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Icelandic Cuisine: 12 Must-Try Foods for Your Epic Trip

one of Icelandic cuisine, a plate of Horse Tataki Nistume Glazed, Icelandic Horsemeat with a branch of pine.

Iceland’s got more to offer than just stunning scenery; Icelandic cuisine is truly something special. Think incredibly fresh seafood, dishes rooted in centuries of tradition, and flavors that somehow capture the wild spirit of the island itself.

You might need to step a little outside your comfort zone for some of the truly traditional dishes, but hey, isn’t that the fun of culinary exploration? And with modern chefs adding exciting twists to classic ingredients, there’s never been a better time to discover Icelandic cuisine.

Whether you’re a seasoned foodie or just love trying new things, this guide will take you on a delicious journey. Think of it as your passport to Iceland’s must-try flavors, from comforting classics to unexpected surprises. Get ready to discover why Icelandic food is unlike anything you’ve tasted before!

Icelandic Cuisine Staples

Let’s kick things off with a few essentials that form the backbone of Icelandic cuisine. These are the flavors you’ll encounter again and again and become deeply familiar with on your travels.

Skyr

  • If you haven’t heard of Skyr yet, get ready to have your mind blown. It’s similar to yogurt but oh-so-much-better. Imagine the thickest, creamiest Greek yogurt you’ve ever had, and then magnify that!
  • Skyr is packed with protein, incredibly low in fat, and an excellent source of calcium. Icelanders enjoy it with berries and a touch of granola, blended into smoothies, or just as it is. Try it once, and you’ll be hooked.

Icelandic Lamb

  • Icelandic sheep roam freely across the country’s wild landscapes, resulting in incredibly flavorful lamb meat.
  • You’ll find it on menus in numerous forms: hearty lamb soup (Kjötsupa) to warm you on a chilly day, perfectly roasted lamb for a special occasion, or smoked lamb (Hangikjöt) with its distinct taste. For meat lovers, trying Icelandic lamb is an absolute must.

Fresh Seafood

  • Iceland is surrounded by the rich waters of the North Atlantic, so it’s no wonder that seafood dominates their cuisine.
  • Cod, haddock, salmon, and arctic char are abundant. Whether it’s served simply grilled, baked with herbs, salted, or dried, you’re guaranteed an exceptional seafood experience in Iceland. And don’t forget to indulge in their delicious local lobster!

Traditional Icelandic Food to Try

While those staples are delicious, part of the fun of exploring Icelandic cuisine is getting to know its truly traditional dishes. Here are a few of the most iconic foods you should add to your ‘must-try’ list:

Hákarl (Fermented Shark)

  • Let’s get the most unusual culinary experience out of the way! Hákarl is an Icelandic delicacy that dates back centuries and definitely holds a “dare factor.”
  • It’s made from Greenland shark that’s been cured and fermented for months, resulting in a …shall we say… potent odor and flavor. While not everyone’s cup of tea, trying a small bite allows you to understand a piece of Icelandic history and their unique way of preserving food.

Harðfiskur (Dried Fish)

  • For a less intense snack, try harðfiskur. Essentially, it’s wind-dried fish, often cod or haddock, similar to jerky. Icelanders nibble on harðfiskur throughout the day for a boost of protein.
  • The traditional way to eat it is with a smear of butter to offset the dryness.

Plokkfiskur (Mashed Fish Stew)

  • Icelanders adore this cozy dish of mashed fish (usually cod) with potatoes, onions, and a creamy béchamel sauce. Plokkfiskur is satisfying, incredibly easy to find on restaurant menus, and guaranteed to give you a sense of Iceland’s home-style cooking.
  • Think you’ve explored everything Iceland has to offer? Check out these resources for in-depth guides and information on planning the best foodie trip to Iceland. Visit Iceland is the official tourism site, packed with useful tips and local recommendations.

Uncommon Icelandic Delicacies

Ready to truly go off the beaten culinary path? Let’s talk about a few uniquely Icelandic eats that might make you take a double glance. Remember, trying these dishes is not compulsory, but they hold significant cultural and historical value.

