When my friend asked if I would be interested in going to Iceland, I said “Why not?” (I read Shonda Rhimes book the Year of Yes, so I’m very open to things this year).
It’s a surprisingly short flight (only 5 hours from JFK airport in New York), it’s clean, modern, they speak English, and there are drop-dead gorgeous landscapes.
As I started my research, I kept reading that Iceland has terrible food. I will admit that I didn’t have any of the dried fish or rotten shark BUT I was able to have some food that was tasty and delicious. I will note that the food in Iceland is expensive. It seemed as if everything costs a minimum of $20. Minimum.
If you ever make your way to Reykjavik Iceland, be sure to check out these dishes and restaurants:
I stayed at the Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina (excellent hotel that I would HIGHLY recommend) and the breakfast and Sunday brunch were excellent. They have a fantastic variety with foods including oatmeal, flatbreads, waffles, bacon, quiche, breakfast pastries, fruit, etc.
The Sunday brunch costs about $30 USD and the breakfasts during the week are about $25. This breakfast/brunch is worth the price. We ended up going there 3 times. So good.
Flatbread pizza – YUM!
I had some lamb & vegetable soup at Geysir Restaurant during one of the tours I went on to see a Geyser, and it was absolutely delicious. According to my tour guide, sheep live as wild animals in the mountains resulting in excellent quality meat. The soup had a light broth, had a mild in flavor, and great texture. I would highly recommend it if you like lamb. The cost was $20 and included bread and butter along with 1 free soup refill.
Lamb & vegetable soup. Fantastic!
Ice Cream at Valdis:
As cool as it was in Reykjavik in August (Mid-50’s), Ice Cream was a popular treat.
A local suggested that we visit Valdis over by the marina, and it did not disappoint. The flavors were incredible. I had a flavor called Bailey’s & Ranill, which tasted like RumChata, and I paired that with a coffee-flavored ice cream. Best combination of all time. They also had an interesting grey-colored licorice flavor, which tasted like a black jelly bean. The shop is a little bit off the beaten path, and there seemed to be mostly locals at this shop. They also give huge portions if you wanted to share with a friend. My two scoops of Ice Cream on a cone cost me about $6 USD.
Variety of Flavors
Best Ice Cream Shop!
Seafood at Saegreiffin – The Sea Barron
This place was so good that I forgot to take a picture. There was a line out the door that was about a 30-minute wait. They are known for their lobster soup & they offer a number of grilled fish items on skewers, and you can also get potatoes and vegetable skewers. I had the salmon skewer, and it was perfectly cooked and seasoned. After I ordered, they said that it would take another 30 minutes for the food to come out. It was worth the wait – definitely stop by here for some fresh seafood. It was also relatively inexpensive at ~$25 USD for the Salmon skewer and the potato skewer.
Hot Dogs at Bæjarins Beztu
This is a famous hot dog stand in Reykjavik where celebrities frequent, including Bill Clinton and most recently the Kardashians. The hot dog was tasty and had unique toppings including ketchup, a mayo sauce, sweet mustard, and fried crispy onions underneath the hot dog. The crispy onions added nice flavor and crunch – I would definitely get it again. My hot dog cost about $5 USD.
Hot Dog Heaven
Check out this line
Ramen at Ramen Momo
For a change of pace, we tried a Himalayan-Tibetan restaurant with Ramen noodles. I had the chicken broth and chicken added to my noodles but found it to be bland. Be sure to ask to for it to be spicy, as my friend did and liked hers better. The chicken dumplings were ordered as a side item and those were crunchy & delicious! The space is tiny, so we got the food to-go and ate it at the hotel. The cost for the Ramen and fried dumplings was about $25 USD.
Nice change of pace
Lava Restaurant at the Blue Lagoon
The food here was good, but ridiculously overpriced. For lunch, I ordered the Cod fish with potatoes along with a beet salad, and tasted my friend’s crème brulee. The cost was about $65 USD.
The Skyr yogurt in Iceland is delicious, silky, smooth, and packs a lot of protein. In general, be sure to have any dairy products that you can – the texture really is fantastic. Almost luxurious. This yogurt is available everywhere, from hotels to convenience stores – you won’t be able to miss it. I’m going to be looking for this at Whole Foods here in the states.
