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The Art of Eating Ice-Cream in Iceland in Winter

We All Scream for ... Really?

“There are three ice-cream parlours within a mile radius of my apartment.”

If such a statement were uttered by Floridian or a Jamaican, it would certainly ring reasonable. But when an Icelander, in deep winter, utters those words, whilst scurrying away from a gust of frigid wind, they may come across as slightly less lucid (surely Smith’s Invisible Hand has gone awry). Especially to a foreign ear.

Why, after all, would a phenomenon conceived of by the Persians in the 5th century BCE – for the purposes of providing a nice “summertime treat” for royalty – be consumed in such large quantities in wintertime by an island nation skirting the Arctic Circle?

“It’s comfort food,” some have theorized. “It’s our obsession with the cow,” others have said. “It’s just something to do,” yet others have maintained.

(“It’s wry humour in comestible form,” I say, being a bit wry myself.)

Whatever the reason, in the event that you visit Iceland in the winter – you absolutely must try it.

Bada Bing Ice Cream

A Step-By-Step Guide to Buying Ice-Cream in Iceland

If you’re standing by the lake (Lækjargata) in downtown Reykjavík, there are eight ice-cream parlours within a 3-kilometre radius. Whether you prefer the old-school feel of Ísbúð Vesturbæjar, or the relative novelty of Valdís, the unwritten rules of ice-cream shopping in Iceland, in winter, remain the same:

1. Dress warmly.

2. Upon arriving at the parlour, take a number from the queuing system.

3. Elbow your way to the display counter and consider your options:

  1. There is “soft-serve” ice-cream, the classic variety, which you can order on a cone or in a box, and which you can garnish with candy pebbles (Daim, liquorice, etc.) or with dip (chocolate, liquorice, etc.).
  2. There is Italian-style gelato ice-cream, sometimes available with a uniquely Icelandic twist.
  3. There are milkshakes, which are commonly a tad more viscous in Iceland than elsewhere, and which sometimes come in bizarre flavours (pineapple and lemon, anyone?).
  4. And then there’s the bragðarefur (literal translation: “taste fox:” roughly equivalent to the international “blizzard”). Choose your size (small, medium, or large), choose your ice-cream (“the old ice-cream,” more milk-based, or the “old ice-cream,” more creamy), and, finally, choose your candy (or fruit): Þristur, liquorice, strawberries, Tyrkisk Peber, the options are endless.

4. When your number is called, belt out your order.

5. Thankfully receive your bespoke ice-cream.

6. Insinuate yourself into your vehicle and get your ísrúntur* on.

7. Recycle

Ice cream

What Do You Mean by "Ísrúntur"?

As the Smithsonian noted, the Icelandic word ísrúntur denotes the “specific act of driving around and eating ice cream.”

The word ísrúntur is a play on the word rúntur, which roughly means “driving around for the sake of driving around.” But in the event that the drive revolves around ice-cream, the term ísbíltúr is apt.

This holy Icelandic tradition stretches back several decades. Older Icelanders may recall growing up during a time when there was no TV on Thursday, which meant that Thursdays were especially well suited to the ísrúntur.

For further information on ice-cream in Iceland, check out this article from 2017.

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