Svið (Sheep’s Head)

  • For those comfortable with more adventurous eating, there’s svið. Typically, half a sheep’s head is boiled, or sometimes singed, to remove the fur.
  • It’s then often boiled again and may be served with mashed potatoes and turnips. Historically, using every part of the animal was essential for survival in Iceland, and svið reflects this resourceful heritage.

Slátur (Blood Pudding and Liver Sausage)

  • Slátur consists of two distinct types of sausage. Blóðmör (blood pudding) is made with sheep’s blood, suet, and flour, while lifrarpylsa (liver sausage) features ground lamb liver, fat, and oats.
  • They’re commonly eaten with sweet rice pudding or mashed potatoes during a traditional Icelandic feast called Þorrablót.

Súrir hrútspungar (Pickled Ram’s Testicles)

  • Let’s just say this is not a snack for everyone! Pickled in whey or lactic acid, this sour delicacy dates back to when food preservation was critical in Iceland’s climate. Trying súrir hrútspungar is purely for the most adventurous of foodies.

Sweet Treats in Iceland

After all that savory exploration, your sweet tooth is probably calling. No worries, Iceland’s got you covered! Here are some delectable treats to enjoy.

Kleinur (Twisted Doughnuts)

  • These cardamom-flavored fried knots are a classic Icelandic sweet. Kleinur are a bit denser than the airy doughnuts you might be used to, and they pair perfectly with a cup of coffee.

Rúgbrauð (Rye Bread)

  • Don’t be fooled by its dark, unassuming appearance; this slightly sweet rye bread has a delightful depth of flavor. Traditionally, rúgbrauð is baked underground using geothermal heat, giving it a uniquely earthy sweetness.

Icelandic Ice Cream

  • Icelanders love their ice cream, and their ice cream shops are known for creative flavors you won’t find anywhere else.
  • Think licorice, blueberry skyr, or even rhubarb! Just be prepared for long lines on sunny days.

Modern Influences on Icelandic Cuisine

The New Nordic Food Movement

  • Nordic chefs across Iceland are embracing a culinary philosophy prioritizing local, seasonal ingredients and reinventing traditional dishes with modern techniques. This emphasis on freshness and creativity results in some truly inspiring plates.

International Flair

  • Chefs in Iceland aren’t afraid to borrow influences from cuisines around the world. It’s not uncommon to find Icelandic twists on dishes like sushi, tacos, or even ramen popping up in trendy Reykjavik restaurants.

Organic and Sustainable Focus

  • Iceland’s pristine environment lends itself perfectly to the growing movement of organic and sustainable food production. You’ll see this reflected in restaurants sourcing from local farms and emphasizing ethical practices.

Where to Find the Best Icelandic Cuisine

Traditional Restaurants in Reykjavik

  • The capital city is packed with fantastic eateries serving up classic Icelandic dishes. Do your research to find restaurants with excellent reviews and menus that feature a wide range of Icelandic cuisine.

 Try Famous Reykjavik hotdog stand

  • No matter the hour, you’ll likely see a line for this legendary hotdog stand, appropriately named Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, meaning “the best hot dogs in town.”
a hot dogs on a counter
Karen LeBlanc holding a hotdog.
  • These classic Icelandic hotdogs, made with lamb, pork, and beef, come topped with everything from crispy fried onions to sweet brown mustard and tangy remoulade. It’s the quintessential Reykjavik street food – simple and addictive!

Dine at Hotel Húsafell in  Stórarjóður

  • Nestled amidst Iceland’s stunning landscapes, Hotel Húsafell provides a beautiful and comfortable haven for adventurers and foodies alike. Their hospitality makes the entire experience relaxing and enjoyable. It’s the perfect place to unwind after a day filled with culinary discoveries.

A Shot of Brennivín

  • No trip to Iceland is complete without a sip of their signature spirit, Brennivín. Dubbed the “Black Death” for its high alcohol content, this unsweetened schnapps has a potent caraway flavor that leaves your taste buds tingling. Consider it a delicious punch with an exciting and memorable edge.