Silky, luxurious yogurt
Fast Food: Domino’s Pizza
I hate to admit it, but I ate Domino’s Pizza in Iceland. (I know. Shameful.) There was a late bus schedule at the Blue Lagoon and we got back to Reykyavik after 10pm. Little did we know that all the restaurants close around 10pm in Iceland. We ordered pizza delivery because we were tired and cold and didn’t feel like walking across town to the one restaurant that was open. Note that a small pizza in Iceland is more like a personal-pan pizza size in the US. Itty bitty. I live in Chicago so I never eat Domino’s but it was actually pretty tasty (or maybe we were just hungry). The cost for a small pizza and wings was about $25 USD.
As a side note, there is no McDonalds or Starbucks in Reykjavík. I was told that there was a McDonalds but it closed down because the prices were too high.
Reykjavik is a charming city and I hope that it can maintain it’s charm with the influx of tourists. I ate very well in Iceland & hopefully with these tips, you will too!
Við skulum borða! (Bon Appetit!)
I had the amazing opportunity to visit Shanghai for work, with a little side trip to Hong Kong.
Hong Kong is a fabulous, modern and trendy city with something for everyone. I enjoyed the Soho area on Hong Kong Island with all of the trendy shops and restaurants. There is an international vibe in this area and a creative energy that reminded me of New York. I would definitely go back to Hong Kong & spend more time – maybe get some custom clothes made.
Below are some of my tips & observations in Hong Kong:
- The Regal Kowloon Hotel in Hong Kong was a pretty good place to stay –the price was moderate at about $150/night, the rooms were clean, it was in a good location, included free WiFi, and the breakfast buffet was great! They had breakfast choices available for all cultures including American breakfast, Chinese, they had Indian food, and it was quite a spread. If you want a more glamorous hotel, the Peninsula and Langham Hotels are a staple on Kowloon. It could also be fun to try a boutique hotel on Hong Kong Island, but it won’t be cheap!
My hotel room at the Regal Kowloon Hotel in Hong Kong
- Be sure to visit the Soho area Soho reminded me of a mix of San Francisco (with the huge hills) and New York, with the cute shops and restaurants. I enjoyed the Olive Greek & Mediterranean Restaurant, which had great service and delicious food. It has good reviews on Trip Advisor as well. I also spent a nice amount of time in a boutique called Goods of Desire where there is a variety of trendy Chinese-inspired gifts, clothes & jewelry.
- The Temple Street night market is a fun experience, but don’t expect much as far as the merchandise. Like my co-worker said, it’s like visiting a huge dollar store. Still a great place to take in the sights and sounds of the city.
Temple Street Market in Hong Kong
Egg waffles are a popular street food to try with long lines. They tasted a lot like a hot fortune cookie but in a waffle format. Not very sweet, but they seem to be all the rage. I personally could have used a little bit of vanilla ice cream and nutella – that would have taken them over the top.
Egg waffles are the thing to eat in Hong Kong!
Public transportation is a breeze! So easy and clean. There is an express train that goes from the airport to Kowloon, and a shuttle that goes straight to the Regal Kowloon Hotel.
On the train in Hong Kong. So clean and quiet
- The Big Buddha was an interesting experience, with beautiful views and a little village full of places to shop and things to do.
Me in front of the big buddha
Shanghai has the best skyline I’ve ever seen. The city is slightly overwhelming as it’s very large and spread out with a population of 23 million people. Being from Chicago, our skyline is hard to beat, but I fell in love with the gorgeous buildings and the Shanghai pearl tower.
Shanghai’s breathtaking skyline!
Tips & Observations in Shanghai:
- Be prepared for the toilets. They are literally a hole in the ground. It takes a little maneuvering to navigate. Keep some tissues on hand just in case you need them. There are the “western toilets” in some places, like the shopping malls, but this style is common as well.
The toilet situation in Shanghai. Get ready!
- Napkins don’t seem to be a thing in Shanghai. Many times you will get a hot towel, but that’s about it.
- In the touristy areas, many of the people from other provinces haven’t seen many people from other cultures. As a black woman, I felt like a celebrity sometimes. People’s eyes would get big, they would start whispering to each other, and sometimes walk over and ask for a picture. I even caught some people sneaking pictures – acting like they were taking a selfie, but they were really taking pictures of me! It was crazy how excited they were. They said that we were “foreign beauties.” I’ll take it!
