With a population of only 50,000, there are more sheep than people. They’re everywhere – even grazing on top of houses, as rooftops are often covered in grass. If you hit one with your car you must report it to the police.
The Faroe Islands are beautiful in a very Scandinavian way – they’re not comforting or luxurious, but have this wild, untamed natural beauty. There are no trees, just wind and ocean, and I love how the cuisine reflects the place – it’s a great example of how we are good at creating a lot with little.
The most notable food is a type of fermented mutton called räst. The meat is hung outside to dry for a few months. It’s eaten sliced as it is, or it can be cooked in soups. There’s an even deeper fermentation process when it becomes skerpikjøtt which is very strong tasting, a bit like rotten meat! You can eat it with a spoon – it’s perfect when you don’t need to use a knife to cut it. Most foreigners find it too much.
You’re never more than 5km from the sea here. Everyone has a fishing boat or knows someone who has, so fish, shellfish and sea urchins are menu staples. Fishing is very much part of life, as is hunting, and people are pretty self-sufficient – lots of people have a little butchery in their basement for killing their own sheep. The water is very cold, too, which is perfect for mussels to get really big. They have horse mussels, which are related to the more common blue mussels, but are enormous, up to 20cm long. Because the climate is so rough and it never really gets warm (though the winters are mild) only a few vegetables grow – potatoes, turnips, rhubarb and wild herbs – and it’s interesting to see how creative people are with few ingredients.
Tórshavn, the capital, is so pretty. It’s like a picture in a children’s book, with cobbled streets and hills and small red houses with white-painted windows. And the ocean is everywhere: you can go and stand on a cliff and feel the waves’ power or just walk out into incredible nature so close to town.
People go to the Faroes especially to eat at Koks restaurant (menu from £52). It has recently moved to Kirkjubøur, 10km outside town. It’s the perfect example of creating magic with very little and serves amazing, simple food such as lobster grilled so hot that it caramelises naturally. There’s delicious sourdough bread and fermented meat, and all of it comes from the landscape you can see through the window.
Back in the capital, another great restaurant is Aastova (two courses £45). It serves traditional dishes – what you would eat in a Faroese home. The place is tiny: if you’re tall you can’t even stand up. It has lamb cooked two ways: one is braised a lot longer, served with boiled potatoes and sauce, and desserts such as rhubarb and porridge with cream – what we would call grandma food. Barbara is a more modern fish and shellfish restaurant. Go there to eat mussels (from £7) and razor clams, or for its famous fish soup, while Etika has great sushi (box from £9).
Helicopters are quite a common form of transport. They are a good way to visit the more remote islands and surprisingly inexpensive. I used one to visit Stóra Dímun, an island where just one family lives – grandparents, parents and children. They raise sheep and make the most wonderful sheepskin.
My favourite hotel is Hafnia (doubles from £111 B&B) because of its location in the centre of Tórshavn close to most of the restaurants and shopping. Gudrun and Gudrun has a shop where you can buy the sweaters from The Killing, and there are a lot of knits, furs and ceramics to shop for too in the little pedestrian streets. Foroyar (doubles from £120 B&B) is a lovely hotel located a little bit outside of Tórshavn. Overlooking Nólsoy Fjord it has a grass roof and blends into the landscape.
The current movement in Nordic cuisine reflects what was happening 30 years ago in California – when chefs and farmers came together to create a better food scene. Ingredients are so important now, we’re looking to use what is grown on our doorstep. We do that at Stedsans, my eatery on a rooftop farm in Copenhagen, but more and more places have kitchen restaurants and work with farmers and people eat together at long tables, too. There’s a word in Danish, hygge, which means having a good time with friends and being cosy – and sitting down at a table to share a meal together is a big key part of that.
• Mette Helbaek is a writer and food stylist and runs Copenhagen restaurant Stedsans – Clean Simple