the prices really ramped up. We had heard that nearly all Icelandic meat was grown on the island and was pretty much organic. As a result I was looking forward to trying some of their lamb, which is meant to be delicious, along with some of their other meats. We very quickly went off this idea. Although the choice was not bad, with everything from salamis and hams to bacon, mince, lamb and beef, the prices were astronomical. Four servings of bacon was clocking in at £20, as were a couple of slices of smoked salmon. Ham and salami was four or five times the price of the equivalent in the UK. We quickly decided that the way forward was a week of vegetarian eating.
None of this is to say that we did not like what we were seeing, we loved it. Yes, we were a little daunted as to what we were going to eat, but we weren’t going to starve and it was fascinating to see what life on this chilly, intriguing, beautiful island was like. An hour or so later we left the supermarket, bags full of many a random item. It looked like breakfast was going to be the best meal of the day – an odd assortment of French pureed apple, Icelandic lava bread, skyr, vanilla flavoured surmjolk (soured milk that is much nicer than it sounds), frozen cinnamon rolls, imported from America and ready to be baked to sweet perfection, fresh coffee and that interesting looking juice I had found. The breakfast table would be heaving, which was fine as far as we were concerned as it was just Bachelors Super Rice for dinner…and no complaining.
An evening walk from our holiday house
The juice we bought turned out to be gorgeous. We managed to consume quite a lot of it in our time there – sitting on our decking, fleeces zipped up against the pure, cold air, the warm sun beating down on us. I have attempted to replicate that juice here.
I have deliberately kept things simple to avoid the use of a juicer. Juicing is brilliant but cleaning the juicer is a pain and I wanted to create a drink that is quick and easy to make. The Icelandic juices tasted light and fresh. I found that the apple and lime juices create this effect. The turmeric really makes things interesting. In the Icelandic juice it was subtle, barely there. You will see in this recipe that I’ve given you the quantity for anything from a barely there turmeric experience to a full on, WOW, turmeric hit. I tried juicing turmeric root by finely grating it and squeezing it through a fine cloth, as I do for ginger, but turmeric is much less eager to give up its precious liquid so I decided to stick with the powder for ease. I add the black pepper for two reasons. It aids in the absorption of the beneficial curcumin found in the turmeric, it also gives a fantastic fiery kick.
The spices settle quickly so you can either stir the juice occasionally as you drink or you can whizz the juice in a blender with the xanthan gum which helps keep the spices evenly dispersed. If you do this the juice will become frothy and lighten in colour as you blend it. Incidentally, this is a great way to aerate red wine if it hasn’t had time to breathe – minus the xanthan gum of course!
Turmeric Sunshine Juice
- 120 ml cloudy apple juice
- 50 ml fresh orange juice
- 20 ml lime juice (I use bottled)
- 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric*
- 1/16 teaspoon black pepper**
- 1/16 teaspoon xanthan gum (optional)
- Put the black pepper into a pestle and mortar and grind to a very fine powder.
- Pour the juices into a glass then add the spices starting with the lesser amount. Stir well and taste adding more if you wish.
- The spices slowly settle to the bottom of the glass so you will need to re-mix as you drink.
- If you have a blender and want to reduce the spices settling on the bottom of the glass, pour the juice into a blender, add the spices and the xanthan gum and blend for a few seconds. Serve.
Great story on this one Anna – lovely to hear about your holiday. What an amazing experience.