Thursday, October 13, 2016

Farm to Table Culinary Experience in Iceland

Icelandic local delicacies are very limited and to our surprise Icelanders joke that hots dogs are their national dish! But when you are in Reykjavik standing in queue of their famous hot dog stall you kind of start believing it!

You keep seeing those dried fish snacks in shops, they call it viking's snacks. And of course there are some famous seafood restaurants in Reykjavik. I had the best lobster soup in one of those near harbor. 

But when I visited a nearby grocery shop, I was surprised to see fresh smelling tomatoes, cucumbers and bananas! I mean bananas in such northerly place where summer is also cooler. But I decided to keep my curiosity on hold till the day I went on culinary tour. If you want to see the real food and farming movement in Iceland, you need to leave Reykjavik and explore nearby places. Thanks to Icelandic Mountain Guides, I had opportunity to visit two such farms which introduced me to sustainable food culture in Iceland.

Blue berries
Traditional farming is very difficult on this volcanic island considering the geological, geographical challenges. This island is mainly made of volcanic lava rocks and has thin layer of soil so you can't even see naturally grown tall trees here. Even the blueberry plants growing in wild are so small and growing near the ground like creepers. Since Vikings settled here some 1,100 years back they brought livestock with them. And since then farms in Iceland are mainly animal farms where they keep sheep, cows, chickens, horses etc. During summer, farmers leave their animals on highlands where they graze on long spread, mostly an uninhabitable part of Iceland. So then you understand how this hot dog became their so called national dish.

But thanks to abundant geothermal energy in this country since 1930s they started farming in geothermal greenhouses. These green houses are heated by using geothermal energy, and they can grow those vegetables and fruits which require warmer climate. So when you see those fresh tomatoes, cucumber, bell peppers, carrots, potatoes, strawberries and even bananas, they all are grown in Iceland in these green houses. You pass through this green house farming area while you tour Golden Circle route. This nation has reduced their carbon footprint in food drastically by growing their own food instead of exporting from somewhere else and using geothermal energy for growing food. 

Fridheimar- Tomato Farm

Hydroponic Tomato Farm
Our first culinary stop was Fridheimar, a farm to fork concept restaurant based inside hydroponic tomato farm green house, where you get to taste everything made out of tomatoes. Started in 1986, these green houses are heated with geothermal energy upto 20-25 degrees. As they are using lights for growing vegetables, the farms are now producing year round, even during winter when there sun is out only around 4 hours. Humidity, temperature, lights, window operation etc is controlled by computer programs. Theis climate control computer system help them to operate farm energy efficiently. For example, when sun is out and given required lighting to the farm, this system switches off lights. Photosynthesis of plants is enhanced by using carbon dioxide produced from natural geothermal steam. 

Apart from all these Eco friendly features of Fridheimar farm, their natural pest control technique is notable. They use mirid bug Macrolophus pygmaeus imported from Holland, which eats all insect pests in Icelandic farmhouse. They also use bumble bee from Holland, these bees pollinate tomato plants.

The different types of tomatoes grown in the farm is delivered to the supermarket within same day of picking them from plants. So Icelanders can eat fresh tomatoes year round! They use chemical fertilizers so unfortunately these farms apart from so many Eco friendly practices is not an organic farm, but the need of nutrients for the plants grown in hydroponics to be fulfilled with fertilizers, hope they can find a natural nutrient addition soon. 

World's best Tomato Soup
It was an unique experience sit in restaurant next to hydroponic farm in geothermal green house. It's so warm and pleasant inside. After some site seeing on cold, rainy and stormy day, it was amazing to finally take coats off and sit down to have world best tomato soup, made out of tomatoes picked few hours back. They have kept a basil plant on every table, you can cut basil leaves and add to your soup along with sour cream; the taste is heavenly! I never had such fresh food experience in my life! I fall in love with the concept so much, that just 2 days back, I made similar table setting at home with basil plant on table and tried to recreate the same tomato soup experience for my husband! Next time I would love to visit Fridheimar with him and would love to have bloody merry made out of just picked tomatoes! It's no surprise that this farm to table restaurant is favorite spot of all celebrities visiting Iceland from Bill Clinton to Kim Kardashian!

Efstidalur- Cattle Farm

Rustic Farm to Table at Efstidalur
Our next stop on this culinary trail was Efstidalur farm. This is a 3 generation family run cattle farm. You can stay in the guest house of this family farm, have meals in their restaurant or just drop in to see the farm and taste their farm to table skyr and ice creams! It's a great place to take kids as you can cuddle calves and can have ice-cream while watching the cows from glass windows of the restaurant! I loved the rustic charm of the ground floor sitting area. 

Whey and Skyr
The ice cream is freshly made from cow milk from the farm. Same goes with skyr, it is Icelandic delicacy made out of milk which is cross of yogurt and cheese. But in this farm some interesting information unfolded in front of us. During skyr tasting, the farmer served us some clear water like drink and told us it's whey. While making skyr whey is separated and Icelandic people are drinking this whey since generations! Skyr is great addition to breakfast and whey tasted good too! If you mix skyr and whey, you get skimmed milk! 

The ice-cream was delicious, they add fresh fruits whenever possible and watching cows and cuddling calves is always fun!
Watching Calves from Restaurant 
It was great to visit farms in Iceland and experience farm to table culinary concepts. If you are visiting Iceland don't forget to go on culinary trail and Icelandic mountain guides are great choice. Read my lave caving experience with them, to know why they are my favorite tour operators in Iceland! 

This Culinary trail is outside of Reykjavik but you can visit these farms during a day trip while covering site seeing on Golden Tour. I wish this farm to table concept gets popular everywhere in the world, having fresh food at the place where it is grown or produced takes your culinary experience at different level and it's great educational experience for our kids to know how food grows and where it comes from!

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