Anyone who knows me knows I like to eat. About as much as I like photography. It’s always a good day when you can put the two together (as long as you get to eat the food after you photograph it). When I’m on vacation I always take my camera everywhere I go, so it’s only natural that my mind would turn to food photography when I’m out to eat. Of course, it depends on how visually interesting the restaurant is and what the food presentation is like (and how hungry I am).
One thing I like about traveling is trying new food. Now, I’m not the biggest foodie and there are limits to what I’ll try, but I do like to eat different things than I would normally eat at home. Another enjoyable part is eating food that, while you might have it at home, is so much better in its place of origin.
The first experience with new food on our trip was lunch at a cafe in Reykjavik, Iceland. I tried a local tea made with Icelandic birch, arctic thyme, and a certain type of moss. The thought of making tea with moss before never occurred to me before. It had a mild flavor and tasted similar to green tea. For dessert, I tried rye bread ice cream. Yeah, that seemed kind of odd to me too. The waitress said, “Try it. You’ll like it.” I did. It was vanilla ice cream with brown chunks in it that had a nutty flavor. Delicious.
Probably the biggest Must Do trips in Iceland is the Golden Circle. You’ll see volcanoes (not active, unfortunately), waterfalls, and geysir (geysers). I have a Must Do to add on that trip: Friðheimar. It’s a restaurant inside of a tomato greenhouse. Tomatoes are what they do (and horse shows). An interesting fact, that makes sense when you think about it, is that they import thousands of bees to pollinate the tomatoes. They’re known for their tomato soup, which my companions had, but I had pasta. Guess what was for dessert…. ice cream. Since tomatoes are what they do, the ice cream was, naturally, tomato ice cream. With a sauce made from green tomatoes and lime and another from red tomatoes and strawberries. Served in a clay planting pot. Delightful, all the way around.
That night, we had dinner at a nice seafood restaurant down by the harbor. The restaurant had great atmosphere decorated with various fixtures of glowing light bulbs. For some reason, I always like taking photos of glowing light bulbs. The place was small and the tables were tight. Luckily we got there a bit before the dinner crowd. As it was, there were some moments of “Don’t mind me. I’m just a crazy photographer,” as I tried to get the right position for some of the shots. The food was amazing. The most interesting part of the food presentation was that they brought the butter for the bread out on a brick. Strange…but pretty cool. Click.
Europeans have a nice little tradition that I always look forward to when I visit: afternoon coffee/tea and cake. They have the best varieties of cakes and tortes – and coffee. I’m rather fond of ice cream as well. The portion sizes are smaller (as with all food in Europe), but the presentation in the ice cream stands can’t be beat.
Several things I particularly looked forward to: bretzeln (soft pretzels) in the German-speaking part of Switzerland and croissants and crepes in France. Miraculously, I didn’t get any photos of those things. Maybe because I was too busy eating them once I got them – and I got them at least a few times.
On our last night in Paris, we ate at a Tunisian restaurant someone had recommended to us. I liked the look inside, filled with Tunisian doodads and images, but I didn’t want to be too intrusive trying to get the perfect shot. Going with the trying something different idea, I ordered osbane, a type of sausage using intestine as a casing. I wasn’t so sure about the whole intestine bit. I don’t eat much meat anymore, but there was that sense of adventure. It was actually quite good, served on a bed of couscous, but the intestine is a little tougher than a regular casing.
The owner was thrilled having a photographer there (I had some flashes with me) and he brought some other dishes out for me to photograph. I have no idea what that black stuff was, but it was a challenge to light and I wanted to give it a shot. Since my camera was out, I went ahead and got a few photos of him as well.
Sadly, vacations must always come to and end. Because of flight schedules, I had to spend the night (actually, almost 24 hours) in Iceland on the way back home. Sure, it would have been nice to stay in Paris one more day. I mean, it’s Paris. But the layover ended up working out well for me. I got some great photos at a restaurant and of a young couple at sunset by the bay.
After wandering around the harbor town where I was staying, I went to dinner at Gamla Vinhusið, the Old Winehouse, a family-owned place. It was a nice place and since I was by myself, I decided to keep myself busy while waiting for dinner by taking photos. Clickety click click. Click. The lighting was terrific streaming in windows on three sides of the room. The waitstaff were young and attractive and looked so Icelandic, I asked if I could get some photos of them. It took awhile because they ended up having a relatively busy night, but the wait was worth it. The three ladies are sisters and the younger ones are twins (the brother works in the kitchen). The young man (not related) just seemed like he was from Central Casting for a Scandinavian.
Oh, and the food? Sensitive folks might want to skip this part. With that adventurous spirit in top gear, I had trouble deciding between two dishes. The older sister, who was in charge, said she could do a 50/50 meal with both. Sold. The dark purplish-red meat is minke whale. I did have some moral qualms about eating whale, but I was really interested about how it would taste. Your first reaction is that it would be fishy, but, of course, whales are mammals not fish. It had a distinctive taste, not too far off from beef yet different enough that you wouldn’t get them confused. The other meat? Horse. Yes, that’s a common menu item in Iceland and they raise a lot of them. Icelandic horses do better than cows in that environment and it’s a tradition that started with the first Viking settlers. In case you’re wondering, it tastes quite a bit like beef.
Now that I’m back home, I’m back to a mostly vegetarian diet. It’s a good thing I’m a baker (it’s not just my name). I’m sure missing those croissants – yes, I know how to make them.