Icelandic food is known for its fresh ingredients and unique dishes. Foodies across the world come to the island to try out iconic Icelandic cuisine such as fermented shark and tasty skyr yogurt. Read all you need to know about traditional Icelandic food, its history, and where to find it today.
Iceland’s food scene won’t disappoint even the most avid foodies. The pillars of Icelandic cuisine are meat, dairy, and fish. For a long time, Icelandic people didn’t grow green vegetables or fruit. Apples and oranges were luxury items only shipped to the country during big celebrations such as Christmas.
In the past, Icelandic food had to be stored in a way that allowed it to last for a long period. This meant that Icelandic people needed to get creative. As a result, dishes were often fermented, smoked, salted and cured. Food was even preserved inside jello as a way to keep it edible.
ICELANDIC FOOD HISTORY
The roots of Icelandic cuisine can be found in neighboring Scandinavian nations. When Iceland was settled in the ninth century, traditions linked to Nordic culture traveled with its settlers.
Iceland quickly became reliant on subsistence farming until a small ice age occurred in the 14th century. After that, it began relying heavily on cereal grain, although farming did continue until the late 18th century.
Eskifjörður fishing village pier in 19th century, Iceland
In the late 19th century, Danish culture began to heavily influence Iceland. As a result, Danish cuisine started to appear in Icelandic dishes. However, in the early 20th century, there was a large growth in Iceland’s fishing industry. This boom in fisheries led to fish becoming a staple of the Icelandic diet.
Today, you’ll see a mix of both preserved and fresh foods in Icelandic homes. Horse meat is no longer banned and salted meat is rare. Fish remains the main food source in Iceland.
THE TOP 10 ICELANDIC TRADITIONAL FOOD TO TRY
Tasting local foods is one of the great perks of Iceland travel. Many people choose to join a small-group food tour in Iceland. A very popular option is to try traditional Icelandic food in Reykjavik on a food walking tour with a local foodie guide.
If you want to take your taste buds on an adventure, here arethe top 10 Icelandic foods you should try:
1. ICELANDIC FISH
Iceland is a country of high-quality fish. You can’t get much better fish than in Iceland. You can try any type of fish to have the most typical Icelandic food experience.
Langoustine, cod and haddock are the most common options. Fish is best enjoyed with a side of potatoes and classic Icelandic rye bread with butter.
Traditional Icelandic fish dish
2. KLEINUR: THE TWISTED DOUGHNUT
If you have a sweet tooth, then you’re in luck! Kleinur is an Icelandic fried donut that’s fluffy and light on the inside and crispy on the outside.
Iceland’s traditional sweet donut is available at most bakeries and grocery stores around the country.
Traditional Icelandic dessert called Kleinur
3. BRAGÐAREFUR: A TASTY FOX OR THE TRIXTER (ICE CREAM)
Bragðarefur is an Icelandic ice cream dish that will blow your mind. All you have to do is choose an ice cream flavor and three toppings. The ice cream shop’s staff will then swirl it together into a delicious treat.
Bragðarefur is sold at almost any ice cream shop in Iceland.
Icelandic ice cream - Bragðarefur
4. HÁKARL: FERMENTED SHARK
Hakarl is a fermented shark and the most famous food in Iceland. If you’re brave enough to give it a try, an experience eating hakarl will certainly be an authentic story to take home with you.
Fermented shark is best eaten with a shot of Brennivín, a cumin-flavored liqueur from Iceland.
5. SVIÐ: SHEEP’S HEAD
No, we kid you not — Svið (i.e. sheep’s head) is yet another one of Iceland’s food specialties not for the faint of heart.
To be served with a side of bravery and your favorite drink of choice.
Traditional sheep dish in Iceland
6. PYLSA: THE ICELANDIC HOT DOG
Iceland’s food prices aren’t always easy on the pocket. Luckily, there are plenty of cheap places to eat all over Iceland.
One of the cheapest and most popular foods in Iceland is hot dogs. And if you’re on the search for a bit of American food in Iceland, there’s no better thing to chomp on than a classic wiener.
Popular street food in Iceland - hot dogs
7. SKYR: THE “ICELANDIC YOGURT”
Skyr is a cultured dairy product that’s been part of Icelandic cuisine for centuries. It’s as equally loved today as it was 100 years ago. Some classify skyr as cheese, but it’s more commonly recognized as a thick yogurt.
You can buy different flavors of skyr at any grocery store in Iceland.
Icelandic Skyr - yogurt dessert
8. FLATKAKA MEÐ HANGIKJÖTI: FLATBREAD WITH SLICED SMOKED LAMB
Flatkaka með hangikjöti is similar to skyr in that it’s a traditional Icelandic food that’s been on Icelanders’ tables for centuries. It’s the perfect food to eat to fuel up a day out in nature!
