This past August I went on a truly incredible hiking/camping/road trip combo through Iceland with two of my friends. Before we left, we were warned by travel blogs and friends that the food in Iceland can be really pricey.
This is no surprise given that Iceland is an island near the Arctic Circle full of volcanoes and glaciers, so we came armed with a duffle bag full of nonperishables and sporks, ready to explore.
The three of us soon realized we would have to supplement our food with supplies from local grocery stores if we were going to survive for two weeks. Luckily, there’s no shortage of free potable water because of all of the glaciers, and we discovered cost-effective food ideas to keep ourselves happy and not too hungry.
We spent the first portion of our trip hiking the Laugavegur Trail from Landmannalaugur to Thorsmork. For breakfast we ate bread with peanut butter or cheese and jam, tea, and coffee.
After a couple of hours of hiking we would pull over for a snack of trail mix or Clif Bars. The key to tricking yourself into believing that you're eating a hot, buttery lobster roll or some other spectacular treat instead of your tenth Clif Bar in three days is picking a good snacking spot—which is easier to do than you might think, in a place as out of this world as Iceland.
Dinner on the trail consisted of dried meals such as chicken teriyaki, Cuban coconut and lime rice, vegetable burrito, and chicken and mushroom risotto. For all the bad rap of freeze-dried meals, the three of us thought they tasted pretty good (though it's unclear if our enjoyment had anything to do with hiking 20 km before dinner).
For the portion of our trip where we were mostly doing day hikes and car camping, we had a bit more flexibility in our food options. At campsites we were able to scavenge treats such as sweet potatoes, pasta, pesto, and muesli.
One trick that we figured out on a particularly grey, tired morning was that mixing hot chocolate with muesli created a chocolatey sugar laden breakfast reminiscent of Coco Puffs. When you're on Night 11 of fitting three people in a two-person tent you can allow yourself to indulge in copious amounts of hot chocolate. Swiss Miss and chocolate bars with a Swedish toffee-esque candy called Daim became dietary staples.
Almost every day we would stop into a grocery store to buy a vegetable such as carrots or bell peppers as well as the occasional loaf of bread for PB&Js. The vegetables were a bit of an investment, but we agreed that we could swing a few extra dollars to avoid scurvy.
When we stayed at campsites, we made a lot of rice and beans seasoned with spices from home. One of my personal favorite meals was lentils, brown rice, carrots, and a spice mix called Sicilian Salad Seasoning. It consisted of Romano cheese, oregano, and lemon zest, and definitely added some depth to our pretty basic food.
One day we splurged and bought enormous hamburgers laden with toppings and ice cream bars from a restaurant near a hot spring and trailhead. Even though this meal strayed from our otherwise frugal behavior, it boosted morale enough to be worthwhile.
On one of our final mornings of the trip we went to a café whose waffles we saw advertised in the bathroom of a campsite.
They were incredible. The waffles had a crunchy exterior with a fluffy and a sweet but balanced center. They were served with homemade whipped cream and rhubarb jam. I unabashedly ate my extra jam with a spoon after finishing my waffle. It was that good.
Overall, I wouldn't describe this trip as a culinary adventure, it doesn't really even stand out in my mind as a trip with incredible food. But it was an educational and entertaining experiment in improvising with limited resources and the beautiful surroundings made every meal great.