Iceland is well-known for many things: stunning glaciers, amazing landscapes, impressive volcanoes and majestic Northern Lights. One of the less prominent aspects of the country, however, is its gastronomy. Iceland’s growing tourism economy is changing that. The number of tourists visiting Iceland is skyrocketing and Icelandic chefs are sharpening their culinary skills. With many new restaurant openings and improvements to traditional bars, the country is blossoming. As it is essentially one big island, most of the traditional Icelandic dishes are based on fish. If you’re not a huge fan of fish, don’t worry. There are other dishes based on meat and some delicious desserts worth trying.
We do have to warn you though…not all of Iceland’s most famous dishes will be particularly appealing. The Icelanders are hearty people and you may find that traditional Icelandic food has some remnants of Viking food. Read on if you dare!
Iceland’s Food – Typical Fish Dishes
One of the favorite Icelandic fish dishes is Hardfiskur. It is essentially dried cod and the most popular way to eat it is with butter as a snack. It is really popular amongst children. Graflax is another snack usually served before meals at restaurants and is made with smoked fish. Plokkfiskur is a stew that consists of boiled fish, potatoes and onions. Icelanders originally created the recipe created to use up leftovers. It has evolved and is now a really popular dish served in many restaurants, especially in Reykjavik. Salmon soup is absolutely scrumptious and is served in many restaurants all over the small Nordic island. Fish dishes in Iceland are always served with Rúgbraud, one of the country’s delicious rye breads.
Hákarl might be the most famous Icelandic dish because of its infamous reputation, but not many visitors dare to try it. This fermented shark meat smells strongly of ammonia. Foodie and world-famous chef Anthony Bourdain described it as one of the worst food-related experiences he has ever had. Most restaurants and bars serve it in small squares with an alcoholic drink called brennivín. Hákarl is an especially popular dish at Christmas time.
Iceland’s Food – Typical Non-Fish Dishes
Something much tastier than fermented shark is Iceland’s famous hot dogs. While hot dogs do not sound like a particularly traditional dish, both tourists and locals alike nosh on them. They are one of the most famous snacks in Iceland – called pylsur. There are shops and gas stations all over the country where you can buy them and they are super yummy. Not sure what to order? Ask for an eina med öllu (one with everything) and you’re sure to love it!
While it’s not really known as typical Icelandic cuisine, lamb is another traditional dish on the island. They eat the whole animal, a habit that comes from the worst years of their history. During lean times they could not afford to leave any part of the animal uneaten, so they ate everything. Kjötsúpa is a tasty soup made with lamb meat and vegetables. It comes highly recommend and will really warm you up during those winter months.
Iceland’s Food – Desserts
Now we get to everyone’s favorite part… dessert! A favorite is Skyr, which is a type of yogurt along with traditional quark cheese. According to Wikipedia, “it has the consistency of strained yogurt but a much milder flavor”. It is usually topped with sugar, berries, jam, or cream to sweeten it up a little. Sweet, baked treats are also an extremely popular dessert in Iceland.
Additionally, Iceland’s geothermal activity has given rise to numerous farms with greenhouses. They use heat from volcanic activity and artificial light to produce fruits, vegetables and legumes. Fruits and veggies were not as abundant in the past, so Icelanders are happy to harness this new technology.
Icelandic Food – What Can You Eat in Iceland?
Íslenskt Brennivín is a traditional drink, but not suitable for all tastes. To give you an idea of how strong it is, Icelanders call it the Black Death. If you’re looking for a traditional drink but not something as strong as Íslenskt Brennivín, you can also try Icelandic beer. Some of the national ones are Skjálfti, Móri, Egils, Víking, Gull or Thule. Coffee is also a really popular drink and in many places, they serve bottomless cups. It’s an all-you-can-drink coffee buffet!