When travelling to a country, it is always good to get into the local culture and one way to do so is to try out some of the traditional dishes and treats here. We listed for you some of the most traditional food you should try if you are tempted to, when coming to Iceland. You might be surprised by some of the flavors!
Sheep are very important in Iceland, during the summer, you can see sheep roaming across the whole country in complete freedom but as the winter time arrives, réttir is happening, gathering all the sheep back to their farms. Hence, it comes as no surprise that you can find sheep and lamb meat in many of the traditional Icelandic dishes and we highly recommend you to try at least one dish with Icelandic sheep in it.
We highly recommend you to try out the traditional Icelandic meat soup or lamb soup while you are here. We promise, you won’t regret it! You can find it in many restaurants across the country. If you are in Reykjavik, you can go to Svarta Kaffid, a small, picturesque restaurant which serves only 2 soups in their menu, a meat soup and a vegetarian soup, served in a bread bowl: an absolute délice!
If you are at the restaurant and you see a cooked sheep’s head on your neighbors table, don’t be scared. It is completely normal to eat this part of the animal here. Even though it is way less common to eat it as it used to, you can still find it on the menu of many restaurants. It is smoked and usually served with mashed potatoes.
Surprisingly, one of the typical meals you should have when coming to Iceland is a hot dog! It is a street food you can find almost everywhere here, in some cosy kiosk or gas stations or even at the menu of some restaurants. The hot dogs are mainly composed of Icelandic lamb with pork and beef. The most famous place you could get one would be in Reykjavik at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. Their hot dogs are usually stuffed with raw and crispy onions and some peculiar sauces, one brown mustard called pylsusinnep and one remoulade made with mayo, capers, mustards and herbs.
Iceland being an island, for centuries Icelanders fed from what the ocean offered them. Still nowadays, the Icelandic fishing industry is rather important. Across the country you can find many restaurants offering diverse fish based dishes. Here are some of the specialities here.
Ate as a snack, the dry fish is pretty common even nowadays to see people eating this as a snack. The only thing is the smell that is rather strong and not the most pleasant one. You can find it in restaurants or grocery shops. It is from pollock, catfish, haddock or cod brined and cured and it is pretty common to eat this snack with Icelandic butter.
Another traditional dish composed with fish is the fish stew or Plokkfiskur. It is either made from haddock or cock with béchamel sauce, potatoes, chicken stock and fresh herbs. It is a little bit thicker than an actual stew. You can find it served in many restaurants across the country and it is the occasion for you to try some Icelandic fish!
Sharks usually don’t like the cold waters up here in the North, however, the Greenland shark is the only present in the northern waters and this traditional food is coming from it. The shark meat is toxic for the human to consume except if it is fermented to make it edible. The meat passes by a fermentation process and then hangs dry for 4 to 5 months. It is quite often possible to try out the fermented shark with a shot of Brennivin, an Icelandic strong alcohol. If you go to the Snaefellsnes peninsula, it could be for you the occasion to visit the family owned business Bjarnarhöfn, where there is a shark museum and degustation of this famous fermented shark.
Even though you might wonder why on Earth would you take fish and chips, English’s traditional meal, in Iceland. Well, why not? It is a pretty common dish to find all across the country and it is the occasion for you to taste the Icelandic fish. The Icelandic Fish & Chips is slightly different from the British one as the batter is composed of spelt flour, the potatoes are usually roasted and not fried and the sauce served with it is based on Skyr, the Icelandic proteined yogurt.
Enough talk about fish and meat, let’s move on to some Icelandic delicacies. Iceland may surprise you with some bread and pastries that are absolutely delicious.
You may know the French baguette or the German pretzel, but have you ever tried the Icelandic rye bread? It is quite challenging to describe this bread, it is halfway between bread and a cake. This rye bread is very particular because of its conception. After preparing the dough, the cake is selled in a pot and buried under the sand in a hot spring ground. It stays there for 24h cooking at 100°C. When doing the Golden Circle, you can visit Laugarvatn Fontana where you can see the whole process and try some of the bread.
A variation of the Icelandic rye bread is the rye flat bread. The taste, the shape, the consistency are very different from the traditional rye bread. As the name indicates, this bread is flat, unleavened, round, soft, and is baked on the pan. It is usually served cut in quarters and usually with butter, smoked slices of lamb or lamb paté or cheese. You can find it everywhere, in all the groceries shops.
All the Nordic countries have their own donuts and Iceland has Kleina or also called twisted donut. This fried treat is sweet and can be eaten as a snack with coffee. You can even try some in our Northern Lights tours with hot chocolate! This pastry is not just an Icelandic or a Nordic thing. You can actually find some variations with different names in many other countries such as in France with Bugnes or Merveilles, in Spain the Pestiños, Raderkuchen or Mutzenblätter in Germany and even in the US, the Angel wings.
Iceland may be cold but you know what they say, fight fire with fire, well Iceland fight cold with cold with their icelandic yogurt and ice cream!
This famous traditional Icelandic yogurt-alike is famous worldwide. It is thicker and creamier than regular yogurt, each yogurt is packed with proteins (about 13gr according to the flavors) and it is naturally fat free. You can find it everywhere here in Iceland, groceries shops, gas stations, restaurants… and with different flavors. It is sometimes mixed with jam or fruit as a dessert, baked as cheesecake, used in milkshakes, mixed with cereals as breakfast but it is also used with fish or as a sauce for other dishes. You got it, it is a very versatile product. One of the most famous brands here is Isey skyr which has bars where you can try the product in all different ways.
This might come as a surprise to you but Ice Cream is a real thing in Iceland as in the majority of the Nordic countries. They are fond of this frozen dessert. It is pretty common to find ice cream shops all over the country, even in gas stations. The traditional ice cream is usually a soft-serve one even though with the popularity of the country some hard ice cream and gelato made their way through the island. The Icelandic style is more about the toppings you put on it rather than the ice cream itself. You have so much choice in the toppings here! If you want to try out some, there are different places in Reykjavik such as Valdis or Skubb. And if you want to try two traditional foods at once, you can go to Café Loki to try their rye bread ice cream!
Finally, we talked about food but we won’t let you thirsty! As you may know from our previous article about the importance of water in Iceland, you can drink the tap water and it is one of the tastiest in the world, but you may try some other Icelandic drinks while you are here.
As in many countries, Iceland has its own signature spirit drink. Brennivin, also called “the black death”, is a very strong alcohol made with herbs, making it sweeter than vodka or gin. You can find it in the alcohol store Vinbudin and in restaurants. Often served with fermented shark, you can also try out some tasty brennivin cocktails in the city center!
Even though Applesin may make you think of something related to apples, well, applesin means orange in Icelandic. This drink is rather surprising as it is the combination between Applesin, an orange juice, and malt, a malty sweet soda that could make you think of a non-alcoholic Guinness. Mixed together, you will get the perfect icelandic drink. It is pretty common to have this drink during the Christmas period as it is non-alcoholic, for adults and children alike (even though the malt contains 1% alcohol). This mix is called Jólaöl (Christmas ale) and you can also buy it already made for you.
Kokomjolk is very popular in Iceland, it is basically a chocolate milk. It is supposedly a drink for kids but actually adults are also drinking it. Urban legends are saying it is a great hangover cure to drink the day after a night out.
Those are some of the main traditional dishes and treats you could try when coming here to make your mouth water. In case you do not know where to start and want to try all of this in a short amount of time, you can check our Reykjavik Food Walk tour. It lasts for about 4h walk that you will spend walking around the city and stop by 6 unique restaurants to try some of the most typical local food.