- Yu Garden is a fun place to walk around and shop. The French Concession area also has some trendy little unique shops where they had unique restaurant concepts and stores with beauty products.
In the French Concession area frolicking under the umbrellas!
- China bans Facebook and Google. You need to get a VPN before you get over there.
- Personal space is very small in China. People get very close to you in elevators and trains, and you may be cut off while walking or pushed in a large crowd. Get ready!
- The food in China is different than it is here in the states. The sauces are different. It’s still tasty, but just different. Chinese food every day got a little bit tiring, I will say. The thing that I appreciated coming back to the states is our wide variety of cuisines from around the world. The first thing I ate was Lou Malnati’s pizza!
Overall, this was a trip to remember – my first major international business trip. I flew business class for the first time & that’s definitely the way to go for a 15 hour flight. The fully reclining seats & lounge access are a huge bonus. Traveling truly makes you appreciate different cultures, but also reminds you of the things you take for granted (like our freedom of speech and our wonderful variety of food). So long, China! It’s been real!
Rio de Janeiro is a beautiful city, and I enjoyed the beaches and fabulous views during my visit in August. There is good food in Rio but you have to know where to find it.
One popular dish in Brazil is a comforting, delicious meal called Feijoada. This black bean stew includes pork and meat, which provides rich flavor. Rice, mustard greens, and a cornmeal dish are served along with it, making it very hearty. I mixed all of the flavors together and it was incredibly satisfying and comforting. My friends and I had this dish at a restaurant called Boteco Belmonte in Rio. This would be a great dish to make on a cold, Chicago fall or winter day – now I just need to find a good recipe!
My friends and I enjoying Feijoada in Rio
The national cocktail is the caiprinha drink, which is mixed with cachaca (similar to rum), sugar, and lime. The best ones are found on the beach, where they are nice and sweet with a kick, and incredibly inexpensive compared to bars/hotels.
Delicious and refreshing caiprinha
Another wonderful treat in Brazil are the corner juice bars. They make juices and smoothies and they are absolutely delicious. They offer a number of different fruits, and one of the popular flavors was Acai – which is a superfruit rich in antioxidants. I had mine blended with banana, and it can be thick enough to be served with a spoon. You can also make a bowl of it and eat it with granola to add some crunchy texture.
Delicious Acai-banana smoothie
Brazil is also known for it’s steakhouses, and there is steak everywhere. Shrimp was on many of the menus as well. Being Americans, we really like having some variety in our cuisine, so we sought out a couple of other non-Brazilian restaurants that did not disappoint. I happened to find Santa Satisfacio restaurant on Yelp. As much as people/restaurants sometimes say bad things about Yelp, I really like to use it as a tool to find good restaurants, even when I’m traveling internationally. This Italian restaurant had some great reviews, and Yelp didn’t steer us wrong. The food was AMAZING. I can honestly say that it’s the best Italian food I’ve had in a long time. The salads were very creative. We had a garlic pasta alfredo dish where all of the flavors were incredibly well-balanced, and a tomato-based pasta dish as well. Highly recommended. If you happen to be visiting Rio, I would highly recommend this restaurant. It’s small and quaint with a trendy vibe and it was a participant in Restaurant week there. Check out this link to see pictures of their food.
Amazing pasta at Santa Satisfacio!
Another great restaurant we found was in Ipanema called Via Sete. My friends and I ate there for lunch and their menu was very creative. The cocktails were great – Pictured here is a Passion Fruit cocktail and one that I made up with strawberries, lime and mint with cachaca, which is like rum. They had a nice variety from upscale sandwiches, wraps, and salads to seafood dishes. I had a delicious chicken wrap, and one of my friends had the grilled octopus which looks amazing. Check them out at TripAdvisor here:
Refreshing cocktails at Via Sete in Ipanema
Grilled Octopus at Via Sete
Rio Travel Tips to Make Your Life Easier:
– Learn some basic Portuguese. People in Rio don’t speak English like you may find in Europe. There may be only one person in a restaurant that knows English. A good way to learn is through an app called DuoLingo. It’s free and a lot of fun. You can learn a language for 5 minutes a day if you are diligent.
