Eating vegan in Reykjavik

This post is for anyone who eats vegan food, and realises too late that they are hungry in Reykjavik.

Firstly I need to say – there are a hundred better posts for restaurant reviews out there. This is a story of being hungry in Reykjavik, and panicking that we wouldn’t be able to find anything vegan to eat. I’m going to take you on a journey through making do, not a deep culinary review. If that’s what you’re after, I understand if you leave now.

Still there? Cool. Thanks!

Firstly, if you are vegan or vegetarian, or simply love eating V or VG food, download the Happy Cow app immediately.

This app saved our bacon (and the bacon of the pigs it belongs to) when we travelled to Japan, showing us lots of places we could go to eat when we were desperate. Before we went we thought ‘Wagamamas is pretty good for vegan food, so Japan will be awesome!’. Looking back, we were painfully naive. There’s fish sauce in fucking everything there.

It’s useful in Reykjavik too, sort of.

Anyway, in Reykjavik you’ll find yourself wandering about, looking at the menus and realising that everything contains meat (kjöt), cheese (osti) or other dairy stuff (mjólkurvörur). Then you’ll open the Happy Cow app and be presented with a couple of options.

Gló

Glo is a little veggie haven just off the main street of Laugavegur. It’s got a small one door entrance on a road called Klapparstígur, and it’s up some stairs, above a health food shop (which they also own).

When we’ve been there they offer a nice salad bar type menu that you can pick and choose from, or you can choose from their specials board. We’ve had a lasagne, ratatouile, soups and all the salad offerings. And they’re all delicious. Also, considering the price of everything else on the high street, the cost was pretty reasonable. They also serve bottled lager, which is nice.

Kaffi Vinyl

This place always pops up on ‘Vegan places to go’ in Reykjavik. I’ve no idea why. We’ve tried to eat here several times and it’s always resulted in us walking out 5 minutes later. Every time we visit Reykjavik we try to go, and these are the reasons we haven’t eaten there so far:

  • Went in, sat down. No one took our order. I went to the bar bit “someone will come over and take your order”. They didn’t, we left.
  • Went in, it was really busy. Waited for a bit for a table, but bailed after 10 minutes. It’s a chilled out space where people can not eat or drink but still occupy a four person table by themselves.
  • Went in, really lively, decided to just get a drink, no tables but we decided not to be stuck up and moan. Went to the bar. “You need a table”

We haven’t eaten there. It might be great.

Veganæs

I’ve not been here because it only opened this year, but it looks good. The reviews on Happy Cow all talk about the quality of the food and the nice atmosphere (it’s in a music venue).

The only issue I can see with this place are it’s opening hours – from 4pm to 10pm only.

Being an unorganised vegan in Reykjavik

Okay so here’s the deal. The places listed above are great (well Glo definitely is) but the issue is definitely opening hours, seating space, and convinience. In my experience, vegan eateries can be hit-or-miss maximising each of these criteria because they are by nature laid back and chilled spaces. For example, Glo is open 11am – 9pm so it’s good for lunch and an early dinner. Kaffi Vinyl is open from 10am – 11pm, but according to some local reviews they sometimes dont serve food later in the evening. And Vaganaes is good for dinner, but closed when you might be getting peckish around midday. If you’re good at organising your day, you’ll enjoy these places. If you’re like me, you will get there too early, too late, or when the kitchen just isn’t open.

So here’s an unorganised vegan approach.

Noodle station

(Photo credit: guidetoiceland.is)

You’ll find this place opposite a penis museum. Seriously.

So we’d been walking up and down Laugavegur looking at menus, and didn’t fancy eating the obligatory salad. It was getting serious, my wife was starting to narrow her eyes and stomp along, periodically googling ‘vegan’ and clicking on the map links. It was getting to the point where she was going to get pissed off, and we were about an hour drive away from our accommodation. Then I saw a little red sign in the distance for a noodle bar.

We smelt the place before we arrived, it smelled like peanuts, lemongrass and relief.

Inside it was a bit spartan but clean, and the hostess who served us at the counter had no issue with the vegan thing. She spoke to the chef and told me it was sorted, a noodle and vegetable soup but with no meat or fish stock. I was really chuffed, it was quick service and they seemed to take it in their stride. I still watched the chef like a hawk though, the last thing I wanted was a delicious meal that accidentally had pig in it or something.

I needn’t have worried. My order was called after only ten minutes, I bought us a drink, and we scoffed it down in five. Large portions too.

Not a vegan place, but really good vegan food quick.

Big Lebowski Bar

The first time I went to the Big Lebowski bar I wasn’t vegan. I had a massive burger washed down with a few white russians (a la the dude himself), so when we went back in I was a bit apprehensive. We’d gone with a friend to get a beer, but got peckish while we were there. With no hope or expectation we perused the menu and were delighted to find a burger that was vegan. It was still massive, served with piles of fries, covered in gherkins, jalapenos and mustard. It was delicious.

There was no almond milk white russian available (sob), but the lager was cold.

Italia Veitingahus

Looking at restaurants that we could go to on New Years eve was depressing. Everything was either closed at the time we wanted to eat, booked up, or serving elaborate eight course variations of Icelandic delicacies like sheep face.

Italia Veitingahus (don’t know what it means, don’t care either, sorry) took our booking and reassured us that we could absolutely eat something on their menu. But we didnt know what. They were a bit laissez faire on the email, and said they would make us something.

We turned up with all our family (meaties), got a few beers/wines and settled into the comfy atmosphere. It was nice, and the service was quick, and it was raining/snowing outside so we got a clear view of people grumpily walking past, wet through. Smug. That was the emotion, and looking forward to being well fed.

There was nothing on the menu we could eat.

We asked the waitress, she had no idea either. She ran through the extensive vegan selection.

We said we didnt want a salad.

She tootled off to the kitchen and came back with a menu with a smiling little character on it. The kids menu. I’ll admit, at this point I was getting ready to be annoyed. She explained that we could upgrade anything on the kids menu to adult size. I was staring at her in a ‘are you fucking kidding me’ sort of way, so she left us alone to peruse the menu.

We got a spaghetti napolitana without cheese. It looked like a bowl of tomato soup with some pasta in it.

It was incredible. The flavours were intense and perfectly balanced, the spaghetti was al dente and the herbs came through in every mouthful. It was properly delicious. It also cost £28.

Again, not a vegan place, but the sauce is mjog gott.

Bonus

Its got a picture of a flatulent pig as its mascot. Its also a byword for capitalism in Iceland, so some people really hate the place.

‘Its also a supermarket!’ I hear you cry!

Listen, the best thing you can do as a starving vegan in a foreign country is to take some responsibility and make your own food. Unless you’re in a hotel, in which case you’ll just eat a lot of those foreign paprika flavoured crisps.

We booked AirBnB and so bought some supplies on the first day. A common menu for us would be:

Breakfast – cereal and toast made from our supermarket shop
Lunch – eat out
Tea – dinner at home with wine (the drink drive laws are suitably strict, so we often ate at home in the evening so I didnt have to drive after)

However, when we stayed in Hella we realised that we were hardly going to be in Reykjavik at all, and so would have even less chance of finding somewhere to eat. So I bought dried beans, canned tomatoes, some grains etc and made us soup every day. That might sound a bit sad, but its not when youre all toasty and warm eating piping hot soup next to a waterfall. Thats pretty special.

Hope this helps. Remember that food isnt the primary reason to travel to Iceland, the environment and people are.

Bless bless!

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