Who else grew up hearing the phrase “Greenland is ice and Iceland is green?” This common misconception reduced the country to an enigma, and it gave Americans the feeling they knew something about it without really knowing anything about it. I got to talk to Michael Raucheisen of Icelandair and Chef Viktor Örn Andrésson to learn about how the festival A Taste of Iceland will give us a way to experience the people, the landscape and the culture.
“A Taste of Iceland is here to give the local market a flavor of what Iceland is all about,” Raucheisen says.
Through March 20, the festival will host events such as a Reykjavik Calling Concert with artists Laufey and Anna Gréta, Icelandic cocktail making, an elemental sound bath, an Iceland Provisions breakfast bar, a reading of Icelandic literature through the eyes of three female authors (including First Lady, Eliza Reid), a film screening, and an Icelandic Culinary Experience from Chef Andrésson at Equinox restaurant.
“This will include our most famous ingredients in Iceland,” Andrésson says. “Icelandic cod, lamb, some scallops, and Icelandic wasabi.”
At the opening event for the festival, I previewed the dishes, and the wasabi was fascinating. Wasabi is only native to Japan and notoriously difficult to grow elsewhere, but the people of Iceland figured out how to grow their own in climate-controlled greenhouses. The result was a sweeter rendition of the classic flavor, and it paired perfectly with the scallops.
“I try to have the cleanest ingredients, so people can really taste the ingredients,” Andrésson says. “Not too much over-flavoring. Honest cooking.”
Raucheisen is constantly in awe of Icelandic people’s innovation. Many Icelandic residents are singers, musicians, and poets, and they have this culture of “þetta reddast,” meaning “it will all work out okay.”
“The people are really amazing, really proud, really accommodating,” Raucheisen says. “And the landscape is unreal. When you stand in any location, you can see for eternity. If you go up north, you have mountains and bubbling mud pits and it’s like you’re on another planet. And then you go on the east coast and there are trees and reindeers and snow-covered mountains. And you go down south, and you have black sand beaches and rock formations that come out of the ocean and basalt column walls that go along the beaches…It’s incredible.”
Both Raucheisen and Andrésson want D.C. residents to experience all this during the festival but ultimately hope to see more people come out to Iceland itself. At select events, a prize wheel will give residents the opportunity to win a flight to Iceland, among other wonderful prizes from festival sponsors. And Icelandair is offering discounted rates to D.C. residents each day the festival takes place here.
As for when the ideal time travels to the country, Andrésson loves both the polar opposites of the summer and the winter.
“People always ask me what time they should come to Iceland. The seasons are totally different worlds,” Andrésson says. “In the winter, you see the darkness and ice and northern lights, and in the summertime, the sun is always out.”
Andrésson says you can drive five minutes from Reykjavik and be in total silence — something that D.C. residents often wish for.
“You may not be able to breathe in our pristine air or actually hike on a glacier or a bland sand beach while you’re in D.C.,” First Lady of Iceland Eliza Reid notes. “But during this festival, you’ll meet memorable Icelandic people and learn much about our country, our progressive values, and our culture, including a few things that might pleasantly surprise you.”
There’s much to learn and experience over the next few days at A Taste of Iceland. Relax, escape and let everything be taken care of for a weekend: þetta reddast!
A Taste of Iceland Festival is now through March 20. To learn more about the festival and the itinerary, visit their website here.
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