The hottest vegan restaurant in Reykjavik is Sono which is open in the Nordic House on weekends. More and more people are turning to vegetarianism or choosing a fully vegan diet. Sono is meeting a clear need. But most importantly, Sono offers delicious food with a good selection of Icelandic craft beers and good wine. I am lucky to know the lady behind the delicious food at Sono, Silla Knudsen. She is the head-chef of Sono and runs the restaurant with Linda Sóley Birgisdótti, and Guðmundur Þórir Hjaltason I often had the good fortune of visiting her family’s countryside cottage. Visiting Silla and her man Gummi is like seeing the doctor. They nourish your soul with laughter and fun stories, and your body receives the goodness of delicious and wholesome food. I always come back home refreshed.

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Sono focuses on offering quality seasonal ingredients. Each dish contains spices and plants grown at Silla’s home or harvested in Westfjords. All of this is mixed specially imported spices from Morocco.

Woman picks rhubarb in Iceland.
Silla, please leave some rhubarb for the rest of us.

Hey Silla – thank you for the great food you served me at Sono. Can you give my readers a little background information on you?

How much time do you have? When you have reached my age, it sometimes feels like you have lived several lifetimes. I am born in Denmark. The life I am living now is the mother of three, a restaurant owner and chef. I own a little cottage outside Reykjavík. At the moment, I live in Reykjavík with the best view in the world. I see where the ocean meets the sky in the north, and the spewing volcano from Lakagìgar reaches the clouds in the south. I am also an opera singer, even though I have little time to sing these days. When I was younger, I traveled a lot and saw the world both for work and pleasure. Those were the days when I lived in England.

Staying in Iceland and then life happened

After some years, I decided to come to Iceland for a break. I somehow ended up staying. And here I still am. I did spend a year in Norway with my family to escape the financial crash in 2008. We were building a house in the south of Iceland and planning on becoming farmers and growing vegetables for the market. A free-spirited young people who were determined to do good for the world. But fate had something else planned for me. Instead, I ended up divorced, single with two little children in Reykjavik.

At times like those, one has the need to expand, grow and start a new. So I became a production manager at a herbal pharmacy. I taught kindergarten children to grow their own vegetables. Acting and singing here and there. Until I somehow ended up in the National Theatre as a project manager for 5 years, lifting up tons of stage sets, floors, and ceilings. I literally ripped open my stomach and was operated on with a bad case of hernia. All the while settling down again and starting a new family. So today, I have these two fantastic teenagers and a three-year-old crazy kid running around everywhere, keeping us all busy.

Finding the courage to open the hottest vegan restaurant in Reykjavik

And now I am 40, and I have discovered bravery and finally found the courage to go and start my own business that joins all my intentions and interests. I tell my stories with my food, introduce all the herbs that are so dear to me, and follow me through life. I represent a lifestyle that does minimal harm to the world we live in. All of that I try and put on each plate.

Silla Knudsen picks plants.
Harvest time

What inspires you in your cooking?

It has to be the herbs and vegetation all around us. The main goal of what I do is never the food as such but the question of “how can I represent this fantastic medicinal herb to you in such a way that you will learn to love and respect it”? I am trying to be the representative of wild herbs.

Let’s rethink our attitudes towards plants

Most of them have been wrongly represented as being aggressive, weeds, or even pests. They are none of those things. They are and should be our food for us and the other lives that we share this planet with. Let’s take dandelion as an example. It is a beautiful flowering spring plant full of goodness in the root, the leaves, or the flower. It has medicinal elements and is an excellent source of nutrition that suits perfectly to our diet. Not only to us but also for the bees and other insects in early spring when little else is on offer. Yet, we usually do everything in our power to eliminate it. We poison it with herbicide, cut the flowers, or throw them away. At the same time, we drive to the shop and buy expensive spinach that has been imported half across the world and has much less effect and goodness.

What is your favorite dish, and can you share a recipe?

I have never had a favorite. Even as a child. I love too much of everything to be able to choose between. I guess it depends on my mood. At the moment, I am obsessing about homemade pasta as I want to become better at it. But I have mastered gnocchi that also happens to be one of my most popular dishes, so I’ll share that with you. Although I’ll skip the part of making it as it will take forever for you to publish. So I recommend a teaching video on YouTube. Try and find an authentic teacher, preferably an old Italian grandma.

Recipe for delious Gnocchi

Once the gnocchi is boiled and ready, keep it aside whilst you fry 3 tbsp butter in a pan (can also be a vegan butter) with stalks of sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata), can also be rosemary, sage, or thyme, until it starts to burn. Discharge the herbs and fry a few of the gnocchi at a time until it goes crisp on all sides—salt with powdered licorice root, salt, and pepper. Chop up young leaves of the sweet cicely and blend with fresh Ruccola. Toss with good olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. Plate the gnocchi set the salad on top and top with fresh parmesan.

Be careful not to confuse the sweet cicely with the poison hemlock. Sweet cicely has a sweet anise smell, has hairy leaves, and tastes terrific. The latter has none of those. Thankfully the poisonous hemlock doesn’t grow in Iceland, so we have nothing to fear.

People rarely connect Iceland with veganism. Can you tell me about the Icelandic vegan scene?

It is a fast-growing society of people from all corners with new tastes and new approaches to cooking. To me, it is the future. Not to say that we all have to become strictly vegan. That is a utopian thought that will probably never happen. If we reduce our global footprint by choosing a more environmentally friendly and healthier diet that is less harmful to animals, we will have succeeded. To save our species from extinction, we all have to take imperfect measures. It is not enough that only a few will be implacably perfect. Nobody is perfect. But we can all try our best.

What are your favorite places or activities in Iceland?

The swimming pools. They are the reason I am still living in Iceland; I kid you not. They are cheap, luxurious spas. Going regularly to the swimming pools is the only way of getting through the Icelandic winter.

What advice would you give to people who are visiting Iceland for the first time?

Go see the wild, and if you can by any means, plant a tree. We need them.