Daily Slice: Eldsmiðjan in Reykjavik, Iceland
Last weekend I ventured to Iceland, hoping to see the Northern Lights. On the first night I was there, the sky was overcast, so I stayed in town and decided to see what sort of pizza options were available. Usually when I travel, I try to sample as many traditional local foods as possible, and clearly pizza does not fall under this category in Iceland. Still, I had sampled delicious lobster soup and a malt extract beverage at Saegreifin for lunch, and I was curious about what sort of pizza one eats in Reykjavik.
I opted for a visit to Eldsmiðjan, a mini-chain whose name means "fiery forge". I found it tucked away on a corner of two residential streets near Halgrimskirkja, the city's main church and most prominent landmark (think the Eiffel Tower, but made of concrete, and shorter). Through the window I could see the fiery forge itself, in this case one of the few wood-fired pizza ovens in the country. Iceland lost much of its forest cover by the nineteenth century due to a mix of over-logging and volcanic activity, so ovens fired by wood are pretty rare there. What makes this particular wood-fired oven experience unique is that the fuel of choice is the local birch. I won't claim to have a palate so sensitive that I could taste the birch-wood flavor in the pie, but the whole restaurant did smell of birch, which made for a pleasant experience on a cold November night.
The menu listed plenty of variations, and I hoped to find something distinctly Icelandic for toppings: smoked puffin, maybe? They had one combination called Pizza del Mare, which featured smoked salmon, shrimp, tomato, onion, broccoli, tarragon and Parmesan (reyktur lax, rækjur, tómatar, laukur, brokkoli, estragon og parmesan, in Icelandic). They also had one called Pizza al Vulcano (Hekla), with ground beef, mushroom, jalapeno, black pepper and tomato. Hekla is the most destructive volcano in Iceland. Yes, Eyjafjallajökull has gotten more press lately, but its impact pales in comparison with Hekla, which has been credited with famine and even, by some historians, triggering the French Revolution.
While I did not want to snub any of the local volcanoes, I opted for the Margherita (Margarita in Icelandic, but who's counting?). The crust had a nice char, as you might expect from a wood-fired oven. The cheese was baked too long and came off the pie too easily. The sauce tasted too much of oregano. At 1295 krona (about $11.50 at the current exchange rate) for a 12-inch pie, you are getting an affordable meal in a town where dining can be very expensive, but you're not really getting a memorable meal, which is a shame in a town with many good restaurants.