By Dana Perkiss
When it comes to Iceland, most people’s first thought is the stunning natural beauty of the country. But what about food?
Experience Iceland through your taste buds: a land and culture surrounded by sea, rich with history, and ripe with lots of fresh, local ingredients. Here’s your guide to the best food and drinks in Iceland.
Icelandic Hot Dog
What may seem like a typical barbecue item is transformed into a world-renowned delicacy at the Baejarins Beztu Pylsur, Iceland’s most popular hot dog stand. These hot dogs are made from a combination of beef, pork, and lamb, and are usually ordered with everything (or in Icelandic, eina með öllu) which includes sweet mustard, fried and raw onions, ketchup, and remolaði, which is a creamy mayonnaise-based sauce mixed with sweet relish. This is a hot spot for tourists and locals alike, but we promise, it’s absolutely worth the wait for these Icelandic hot dogs.
Known as the Icelandic yogurt, Skyr is a creamy dairy product that’s similar to a mild Greek yogurt. It’s popular to eat skyr with fruit and berries, but it’s also a common ingredient in smoothies, ice cream, and ‘skyrkaka’ or ‘skyrterta’, which is a cold, no-bake cake similar to cheesecake. You’ll also want to grab a skyr drink, or ‘drykkur’, which can be bought plain or as an assortment of fruit flavors.
Lamb is a staple in Icelandic cuisine. Rather than a grain diet packed full of animal hormones such as in the U.S., sheep roam freely and feed on a naturally grass-fed diet in Iceland. Lamb is also popular as a lunch meat known as a Hangikjöt sandwich, or as a meat soup called Kjötsúpa. Whatever style you try, just be sure not to leave Iceland without tasting a lamb dish.
Although the locals don’t eat it quite as often as they used to, shark meat (Hákarl) is a delicacy in Iclandic culture and something you must try at least once. The fermentation and drying process of the shark can take up to five months, and once it's ready, offers a distinctly fishy taste and smell that’s hard to miss. Icelanders will advise you to take a quick shot of Brennivín (a local spirit often compared to schnapps) after your first bite.
For a fun food adventure, head to the Shark Museum at Bjarnarhofn farm where you’ll enjoy different tastings and learn about how the iconic Hákarl is made.
With more than 340 different kinds of saltwater fish species recorded in Icelandic waters, there’s a wide variety of seafood to eat. Healthy, delicious, and usually caught earlier that day, Iceland promises a feast of fresh fish. Salmon, haddock, cod, and lobster are some of the most common, as well as the delicacy plokkfiskur, or ‘fish stew’.
For a traditional Icelandic snack, pick up some harðfiskur from a local supermarket. Basically fish jerky, harðfiskur is typically made from wind-dried cod or haddock and is eaten plain or with salted butter. Think of it like healthy, fishy popcorn.
Rúgbrauð - Rye Bread
Rúgbrauð is an iconic staple in Icelandic cuisine, and is nothing like the rye bread served anywhere else. Typically baked in a cask that’s been buried near a hot spring, rúgbrauð is a soft, dense, sweet bread (that’s really more like cake).Icelanders will smear it with butter, top it with smoked salmon, or even blend it into ice cream. However you choose to eat rúgbrauð, it won’t be long before you’re rushing for another taste.
Although mostly known for its eclectic range of seafood and meat dishes, it’s also worth noting that Icelandic bakeries are filled with delicious baked goods everyone should experience. Some mouthwatering pastries include a snúður, which is a soft cinnamon roll often topped with icing, and a kleina is a small deep-fried pastry. Chocolate lovers should try a skúffukaka, a dark chocolate cake sprinkled with coconut.
There’s no shortage of tantalizing Icelandic beer for you to enjoy, even though beer was outlawed in the land until the 1980s. Úlfur, Icelandic for ‘wolf’, is an Indian Pale Ale that’s popular for its hoppy taste of grapefruit and pine delighting your taste buds with a blend of both bitter and sweet.
Or, for Iceland’s most popular bottled beer, Kaldi Blonde is brewed like a Pilsner and similar to a Czech lager. This was the first beer that Bruggsmiðjan Kaldi brewery produced, and was so popular that now there’s a Kaldi bar in Reykjavik where you can get their unique beers on tap.
Finally, for a taste of history and true Icelandic flavor, you’ll enjoy sipping on Leifur. The sweet tastes of Arctic thyme and heather mixed with bitter notes of pepper and citrus make this ale a bold flavor that’ll make you feel like a true Icelander. Especially because it’s named after Leifur Eiríksson, the renowned Icelandic explorer who was the first European to discover America (yes, even before Christopher Columbus).
Just imagine sipping on Leifur while eating some hearty lamb stew and watching the Aurora Borealis illuminate the night sky; trust, you’ll never want to leave!