After we got back from Mykines, we did some more exploring around Streymoy and ended up back in Tórshavn for dinner. From 1940 to 1948 the Faroe Islands were under British rule, since the British pre-emptively “invaded” after Denmark fell to the Germans to protect the islands from also falling into German hands. While that occupation was shorter than the American occupation (and later post-war NATO presence), the British occupation did leave a lot of little bits of evidence all around the Faroes. Old foundations of observations posts in the mountains. Artillery pieces on the hill over Tórshavn’s harbor. The airport itself was originally built by the British (with its locations chosen since it was well-protected from naval bombardment). And, on a cultural front, a love for fish and chips. One of the better places in the Faroe Islands to get “Fiskur v. Kipsi” is called “Fish and Chips” (again, the Faroese tendency towards relatively simple names for places).
As I mentioned in my discussion on self-catering, there are a certain number of star attractions in the Faroes that every first time visitor should really check out. Probably the best one is Mykines, the westernmost island. The island is only lightly inhabited, with a single village (also called Mykines), that’s a cluster of about 40 houses, most of which are only vacation houses now. And some of the best bird nesting grounds in the world, especially for puffins. But getting there is fun; it’s one of the few islands that’s not reachable by road. Your options are the twice-a-day ferry from Sørvágur (that books up well in advance) or helicopter from Vagar airport. Both are subject to cancellation due to high winds (indeed, helicopter flights were canceled most of the time we were out there), or high waves. They also warn you to bring some cash, basic toiletries, and patience, since it’s not unknown for people to get stranded for days at a time on Mykines due to helicopter and ferry cancelations (the author of my guidebook got caught out there for 7 days, and there’s an entire Danish novel and miniseries about a minister whose wife left him while he was stranded for two weeks on Mykines). It’s truly a fabulous place. The village is isolated and almost a small world unto itself. The hike out to the Lighthouse is a truly iconic hike with some great views. And even better, the hike goes through some of the densest bird nesting grounds in the Atlantic, with literally millions of puffins, gannets, fulmar, kittiwakes, and other island birds. But after the hike, we sauntered back to the village, and while the weather was favorable for our return to the mainland via boat, our return trip wasn’t for another two hours, so we decided to get lunch. Well, with a permanent population of 11, Kristianshus (“Christian’s House”) is almost the entirety of commerce (and government) for the village, serving as the hotel, restaurant, and, well, whatever else is needed in the village.
“Faroese Cuisine” isn’t generally one of the well-known cuisines in Europe. But the Faroe Islands do have one restaurant that’s frequently mentioned as an actual culinary destination, with regular mentions in such publications as The New York Times, The Guardian, and even The Economist! That place is Koks. Located in a converted house overlooking the scenic village of Kirkjubøur, Koks is a fine dining restaurant that, like many others, prides themselves in local ingredients and traditions. It’s just that here, chef Poul Andrias Ziska is using the local ingredients and traditions of the Faroes, which are quite interesting indeed.
While we generally had a great time in the Faroe Islands, especially on the culinary front, I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss the broader Faroe Island dining scene from a tourist’s perspective. The Faroe Islands themselves are rather small (about 60,000 permanent inhabitants), and aside from the occasional festival or special event (the Klaksvik Summer Festival or the 2015 Solar Eclipse being good examples), aside from Tórshavn (which gets the occasional cruise ship and regular stops by the Smyril Line ferry between Denmark and Iceland), the tourism amenities drop off precipitously once you leave Tórshavn (with a minor exception for Klaskvik, the second largest town). Indeed, there are quite a few towns where the dining options, and heck, even the food options like stores, are limited. So it’s always important to plan ahead a bit.
