I think it’s fair to say that the Icelandic media has been taken over by Dunkin Donuts lately. So has Laugavegur, our main shopping street, for that matter but the American doughnut shop opened the doors to it’s new coffee shop on Laugavegur last week. On the opening day, and the days following, people dressed as giant doughnuts and coffee mugs wandered in what seemed aimless manner around Laugavegur, scaring the bejesus out of unsuspecting passers by. Myself included. On a side note I discovered in the midst of all of this that I should probably never go to Disney world, or land, or whatever they are all called. Stay away Goofy!
The opening of Dunkin Donuts has not come without its controversies. People are worried that with the influx of tourists and foreign chains taking up prime real estate on Reykjavík’s main shopping street that the city is losing some of the charm that makes it so special. They look at Donkin Donuts as a gateway for other chains to sweep in and before we know it the whole downtown area will be ridden with Starbucks and McDonald’s along with our much “beloved” puffin stores.
Mind you, I don’t think anyone would complain if H&M opened up a store on Laugavegur. That’s totally different. I mean, they’re Swedish!
So who goes to Dunkin Donuts? The Icelandic youth lined up for hours before the grand opening, thirsty for something new and a bit different, and I’m sure the franchisees here in Iceland are banking on people that are familiar with the brand from other places will go there out of fear for the unknown and comfort. Which seems pretty strange to me because here I thought we traveled to experience something different from what we have at home.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not completely innocent of this behavior. I sometimes go to McDonald’s when I first arrive somewhere because I know what it stands for. Arriving in Jerusalem during the Sabbath, McDonald’s was also probably the only thing open and after 24 hours in the air, or in one of the many airports I had to visit to get there, I was famished. Lets not even talk about the two hours I spent with border control while they were deciding on god knows what- maybe whether I was secretly an Icelandic terrorist. But I hear people so often ask on the streets of Reykjavík where all the Starbucks are. I’ve even witnessed a person ask a coffee barista at a local coffee shop where they would find the closest Starbucks. Really?
So to help you overcome your food insecurities without throwing you into the deep end, here are a few local alternatives to what you will find at home.
Local alternatives to Dunkin Donuts
The Icelandic Kleina
In English, the kleina is sometimes called twisted doughnut as like a doughnut it is essential deep fried bread. It doesn’t have glace or anything like that but it’s delicious and I’ve actually had people on my tours that were, no joke, obsessed with kleinur and didn’t talk about much else.
Although we would like to claim the kleina as ours most of the Nordic countries have their own version of it and I read somewhere that it’s a Christmas treat in Sweden. The thing I read said the Swedes hang them up on door frames, or something like that, and make a game out of eating them without hands. That sounds like a strange Christmas tradition to me but who am I to talk with all our horrifying Christmas stories.
Kleina is best paired with Kókómjólk, a chocolate milk most people of my generation were brought up on, and can be found in every bakery and supermarket in Iceland.
Now, I’ve never been to Dons Donuts myself but the peoples of the internet swear by it. It’s a little donut food cart that is located next to Hlemmur bus station and from the looks of it they seem to use everything and their uncle as sprinkles. Not literally. I have just decided that I’m going to make a note of going there and investigate soon. Maybe right now. Yes.
Local Alternatives to Starbucks
Te og Kaffi and Kaffitár
Te og Kaffi and Kaffitár are both Iceland’s answer to Starbucks except I’ve hear the coffee is better. Much better actually. You can everything from normal black coffee to extravagant frappos that have very little to do with coffee and all kinds of treats. They are dotted all over the city center but there are more Te og Kaffi shops around than Kaffitár but both have been around for a while and are owned by locals.
Independent coffee shops
Now this is where you get the really good stuff. People praise the coffee at Reykjavík Roasters for example and I can tell you that they probably do the best Chai Latte in town. It’s mucho yummy. Then you have places like Kaffifélagið in Skólavörðustígur and then of course the godfather of Icelandic coffee Mokka only a few steps away. Even gas stations in Iceland have pretty decent coffee.
Local alternatives to McDonald’s
Tommi’s Burger Joint
The Burger Joint is not only one the most popular local burger chains, it’s also the only one that has to my knowledge expanded out of Iceland. You can now find Tommi’s in London ( the word on the street is that the Beckhams eat there all the time), Berlín and Copenhagen on top of their two locations in downtown Reykjavík. If you want to go to the original one that the one located in Geirsgata down by the old harbor. The burgers are excellent and you must have Bearnaise with your fries.
Although the title above is actually not a title of a Reykjavík Burger place (it totally should be though, I give you permission to use this) it’s a great way to describe to burger scene in Reykjavík. You can get burgers everywhere and most of them are quite tasty.
Local alternatives to Pizza Hut (even though we have one)
It’s easy to miss Gamla Smiðjan, it’s a tiny little place in Lækjargata that doesn’t look that hot from the outside but their pizzas are really good. They do what we here in Iceland call fire baked pizzas (stone oven maybe?) and their prices are quite fair.
The pizza place with no name
If you want something more hip and cool, with toppings that usually don’t make their way to your pizza, you might want to try the pizza place in Hverfisgata that is so hip that it doesn’t have a name or sign or anything. You just kind of have to know that it’s there. It’s owned by the same people that own Kex hostel and has the same hipster vibe.