Often times traveling and vegetarianism don’t mesh well. I spent four months living in Spain and fueled myself with red wine and iceberg lettuce. After having dipped in and out of periods of anemia and B-vitamin deficiency, I’ve become highly conscious of my eating habits and consuming all food groups, not just the yummy grape kind. Fortunately, Reykjavík is extremely accommodating to those of us who don’t eat meat and I’ve never felt at a loss for options.
The food tourism industry here likes to boast about their unusual meats—including whale, puffin, and the infamous rotten shark. However, most all menus will have a specific vegetarian course, if not options scattered throughout the whole menu. There are a few restaurants devoted just to vegetarians and vegans. I don’t know about you other vegetarians out there, but I’ve come to find this very overwhelming! I’m so used to having one option that when I can choose from a whole menu I become paralyzed with confusion. So naturally, I’ve had to return to these restaurants again and again to make sure I know which option is best. My wallet is not thanking me, but my stomach sure is.
When you’re looking for food on the go, a fast and easy option for all travelers is one of the many convenience stores around the city center, such as 10-11 or Bonus. I was pleasantly surprised to find that these stores don’t only sell ham sandwiches and chips, but also veggie wraps, bulgur salads, and other inventive veggie and carb combos. I no longer have to subsist on trail mix for lunch. Many of the gas stations around here (famous for their hot dogs) will also be connected to a Subway, BooztBar (a smoothie joint), or similar cafe with vegetarian options.
It’s quite common to run into Icelandic locals who’ve been vegetarian for years. I’ve never received a look of confusion from a waiter when I asked about options for a vegetarian or requested a meal without the meat. It’s the little things, but they come as quite a relief after being viewed as a kook in other countries.
Tips & Tricks
First and foremost, try the Skyr. It is a deliciously creamy yogurt that is high in protein for your morning boost. Or maybe it’s actually categorized as a cheese. I have yet to gain clarity on this question. Regardless, it’s delicious and nutritious.
Secondly, a reliable go-to is soup. You’ll find a vegetarian soup at many of the cafes and ADDED BONUS it’s almost always the cheapest option on the menu. My money savvy ways have discovered the best options for optimizing taste + cost + level of fullness. The mostly vegetarian menu at Gló serves a delicious bowl of soup with a free refill. Order it without the salads and load up the slice of bread you’re given with hummus. You’ll be quite full without breaking the bank. Also, at the restaurant Svarta Kaffiđ, the menu consists of only two items—both of which are soup in a bread bowl. But one of those soups is always vegetarian, and after consuming soup plus a whole bread bowl without shame, you’ll be merrily waddling out of their with your pant button undone. The last to keep in mind is the vegetable bowl from The Noodle Station. It’s one of the cheapest and fastest meals in town and is perfectly warming on a snowy winter night.
Thirdly, you’ll most likely be cooking some homemade meals while visiting to save money, so buy your groceries at a Bonus store. They offer the best prices. And on top of that, many vegetarian staples are quite cheap! You can buy quinoa and nuts for a better price than many other popular travel destinations. I moved here from New Zealand where I’d come to accept that I couldn’t afford these vegetarian delicacies, but have put them back on the grocery list.
I’m guilty as charged when it comes to choosing that flaky, chocolate croissant over a more hearty green salad in cafes. I always told myself it’s still vegetarian, still counts. However, if you’re subsisting off of a pastry and coffee for lunch instead of getting your necessary vitamins, your body will start to feel it. And this can be very taxing when traveling. You’ll likely be walking everywhere, standing on your feet most of the day and draining a lot of your energy. This is not the time to skimp on nutrients. So when you enter a cute café in Reykjavik, call on your mighty willpower and choose the veggie option. As I mentioned above, many cafes offer a vegetarian soup, including Stofan, Café Babalú and The Laundromat Café. You can also frequently find vegetarian sandwiches; I highly recommend Kaffibrennslan’s mozzarella, tomato, lettuce and pesto grilled sandwich. You might end up forking out a bit more for the purchase, but remember that these are the sacrifices we make for our moral decisions.
If you only remember one thing that I write, this is the most important information. Kaffi Vínyl is your best friend. They have a full vegan menu that could convert even your friends who swear by bacon. The vibes are top notch, with records playing all day and attractive hipster dudes rolling in and out. I haven’t disliked one thing I’ve tried on their menu (and I’ve been there quite a few times now). And to top it all off, you can choose from either oat, soy, almond, or coconut milk in your coffee. Options galore! Kaffi Vínyl is open for all three meals, so you could technically stay here all day. And I wouldn’t judge you for it.
Without a doubt, you won’t have a hard time satisfying your vegetarian dietary needs in Reykjavik. There are more options than the frontal lobe of your brain wants to deal with. Cheers to the Icelandic Tofu Gods.
This post is a part of a series of posts where Sarah, our 23-year-old Coloradan blog-helping-elf, shares her findings during her 5-week stay in Reykjavík. Before Sarah joined us here in Reykjavík she spent a year in New Zealand where she got a taste for the sweet life of travel. After Reykjavík she’s headed south again to spend a year in Australia.
Read more of Sarah Takes on Iceland here.