Reykjavik, the biggest city in Iceland is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. Despite having two thirds of the country's population residing here, Reykjavik manages to retain a quaint, small town charm.
Reykjavik's founding is remarkably well documented, with the names and stories of the first Norse settlers who arrived here in the 9th century meticulously recorded. However, it was only in the 19th century, when it became Iceland's seat of government, that it began to outgrow its origins as a farming settlement and started to become a real town.
Today Reykjavik has become one of the most visited cities in Europe, with millions of tourists arriving to experience the city's vibrant nightlife and see the stunning beauty of the sea and land surrounding it. The biggest landmark in the city, visible wherever you are, is the Hallgrímskirka church. From there you can walk through most of the compact old city, whose streets are still named for the old Norse gods: Thor, Odin, Loki and Freya. The heart of Reykjavik is centered around a pretty little lake surrounded by churches and buildings, which is a great place to watch birds that land on the water or to feed the ducks that make it their home.
Reykjavik harbour, from which Viking ships set sail a thousand years ago on the raids that terrified all of Europe, is today a great place to stroll. The boats sailing out no longer carry fearsome warriors but rather tourists eager to see whales and puffins. The old fishing sheds and boat repair shops have been converted into trendy cafes, craft breweries and boutiques, which are always thronging with tourists.
Icelandic cuisine is all about local seafood, pasture raised lamb and dairy - especially Skyr, a type of thick, creamy, almost cheesy yogurt which, once tasted is utterly unforgettable and addictive! Icelandic chefs get wonderfully creative in cooking the incredible variety of seafood that abounds in the Arctic waters around. And with a slogan that proudly proclaims "Icelandic Lamb - roaming free since 878", you know it's going to be very good! Since the sheep nibble on grass and herbs all summer long, the meat is lean and uniquely flavoured.
We ate buttery tender local lamb every chance we got, in Reykjavik restaurants, in hugely popular hot dogs, in burgers and our favourite - in smoked lamb sandwiches.
Icelandic lamb soup is a very old and traditional dish, showcasing the best of cold weather cooking with simple ingredients. We happened upon it quite by chance at a small restaurant attached to a gas station in the middle of (seemingly) nowhere. The soup was warming and especially satisfying when eaten in front of a breathtaking view of mountains!
The delicate flavour of herbs mingled with the sweetness of roasted root vegetables comes through in every spoonful of this simple, satisfying soup. Roasting intensifies the inherent sweetness of the vegetables but if you're in a hurry, you can skip that step. Serve with lots of crusty baguette to make a meal of it!
Lamb Soup With Roasted Root Vegetables
4 tbsp oil, divided
1 heaping cup each, peeled vegetable chunks: parsnip, turnip, potato, carrot
4 cloves garlic, halved through the middle
Salt and pepper to taste
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large sprig each, fresh herbs: thyme, rosemary
2 lb bone in lamb cubes or shanks
900 ml chicken broth
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
Heat oven to 450F. Line a baking tray with parchment.
Combine 2 tbsp oil, vegetable chunks, garlic and salt and pepper to taste in large mixing bowl. Spread in an even layer on baking tray. Bake for 30 min or until vegetables are lightly golden and almost tender. Reserve.
Meanwhile, warm remaining 2 tbsp oil in deep saucepan over medium heat.
Add onion, thyme and rosemary. Saute 5 min until slightly softened.
Add lamb and brown for 5 min.
Add broth and more salt and pepper to taste. Cover and bring to a gentle boil, skimming off the scum that rises to the top. Reduce heat to low and cook covered for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
Add reserved roasted vegetables, cover and cook again until they are very soft and lamb is very tender, about 1 hour or longer.
Cool and remove meat from bones, discarding bones. Discard thyme and rosemary sprigs as well.
If desired, refrigerate soup overnight and skim off all the fat from the top.
Warm soup before serving and garnish with the fresh parsley.