At the end of our first full day exploring the Faroe Islands (including some stunningly awesome sea cliffs), we found ourselves back in Tórshavn for dinner. When trying to figure out which option to try for dinner (unlike most of the rest of the Faroes, Tórshavn has a reasonably good selection of good restaurants), one of the options was “sushi”. And, since one of the ever-present sights while driving through the many fjords of the Faroes is the giant, circular aquaculture pens, I figured this would be a good opportunity to try some of the salmon. With that in mind, we decided to tryout out Etika, the only actual sushi restaurant in the Faroe Islands.
After finally settling into our hostel late at night and having a pleasant nights’ rest despite the still significant light level for 62 degrees of latitude in July, the next morning we awoke and start out exploring the greater Tórshavn area in earnest. We soon found ourselves downtown, exploring the particularly nice harbor area, and, once businesses started opening for the morning, checking out one place located right on the waterfront: Kaffihúsið. (As an aside, I’ll mention that, once you start to learn the translations for various names, you learn that the Faroese seem to like rather simple names for places and businesses. Kaffihúsið means… “Coffee House”).
Continuing the Offbeat Eats tradition of going places that are, well, offbeat, our goal this year was to finally visit the Faroe Islands. Originally coming up on our radar during the trip to Iceland, a few simple google image searches quickly found that, while most Americans had never actually heard of the Faroes, they are a wonderland of hiking and puffin-watching. So after a few years of planning, this year we finally did our trip, so after a short layover in Iceland, we boarded a plane at the Reykjavik Domestic Airport (walking distance from downtown), and, without any customs or immigration, and a very pleasant flight on Atlantic Airways involving two shockingly short runways, we soon found ourselves arriving at Vagar Airport at 8pm local time. The timing of our flight from Reykjavik to Vagar was pretty lousy: by the time we got our luggage, got our rental car, and drove the tunnels and fjords to get to Torshavn, it was 9:55 pm, and pretty much all the dining options in Tórshavn on a Monday night were closed. Except for the restaurant in the adjacent 4 star hotel, Gras, which was nice enough to let two slightly disheveled travelers eat at the dinner buffet that had technically closed at 9:30.
Back in 2012, when we took our two week vacation in Iceland doing the Ring Road, there wasn’t a whole lot of English-language food information on the web, so the various reviews I wrote in my set of Iceland Reviews still get quite a few hits. But, since 2012, the traveling world continues to discover Iceland, indeed, in 2015 almost twice as many tourists visited Iceland as in 2012, and it’s shifted from “terra incognita” into “interesting Transatlantic Stopover”. And heck, in the summer of 2016, no few than 10 of my friends and colleagues visited Iceland, including several visiting at the same time I was passing through.
One of the little details I like about eating in Iceland is that the dairy products are fantastic. On our main visit to Iceland in 2012, we discovered Brynja in Akureyri, which serves up some most splendid and flavorful vanilla soft-serve that’s got a nice, earthy richness of flavor. And probably much to the chagrin of my doctor, most every breakfast had me eating Skyr or schmearing a good half-inch thick layer of Smjor (Iceland’s major brand of butter) over some rye bread. I’m told it’s from the cows eating grass grown on highly volcanic soil that gives the milk and dairy products a lot more flavor. So when we heard that over on the west side of town was a new-ish ice cream place that people were raving out, we had to just set out and find it. Thus, we found ourselves in a weird little industrial area just west of Reykjavik’s harbor, which consists of all sorts of little garage-like bays. Some of these are now art boutiques. A few are restaurants. And one held ice cream: Valdis.
Our next stop for refreshment during our layover in Reykjavik was one of the nicer beer bars to show up since our last visit: Mikkeller and Friends. An offshoot of the Danish brewer, it’s quite a nice little beer bar located right next to one of our other Reykjavik favorites, Grái Kötturinn (where we had breakfast that morning: Grái Kötturinn is a godsend for the international traveler arriving before most of Reykjavik wakes up). They’ve got a rather impressive beer list (indeed, including one of the very last kegs of Jack D’Or in existence, from the closed Pretty Thinks brewery in Somerville, MA), but for food, they recommend that you go downstairs and order a pizza from the pizza place with no name.