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Gluten free traveling around Iceland

Story kindly contributed by Ton Nederhof

As in many Nordic European countries, coeliac disease is relatively often prevalent in Iceland, which makes that many people know someone who has it.

Roads in Iceland
Courtesy of Helgi Halldórsson

Of course, this helps. In nearly all restaurants I visited, there was someone who had at least some knowledge about celiac disease. I had a plasticized gluten free restaurant card in Icelandic with me all the time, which was usually taken to the chef (the cook). What also helped was to make inquiries concerning the availability of gluten free meals when booking a hotel. Often, hotels had the only restaurant in the region, so this was useful anyway. On one occasion, I was offered gluten free bread in such a hotel, on another gluten free rice crackers.

The main problem in Iceland is getting sufficient carbohydrates. Gluten free bread is scarce, rice only obtainable in the rare Sushi-shop or veggie restaurant, gluten free pasta or pizza I have never encountered, while on one occasion even the potatoes could not be trusted (some industrially prepared potatoes (and more often French fries) are soaked in water with wheat). Vegetables were also relatively scarce on the menu, and where present mostly in small portions. We regularly bought fruit and Skyr (yoghurt) at a Bonus outlet or some other supermarket.

The best resources can be found in Reykjavik, but elsewhere you can survive easily if you are well prepared. I took with me sufficient gluten free bread for both breakfast and most of the lunches (14 days). I also carried gluten free cheese, but this might not have been necessary, as most of the Icelandic cheeses seemed of the gluten free kind. I included some gluten free sweets, hard to get in Iceland.

Iceland allows citizens from the Netherlands to import 3 kg of food; my wife carried another 2.5 kilogram through customs.

Breakfast in hotels was highly standardized, always including hard boiled eggs, slices of tomato and cucumber, cheese and tasty gluten free yoghurt (Skyr). I always used the natural Skyr. We started and ended in Reykjavik. First, I lunched in the veggie restaurant A Naestu Grösum, Laugavegur 20b (entrance around the corner). They always have some gluten free items on the menu, but you have to ask which.

Relatively cheap (for expensive Iceland). On the corner is a health shop where they sell some gluten free items. I had beans, rice and cabbage, all nearly cold. We dined at Indian Mango, Frakkastigur 12, a largely gluten free Indian restaurant. Personnel is knowledgeable on g.f. diet, so it is very safe. Only place where I had a dessert, ice-cream.

Standard Icelandic prices (45 Euro per person including a glass of wine, but no entry). Next day had sushi at Sushibarinn, on Laugavegur near Bankastraeti.

Argentina, Barönsstig 11a is a great grill restaurant where they do not seem to use flour. Enjoyed my steak, baked potato and salad, but the fish was also very good. Relatively expensive. Next night we ate fish (Raudspretta) in Fjalakötturinn, Adalstraeti near 16(?) Next night, after a long trip in the highlands, we ended up in an Italian restaurant, Madonna, Raudararstig 27-29. They had a gluten free dish, the daily menu, a fish with potatoes, not typically Italian. The glass of Chardonnay was mediocre. It was the second time in a row that I dined in another restaurant than originally intended (one fully booked, the other was closed), but in both cases I was well advised and was offered at least one gluten free option.

The health store Yggdrasil that carries some gluten free items is located on Raudararstig 10. On our final night at Reykjavik, we dined at the relatively expensive Humarhusid, Amtmannsstig 1. This was a bit disappointing. We had grilled langoustes, but the potatoes that went with it never materialized, for the both of us.

When asked, the waiter said that the potatoes were not gluten free. Of course, that did not explain why my wife, not on a diet as we explained several times, never got any too. Even the langoustes were slightly disappointing.

Then we started the grand tour around Iceland. First, we had salad, the fish of the day and Skyr at the Hotel Hellisandur at Hellisandur on the Snaefels peninsula. Then we had dinner at hotel Flokalundur at Flokalundur, not far from Brjanslaekur, where the ferry from Stykkisholmur arrives.

Rotten shark and stockfish, both Icelandic specialties, as entry. Interesting, worth a try. Wash it down with a Brennivin, Icelandic liquor made from potatoes. I had it without the traditional rye of course (had to send it back once). The next day, we had buffet at Hotel Stadarskali at Stadur (a small village a little off the number 1 highway).

Although they had cold lamb cuts that I could eat, they were so kind to make gluten free soup specially for me and provided me with smoked salmon as well! Great service. The salad was OK too.

At Akureyri, the veggie restaurant Stadurinn at Skipagata 2, well-known for its gluten free options, had been closed down. However, we enjoyed a good meal nearby at Skipagata 14. There, at the fifth floor, restaurant Strikid served lamb, and offered good views on part of the city and the harbor.

Hotel Edda at Egilsstadir, Tjarnarbraut 25 had very nice catfish, served with three slices of gluten free bread! In Höfn, we had lunch at the Kaffihornid, Hafnarbraut 42. I had a tasty hot starter with langoustes in this lobster capital of Iceland. Missed the soup (not gluten free) at Hotel Frost og Funi, at Hof. Next morning, they made it up by serving me rice-crackers at breakfast!

Finally, I enjoyed a good dinner at the Hotel Selfoss, Eyrarvegur 2, Selfoss. The gas station had a Heilsuhusid, where they sold gluten free items, including a single loaf (400 gram) of bread (about 5 - 6 Euro). In general, the three or so health stores that I visited never had on sale more than one or two small loafs of gluten free bread, not enough to stock up on.

But I did not check every item in the freezer, and I did not check if more stock was available. In general, in restaurants always someone was at hand who knew about gluten free eating. The cooks never let me down, but some waiters automatically served bread or the traditional rye, and of course the sweet or cookie served with tea or coffee was not to be trusted. On all other occasions, I was served with gluten free food, and I never got ill. A very good experience.

I hope that this celiac travel story has helped you. You can help other celiacs travel more safely by telling me about getting gluten free food in your area - remember where you live is a destination too! Send me a report and I'll let thousands of celiacs know.

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