Everyone must have heard of the beauty of Iceland, The Land of Fire And Ice. Iceland, without a doubt, is a treat to visit. It is hard to overstate just how beautiful the country is, from the gushing waterfalls thundering down the beautiful jagged mountains to the icy glaciers surrounded by rugged lava rocks. Not to mention the gorgeous Northern Lights playing on Iceland’s winter night skies.
However, people usually have no clue what to eat when it comes to Icelandic cuisine. Iceland is not just a treat for the eyes but a treat for your taste buds too. Even though Icelandic food may not be the thing that will take you to Iceland at first, it will certainly contribute to your desire to return to the island. There are so many traditional Icelandic foods that you must try and in this article I will do my best to guide you through the best tastes Iceland has to offer.
A Little Bit About the Icelandic Cuisine
No guide on Icelandic cuisine is complete without a glance at the history of Iceland. When Iceland was settled in the 9th Century by Hrafna-Flóki Vilgerðarson – the first Norseman who sailed to Iceland, the food Icelanders ate was either smoked, dried or pickled, as they didn’t know how to preserve food to last longer.
However, as in most Scandinavian countries, the food is inspired by the ingredients Icelanders had around them, particularly since the Vikings landed on Iceland and brought their traditional flavours and ingredients along with them.
In the 20th Century, the fish industry started to grow and there was a boom in the fisheries. Since then, fish is a staple of Icelandic cuisine. Foods like dried fish and the fermented shark are extremely popular in Iceland.
Savouring Iceland’s cuisine is like harking back to the renaissance. The capital of Iceland has a bunch of restaurants that serve authentic Icelandic food with traditional ingredients in contemporary ways. The fresh-caught seafood, the free-roaming lamb and the Skyr are extremely healthy to eat. The traditional Icelandic cuisine is wholesome, free-range and highly organic. Besides, the water of Iceland is the cleanest in the world, which contributes to the fantastic taste of the Icelandic foods. You will hardly find any impurities in it.
Let’s See What Kind of Food Is Famous In Iceland
Now, it is time to take your taste buds on an adventure. One by one, I will enlist and briefly describe the top Icelandic foods that people enjoy and are worth giving a shot. The traditional foods of Iceland are as fascinating as the country itself. The pillars of Icelandic food are fish, dairy and meat. Every food is unique and enticing in its own way.
Pylsur – Reykjavik Hot Dog
I start with one of the favourites of every visitor in Iceland – pylsur-reykjavik, the Icelandic lamb hot dog. The population of sheep in Iceland is twice as large as the human population which makes lamb a very popular ingredient for the Icelandic traditional dishes. The lamb is organic, free range and grass fed, making the meat extremely flavorsome. You will get this delicious lamb sausage in a warm bun, with raw and fried onions and a topping of herbs and mayo. When it comes to the hot dogs, my tip is to order two, as you will probably devour the first one too quickly and you won’t want to stand and wait again in the long queues for another one. If you are unable to decide what to have on your pylsur, then simply say “eina með öllu”, which means “one with everything”.
Hakarl – Fermented Shark
I will say most people are curious about fermented shark. Hakarl, the fermented shark in Iceland is a delicacy for the majority of tourists. You may be surprised to know that it is also the national dish of Iceland, and is probably the most famous one as well, dating back to the Viking times.
Here is an interesting fact about the fermented shark. People describe the taste as if it is smell-based. When they first try it, they often exclaim that it is the “most disgusting thing in the world.” However, as time passes on and they try the fermented shark a few more times, their taste buds get accustomed to it and the taste becomes tolerable in comparison. If they try the shark a few more times after that, they often come to like the taste! Do you dare to eat it?
If you are in Iceland and want to eat like a local, then you must try the iconic Skyr. It is getting more and more popular worldwide due to its numerous health benefits. In Iceland, it is a staple food around for over a thousand years. It is also well known for its high proteins, vitamins and minerals. People usually enjoy having it as a high-protein breakfast, a sweet snack or a healthy dessert.
Skyr is made from pasteurised skimmed milk and a bacteria culture that is similar to yoghurt. This thick creamy delicacy is served with milk and tart berry jam. Although you can enjoy its original taste with any condiment, it can also be enjoyed on its own.
Hangikjot – Smoked Lamb
Icelandic smoked lamb is one of the most popular Christmas dinners among the locals. It is everything that a Christmas dish needs to be: soft, tender, and healthy.
Traditionally, it is eaten as a warm dish and served with perfectly cooked potatoes, peas, red cabbage and béchamel sauce. However, as a cold dish, it is similar to ham in a way that it can also be put on a slice of bread as a topping. Don’t forget to grab a bite of this mouthwatering dish whenever you visit Iceland. Although it is typically served on holidays, I will say you can still find it being served in some restaurants on normal days.
Rúgbrauð – Dark Rye Bread from a Hot Spring
If you want to try a dish that you will only find in Iceland, grabbing a bite of rugbraud is highly recommended. It is dense, sweet, and had no crust. This must-have dark rye bread is a staple Icelandic food.
You can find countless ways to eat this bread such as topping it with smoked salmon and cream cheese, serving it with butter and crunchy lava salt, or chopping and blending it in ice cream. However, if you ask locals how to get the best version of rye bread, they would probably tell you to buy one that has been buried 30 centimetres under the ground, near a geyser. Even though it usually takes up to a day to make the right rye bread, the results are worth waiting for.
Kjotsupa – Meat Soup
Having a hot bowl of delicious soup on a freezing winter day is a perfect way to warm up. Meat soup or kjotsupa is a delightful soup that is served in restaurants all over Iceland. It is a must-try dish! The tasty broth, made of veggies including carrots, potatoes and rutabagas, will definitely warm you up, whilst the meat will give you energy for more outdoors exploration.
Hardfiskur – Dried Fish Jerky
Hardfiskur is another Icelandic food that you can find pretty much everywhere around the country. If you are fond of eating beef jerky, there is a high chance that you will love the Icelandic version made with fish as well! You can eat it with some Icelandic butter to enjoy its wholesomeness.
It is usually made from cod, haddock or wolffish and has been a part of the Icelandic cuisine for ages. Moreover, dried fish not only contains omega-3 but is also rich in vitamins and proteins so if you were looking for a dish that is tasty and healthy, so there is no need to look any further for the perfect snack.
Brennivin, the national liquor of Iceland, is actually a schnapps – a drink with high alcoholic content. It is made from fermented grain or mashed potato and caraway seeds, and resembles the Scandinavian Aquavit. Brennivin is often nicknamed Black Death. And what else could a Viking drink be called?
Floki Whiskey is named after the first Norseman who ever stepped on the Icelandic soil – Hrafna-Flóki Vilgerðarson. This drink is made with only natural ingredients found in Iceland, like, fresh Icelandic water, herbs and barley. Popular flavours of Floki Whiskey are vanilla, white coffee and pepper.
If you are thinking of taking a trip to Iceland, which of these dishes are you going to try at first? If you have already been to Iceland, what are your opinions about Icelandic food? Which cuisine did you like most? Let me know in the comments below, as I would love to hear about it.
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Please note this is a guest post written by Valur from Your Friend in Reykjavik.