Icelandic sandwich with sliced smoked lamb
9. HARÐFISKUR: DRY FISH WITH BUTTER
Harðfiskur, or dry fish, is a food from Iceland’s Viking era. It’s one of the more traditional Icelandic foods you can try. When the fish is laid out to dry, it shrinks down to only 9% of its original size. Harðfiskur is best served with a good scoop of butter.
Traditional Icelandic dried fish with butter
10. KJÖTSÚPA: LAMB MEAT SOUP
Kjötsúpa is the traditional dish of hot lamb meat soup that’s a sign of fall or winter for many Icelanders. It’s the perfect way to warm up after a day out adventuring.
Traditional Icelandic lamb meat soup in a restaurant along the Golden Circle
TOP 10 DRINKS TO TRY IN ICELAND
Icelandic food and drink go hand in hand when trying out the best tastes in the country. Here are the top 10 alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks in Iceland:
Kókómjólk is Icelandic chocolate milk, the perfect drink with which to enjoy baked goods or even a hot dog!
Icelandic chocolate milk
Appelsin is the Icelandic version of Fanta, a delicious and sweet orange soda.
"Appelsin" sweet orange soda drink
Similar to malt beer but non-alcoholic. It’s sweet and dark in color and contains licorice. For many Icelanders, this is the taste of home!
"Malt" Icelandic non-alcoholic drink
4. MALT OG APPELSÍN
If you mix Appelsín and Malt together, you have the perfect blend! It’s also the official Christmas drink in Iceland. A must-try.
"Malt" and "Appelsín" drinks in Iceland
5. ICELANDIC TAP WATER
Yes, you read it right — Icelandic water is one of the top drinks in the country. It’s also the best tap water in the world. Hydrate yourself with Icelandic H2O on any outdoor adventure and you’ll be sure to quench your thirst.
Tap water in Iceland - one of the best tap waters in the world!
6. ICELANDIC GIN
Mix 100% Icelandic gin with tonic water to enjoy this classic cocktail favorite.
Icelandic "Mountain Eagle Premium" and "VOR" gin
7. OPAL OR TÓPAS
This black licorice liquor is a local favorite and is often served alone as a shot.
Icelandic licorice liquor
8. BRENNIVÍN: THE BLACK DEATH
This cumin-flavored liqueur is a must-try for anyone who wants to taste a true Viking drink!
Icelandic cumin flavored liqueur - Brennivin
9. LOCAL ICELANDIC BEER
Beer-making has captured the hearts of Icelanders and now everyone seems to be brewing. Try any of the local bars for a taste of local beer made with the best water in the world!
Icelandic local beer tasting tour
10. REYKA VODKA
Icelanders will tell you that “this is the best vodka in the world” and they’re probably right. Reyka Vodka is delicious either on the rocks or in a cocktail.
"Reyka" Vodka made in Iceland
UNIQUE ICELANDIC DELICACIES
Certain Icelandic delicacies are more unique than others. This is especially true when it comes to the whale, puffin, and horse meat. Check out three of the most unusual Icelandic delicacies still eaten today:
One of the quintessentially Icelandic delicacies is minke whale, usually served as a steak or in sushi.
Though it’s a controversial food, many say it is the best meat they’ve ever tasted!
If whale meat interests you, it can be tasted at certain restaurants in downtown Reykjavik.
Icelandic dish with whale meat
Puffin meat is another controversial Icelandic delicacy that’s still eaten today. The meat is mostly served smoked. You can also give it a try at restaurants in downtown Reykjavik.
Salad with smoked Puffin meat. Credits: thecookingfrogblog.com
Horse meat is another favorite meat featured in Icelandic cuisine. The price for horse meat is usually low and even the worst chef couldn’t ruin a horse steak. The meat is tasty, soft and very much like beef.
An interesting choice for brave foodies visiting Iceland!
Horse meat stakes
TRADITIONAL CHRISTMAS MEAL IN ICELAND
Icelanders are very fond of their traditions, often using the exact same menu from generation to generation. Here are the most typical Christmas meal plates in Iceland:
Traditional Icelandic Christmas meal
Smoked salmon on toast with sauce
Soup: Asparagus, lobster or maybe fish soup
Risa La Mande – rice pudding
Síld – pickled herring with rye bread
Hamborgarahryggur – cured pork loin or gammon steak
Hangikjöt – smoked lamb
Corn or peas
Laufabrauð – deep-fried thin bread cut out in patterns