Horsemeat

  • Horsemeat might sound unconventional to some, but it’s long been part of traditional Icelandic cuisine.
  • With a tender texture and rich flavor, I found it an intriguing change from typical meats. For many, this can be a food experience only possible in Iceland!

Chamomile Honey Cake with Beeswax Sorbet

  • It’s a delicate balance of soothing floral sweetness, complemented by the rich honey flavor and unique texture of the sorbet.

Kale Cake Crumble

  • As strange as it might seem, this dessert proves how surprising Iceland’s food scene can be! Featuring an unexpected green, this delicious kale cake with a satisfying crumble was an adventurous (and tasty) twist.

Food Festivals and Markets

  • Festivals like Þorrablót and events at food markets like Hlemmur Mathöll showcase an amazing variety of Icelandic delicacies. It’s a great way to sample lots of treats in one place.

Farm-to-Table Experiences

  • Take your culinary adventure beyond the plate and go directly to the source. A few Icelandic farms offer dining experiences where you can truly connect with where your food comes from.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the typical Icelandic food prices?

Iceland is known for being expensive, and dining out is no exception. Expect to pay upwards of $20-30 for a main course at a mid-range restaurant. Consider saving money by enjoying picnic lunches with food from grocery stores or by trying the more affordable food stands and hot dog vendors.

Are there vegetarian and vegan options in Iceland?

Absolutely! Vegetarianism and veganism are becoming more prevalent in Iceland, especially in Reykjavik. Be sure to mention your dietary preferences when dining out.

What are some strange Icelandic foods I should try?

If you’re feeling brave, hákarl (fermented shark) and svið (sheep’s head) are the top contenders for unique food experiences. Less intense options include harðfiskur (dried fish) and even sviðasulta (sheep’s head jelly).

Icelandic cuisine might not be for everyone, but its bold flavors and emphasis on quality, local ingredients offer a uniquely memorable culinary experience. Whether you’re drawn to the simplicity of fresh seafood, the adventurousness of traditional delicacies, or the modern spin on Nordic cuisine, one thing’s for sure: Iceland is a paradise for food lovers.

More Iceland Travel Guides and Tips:

Best Time for Iceland: Top Places by Season

South Iceland Bucket List: 7 Must-Experience Destinations

Top 5 Under-the-Radar Things To Do In Reykjavik Iceland

16 Things To Do In West Iceland Away From Tourist Crowd

Picture of Karen LeBlanc

Karen LeBlanc

Karen LeBlanc is a freelance writer living in Orlando, Florida with many published bylines in magazines, newspapers, and multimedia sites. As a professional lifestyle writer, Karen specializes in art, architecture, design, home interiors and personality profiles. Karen is the writer, producer and host of the streaming series, The Design Tourist (www.TheDesignTourist.com) that brings viewers a global dose of design inspiration with episodes featuring the latest looks and trends from the world’s premiere design events and shows. She also publishes a quarterly magazine on design travel that you can read by clicking the link: https://thedesigntourist.com/the-magazine/ Her journalism background includes seven years on-air experience as a TV news reporter and anchor covering a range of issues from education to politics. Her educational credentials include a Master of Arts in Mass Communications from Northeast Louisiana University and a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Louisiana State University. Throughout her career, Karen has written and produced dozens of documentaries and videos for educational, commercial, corporate, and governmental clients and appeared in many TV and video productions as a professional host.

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Karen LeBlanc

Karen LeBlanc is a travel host and writer with a popular travel show, The Design Tourist, and a companion lifestyle blog. As a widely published travel journalist and content creator, Karen is a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association. She also serves as the Design and Travel editor of the national lifestyle magazine, LaPalme. Karen believes that every destination has a story to tell through its local art, architecture, culture, and craft. This immersive creative exploration begins with authentic accommodations where the narrative of place unfolds through art, accessories, accouterments, furnishings, fixtures, and food. 

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