Iceland has many specialities, and the kleina is a particularly delicious one. It essentially a doughnut, but it comes in an interesting twisted shape and is found in all good cafés and coffee bars in Iceland.
Last time I was in Reykjavík, I had a busy day planned with lots of walking around and one of my planned highlights was going to be for the end of the day, to have a hot chocolate and a kleina – bliss! I was really looking forward to this.
At the end of the day, laden with bags, I began my search for the perfect kleina, only to find a fundamental flaw in my plan. As it was the end of the day, they were sold out everywhere! None of the cozy places I wanted to sit in had any left. Lugging my bags up the hill of Laugavegur, it was starting to look grim.
Then I remembered a little bakery type place that I had seen that was pretty much around the corner from where I was staying. I burst in, catching the attention of a group of old man who were obviously regulars and completely camped out in one corner. And…victory! They had a kleina – one left and it was dipped in chocolate! And – free back copies of gossip magazines that I can’t actually read but like to flip through and spot the celebs I can recognise. Lovely.
I ensconced myself in my own corner. The hot chocolate was going to be an issue as there was some sort of problem with the machine. Now ideally having the kleina WITH the hot chocolate would be better than having the two separately, but I could tell from the drama happening around the machine that I was going to be waiting for a while and I’d worked up an appetite. Feeling majorly geeky, I took a photo of my kleina with my phone, hoping the old men weren’t looking:
I started nibbling away, flipping through magazines, thoroughly content. Finally, my hot chocolate came after about 10 minutes. The kleina was pretty much gone. I started sipping the hot chocolate and noticed that actually, I didn’t feel so good. My eyes felt a bit itchy, I started wondering if they were bloodshot or something, having not looked in a mirror all day. Then I felt a bit…hot. Really hot. Feeling suddenly both ill and self-conscious, I left 90% of the hot chocolate it had taken 10 minutes to make and made a very rapid exit past the group of now startled old men.
When I got back to my room I couldn’t believe it – my eyes were nearly swollen shut, and having taken my coat off I could see my neck was covered in hives. I was also getting really wheezy breathing and was boiling hot. I started frantically removing layers while doing a Google search for “what does it mean if your eyes are swollen and you have hives and can’t breathe” – basically, it means an allergic reaction to something that is nearly always food if it comes on so quickly, which means it must have been the kleina. I had only had a very small amount of hot chocolate and I was already feeling the symptoms by the time I was drinking it.
To cut a long story short, I became very British and rather than possibly disturb the receptionist with my problems, I burst out into the night searching for somewhere to buy antihistamines. At least it was dark and no one could see my ugly eyes and hives. I couldn’t find anywhere still open, but walking around in the cold air felt better than being inside and the more I walked around the more my symptoms were going down. After a couple of hours I was back to normal except for the breathing problems which continued for the rest of the night. Strangely enough I would have found it really embarrassing to get a doctor involved at any point, although if it got to the point where I couldn’t open my eyes or breathe I would have swallowed my pride!
I’ve never had any allergic reaction to food before or since so I don’t know what the problem was. Apparently kleina are cooked in tallow (animal fat) and I’m not sure how much of that I eat normally but I must have eaten things cooked in this way before, and I had eaten many a kleina with no problem before. I don’t know why I had such a strong reaction but it’s made me wary of ever eating one again, which is really annoying. If you go to Iceland, please have one for me!
Have you ever had any ridiculous medical episodes when travelling??