– Stay in a hotel that offers beach services, including umbrella and chair set-up, towels and water. This makes your life so much easier. We stayed at the Pestana Rio Atlantica Hotel on Copacabana Beach which has these services included and it was great.
– Go to the Spa at Belmond Copacabana Palace as soon as you land. Don’t delay. Run, don’t walk. I had an amazing massage there. The next time I go on an international trip, the Spa is going to be my first stop!
When my friend asked me if I wanted to visit her in Europe, I immediately said yes, as I love to travel. We decided on Barcelona on Thanksgiving weekend, and the best part is that I was able to use airline miles and hotel points for a virtually free trip!
Ham, Ham everywhere!
Barcelona is a cosmopolitan city that offers amazing food, art, history & shopping. It’s pretty easy to navigate once you understand the lay of the land. I would highly suggest getting on one of the hop-on hop off tours as soon as you arrive to get a feel for where everything is located. I stayed at the trendy DoubleTree Hotel, and enjoyed the location and the great service.
My lovely hotel – the Doubletree Alexandra Barcelona
Lunch in Barcelona starts around 2pm and dinner starts around 8-9pm, so the eating schedule takes a little getting used to, especially when you have jet lag like I did. Between 2-4pm is siesta where people take their lunch breaks and rest. This mid-day break is taken very seriously as many stores close during this time. It’s very important to pay attention to store hours on the outside of buildings when in Barcelona, especially if it’s a small shop or boutique.
Pay attention to these signs
I went on a Gourmet walking tour, which was quite informative. The food that you see in Spain truly ties into their history. One pleasant surprise was the huge number of French bakeries and pastries available, as Spain was under French rule for two centuries, and the food stayed (yes!). I enjoyed getting croissants and tea as my breakfast in the morning.The first place I visited to eat was Cafe Emma, which was a bistro on Pau Claris – thoroughly enjoyed it!
Ham seemed like the national food there, and I learned that there are 2 types of ham, black hoof and white hoofed ham. The black hoofed ham is raised on the countryside and is considered to be of higher quality. It generally has less fat than ham with the white hoof. The black-hoofed pigs are fed acorns and are encouraged to run, which results in a high-quality piece of meat. I went into the La Boqueria food market, and was shocked to see ham laying there with the hooves still on them. (As Jimmy Fallon says, “ew!”). At first I was grossed out, but after learning more about it, I understood that the hooves are on them so that you can know the level of quality you are getting.
This hoof of the ham was startling at first until I learned more
In Barcelona, there were a number of restaurants offering Pinxos (pronounced “peen-chos”). The idea of Pinxos is quite genius. They are basically small appetizers on top of bread with a small stick in it. You go in, get a plate, grab the food you want, and then when you are finished, the waitress/cashier will count the number of remaining sticks you have for your final price. This is great because if you just want a little snack, you could just get 2-3 pinxos for about 5-6 Euro. There were also dessert Pinxos available, which gave me some party ideas. A Pinxos restaurant concept would be great in the city of Chicago – especially in the loop where people don’t have a lot of time to devote to lunch.
Pinxos in Barcelona
As far as tapas are concerned, the restaurants in Barcelona offered many of the same tapas that you may see in American restaurants, but they taste much better. I had the best Patatas Bravas that I’ve ever had IN LIFE.
If you get tired of tapas and pinxos, there are other cuisines available in Barcelona. We stopped by Thai Barcelona for some Thai Food, and the food was good, and the ambiance was absolutely gorgeous. I will say that the food was a bit pricy – around 18 Euros for an entrée, but it was a nice experience.
Another restaurant that I enjoyed visiting was called Cornelia and Co. the ambiance was very laid back and relaxed, and the food was good (although they had small portions). Good place to go if you are dining alone. They had a good mix of cuisines, including Spanish and Italian food, and I tried this Catalan dish with bread where you rub garlic on top, drizzle olive oil and sea salt on it, then squeeze the juice of a tomato on it. Delish – although I ended up smelling like garlic for a couple of days. The woman who sat next to me in the restaurant showed me how to do it.
Catalan bread and olive oil with tomatoes, and sea salt. Delish!
Below is a video where you can see some of my adventures. Enjoy!!