Recently updated on July 27th, 2023 at 09:43 am
Iceland is not just a feast for your eyes – it’s also a treat for your tastebuds. Wherever you go, you’ll encounter new flavours and ancient dishes, made with excellent ingredients grown in the fresh air. From rye bread ice cream to slow-roasted lamb, here are 7 traditional Icelandic foods you have to try on your trip to Iceland. Verði þér að góðu – enjoy your meal!
Eat like a true Icelander and enjoy a pot of skyr, the Icelandic yoghurt. This thick and creamy delicacy has been part of Icelandic cuisine for over a thousand years. Made from pasteurised skim milk and a bacteria culture, it’s technically a type of soft cheese, but it tastes more like Greek yoghurt with a milder flavour.
The best way to eat skyr is with milk, cream, jam, berries or fruit, although you can enjoy it au natural. It’s also great in smoothies, ice cream and cheesecake and you can find it in grocery stores across the country.
2. Reykjavik’s hot dog (pylsur)
They were once called “the best hot dogs in the world” by Bill Clinton, and the Icelandic hot dog lives up to the claim. You can find pylsur (hot dogs) all over Reykjavik, but the most popular restaurant is Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, which has been serving its famous hot dogs since 1937.
Made from lamb, beef or pork, the hot dogs are served with delicious toppings like mustard, ketchup, deep-fried onions, raw onions and a creamy remoulade. If you can’t decide what to have on your pylsur, simply say “eina með öllu”, which means “one with everything”.
Our tip? Order two, since you’ll probably gobble down the first one too quickly and you won’t want to wait in the long queues for another!
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Lamb is the quintessential ingredient of Icelandic foods. The country has some of the best lamb meat in the world, as their sheep are allowed to roam the hills without fences. The sheep get to choose the best bits of grass, moss and berries to munch on and drink from sparkling glacier rivers. Their free-range diets (without grain and growth hormones) produce tender and flavourful meat.
The best ways to eat Icelandic lamb is with soups, stews and slow roasts. Kjötsúpa is a delicious Icelandic lamb soup, made from a lamb shank, potatoes, turnips, carrots and onions, while a slow-roasted lamb is one of the best things to eat on a cold winter’s day.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can try svið (sheep’s head). This traditional Icelandic dish is a sheep’s head cut in half and boiled. It originated from a time when people couldn’t afford to let any part of the animal go to waste.
4. Ice cream
Icelanders love a good ice cream and they eat it all year long! It doesn’t matter if it’s rain, hail or shine, Icelanders are obsessed with their ice cream. You’ll find it in gas stations, cafes and supermarkets around the country, but you can also visit some incredible specialty ice cream shops.
Some of the best ice cream shops in Reykjavik are Valdis, Ísbúð Vesturbæjar and Ísbúðin Laugalæk. You’ll get to taste all the flavours of the rainbow, from classic vanilla to black liquorice.
5. Harðfiskur (dried fish)
Harðfiskur (which literally translates to ‘hard fish’) is a beloved Icelandic food. It’s made from cod, haddock or wolffish which is dried in the cold Iceland air until it’s cured by bacteria. Locals eat it as a high protein snack or doused in salt and butter. It’s a great alternative to chips or popcorn at the movies!
If you like beef jerky, you’ll probably like the Icelandic fish version, and you can find it at almost every supermarket in the country. Be sure to stock up on this traditional snack before heading off on a road trip to see Iceland’s incredible sights like the Blue Lagoon.
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6. Rye bread from a hot spring
Rúgbrauð, or rye bread, is a staple Icelandic food that’s been eaten for centuries. It’s traditionally baked in a pot that’s buried in the ground next to a bubbling hot spring. The bread is dark brown, dense, spongy and tastes quite sweet. There are a million ways to eat it, like slathering it with butter and lava salt. Or try topping it with smoked lamb or salmon, cream cheese or pickled herring.
You can find rúgbrauð in supermarkets across the country. Some of the best places to try it are at Bread & Co in Hlemmur Mathöll, a new food hall in Reykjavik, or at Fontana in the small town of Laugarvatn, where Sigurður Rafn Hilmarsson makes this famous bread. You can even try rye bread ice cream at Cafe Loki in front of the city church in Reykjavik.
A word of caution: Don’t eat too much at once as this delicious bread can have an effect on your bowels. There’s a reason why the locals call it the ‘bread of thunder’!
Whether it’s grilled, fried, boiled, stewed or roasted, fish has been a daily part of the Icelandic people’s cuisine for as long as they’ve lived there. Fishing is the country’s largest export, and there are around 340 species of saltwater fish in the oceans of Iceland.
The most common types of fish to eat are cod, haddock and salmon, while some of the most popular Icelandic seafood dishes include plokkfiskur (mashed fish stew), mussel stews and langoustines (Norway lobster). With some of the freshest seafood you’ll ever eat, Iceland will have you coming back for more!
Have you tried any of these traditional Icelandic foods? Let us know your favourites in the comments below….
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