Reflections – Being Vegan in Iceland

reynisfjara beach iceland

Now that I have finished my semester abroad as an exchange student living in Iceland, I can step back and objectively consider what it was like to live as a vegan in a country where the second biggest industry is fishing, and the national dishes are hotdogs and … sheep’s head(?!!).

I’m not going to lie, one of the first things I did on return to the UK was stuff my face with fruit – I had missed strawberries and blueberries so much! Yes, they were available in the Icelandic supermarkets, but they were very expensive, as most fruit had to be imported. As a poor student with no income other than student loan, most fruits were out of my budget. That being said, on occasion I would treat myself to watermelon, but they were never the best quality taste wise. Apples and bananas were comparatively cheap, so these were probably the main fruits that I ate. Of course, it’s not only vegans who eat fruit… Everyone was aware of how expensive fruits were, and so it was a limited part of most people’s diets.

disappointing watermelon

disappointing watermelon

Despite the expenses of fresh produce, it was still very easy to eat vegan in Iceland. Supermarkets stocked a variety of plant milks (you name it, they had it), vegan cheeses, dairy-free spreads, fake meats (frozen and dried), and even vegan ice-cream! I haven’t even found a vegan icecream in a UK supermarket.

Iceland – 1. UK – 0.

An example of a typical meal - vegetable chili with rice, sweetcorn, pepper, cucumber and violife 'cheese'

An example of a typical meal – vegetable chili with rice, sweetcorn, pepper, cucumber and violife ‘cheese’

In order to save time cooking, and to (hopefully) have saved a bit of money, I made lots of meals in bulk which I just reheated and added rice or pasta to the next day. I ended up eating lots of vegetable curries and chili on repeat. So, I didn’t have the most varied diet a lot of the time, but I was definitely eating enough calorie and nutrient wise. Most of my meals were cooked as the weather was so cold. I ate porridge with peanut butter and chia seeds almost every morning for breakfast. Now that I’ve left Iceland I realise that I was quite repetitive with my diet… But I didn’t get sick whilst I was over there, and I never felt miserable about what I was eating (except when I was really craving good quality fruit, but that’s a minor issue).

Vegan chili soup with cashew cream and tortilla chips

Vegan chili soup with cashew cream and tortilla chips

With regards to eating out, I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised. I didn’t go out for dinner much as it was expensive, but when I did, I had a few choices. There was even a vegan restaurant that had a raw vegan option! My favourite place to eat was at this one noodle bar, where every dish on the menu could be veganised. I ate there about four times, and I was never disappointed. And, of course, when there was an unexpected religious holiday and everything would be shut for the weekend … There was always Subway.

For anyone visiting Iceland and staying in the city, the noodle bar is called Núðluskálin and it’s in the downtown Reykjavik area. Similarly, Gló is a predominantly vegan Icelandic chain which served a wonderful variety of salads, raw foods, and other healthy plant-based items for a reasonable price. Shortly after I left Iceland a new 100% vegan cafe became popular, where I had only ever gone once, for coffee. Kaffi Vinyl has a really nice, relaxed vibe, and has great reviews on TripAdvisor. There are other options too, such as Cafe Garðurinn and the Bike Cave, but I didn’t visit either whilst I was there so I can’t recommend. Although anywhere that serves vegan options gets a thumbs up in my book!

Best noodles in Reykjavik

Best noodles in Reykjavik

Every cafe that I went to in Reykjavik had provided soya milk, which was something unheard of in cafes outside the city (most Icelanders drink their coffee black!). My favourite coffee shop, cafe Babalú, even served a vegan carrot cake, which was delicious. My friends and I would often go there for coffee, cake, and to pretend to study.

So, to summarise. Is it hard to be vegan in Iceland? Only if all you eat is fruit. Otherwise, it’s just like being vegan in any other country, with perhaps a slightly larger reliance on staple meals and tinned veg. Of course, I can only speak for my experiences in Reykjavik. The further north you go away from the city, you would probably have a different experience. Don’t let that stop you from travelling in Iceland, though. It’s an extraordinarily beautiful country, I only wish I had more chance to see more if it. The best thing for a vegan traveller in Iceland to do would be to think ahead, eat simply, and plan your meals. But, if you can be vegan in Iceland, you can be vegan anywhere (or so I’ve heard).

Does anyone have any experiences of being vegan in Iceland, or any other foreign country? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

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