When it comes to food in Iceland, one may not expect a small island hovering below the Arctic Circle to hold a fork in culinary delight. But it does. Oh yes, the food in Iceland is quite delicious.
In a county that has ZERO McDonald’s (yes, you read that correctly), much of the Icelandic cuisine is organic, locally-sourced, and supremely delectable. From free-range lamb to creamy skyr to pungent, rotten shark and bread baked in the earth, the food in Iceland is a cuisine that charms and surprises.
Ready to unleash your inner Viking? Take a bite! Here are the standout tastes from our honeymoon in Iceland.
Eating in Iceland
Food in Iceland you need to eat
Traditional Icelandic Breakfast
The most important meal of the day soon became the “most disappointing meal of the day” to my other half, Eric. Don’t expect hot eggs and bacon from the Icelanders. Their breakfast has about as much warmth as an Icelandic winter breeze. Although more hearty breakfasts can be ordered at some restaurants or cafes, the traditional Icelandic breakfast fare is a typical morning spread at various hotels, B&Bs, and farm stays. Expect to eat bread/toast with butter or jam, cold cut meat and cheese, cucumber, tomato, hard-boiled egg, pickled fish, and of course, the famous skyr.
Pronounced “skeer,” this creamy, yogurty, delicious-ness in a cup is eaten for breakfast, snacks, lunch, dessert, and basically any time you want to taste something that gets you closer to heaven. Skyr packs the protein and forsakes the fat, making it virtually guilt-free. Made of strained skim milk, it’s technically more a cheese than yogurt; it’s thick, smooth, tangy, and not sickly-sweet. The best part about skyr? Each cup comes with its own tiny foldable spoon.
Not going to lie, my first skyr left my tastebuds less than impressed. I thought, isn’t this just an over-glorified, healthier version of Greek yogurt? Then I tried it again. And again. And yes, I’ll take more please. Sold. Skyr crept into my cravings. Since I’ve returned home, I’ve devolved to basic Greek, but dream of the day I’ll be reunited with my beloved Skyr.
Pylsur: Icelandic Hot Dog
Thank you, Iceland, for ruining hot dogs. They ruined them because no hot dog will ever be as divine as an Icelandic hot dog. The Icelandic hot dog, or pylsur, is a snappy dog filled with beef, pork, and lamb — lamb being the magical third ingredient. Cradled in a bun that’s soft and fluffy, the outside of it is grilled, creating a slight crunch with each bite. Traditionally topped with ketchup, pylsusinnep (sweet brown mustard), remoulade (mayo with capers, mustard, and herbs), and fried crunchy onions, the toppings give the flavor that ‘wow’ factor. Any pylsur, even at a gas station, is basically a hot dog doing out on a date — it’s dressed to impress. Forget that famous hot dog stand in Reykjavik, go to Hotel Grabrok for the best pylsur in Iceland.
After indulging in many a pylsur in Iceland, there’s no reason why I should ever stoop to eat any other hot dog ever again.
From fancy hot dogs to fancy crawfish. In today’s episode of Honey, I Shrunk the Lobster, you’ll meet a character called langoustine. But unlike lobsters, langoustines are smaller, rarer, pricier, and tastier. They play hard-to-get in the cold, arctic waters and harder to keep once caught. In Iceland, langoustine is accessible, fresh, and more affordable than most other places in the world. Fine dine at Humarhofnin or Pakkhus in the fishing town of Höfn. Langoustines are basically luxury lobster and everyone deserves a taste of luxury. A must eat for your list of food in Iceland.
Hakarl: Fermented Shark
Ah, hakarl. Proof that the word “delicacy” is merely a descriptor for “is this really edible?” Both gag-worthy and nostril-burning, hakarl is the famous fermented shark that’s worth trying at least once. What’s it like? Try the texture of gelatinous-calamari-tofu coupled with a putrid, sharp, pickled ammonia flavor. Blegh. It tasted decent when chewed with the Icelandic rye bread, but definitely BYOB — Brennivín helps to swallow it down. While not the tastiest food in Iceland, it certainly creates a good tale. Here’s a video of our reaction to trying fermented shark. Enjoy!
Icelandic Fish Soup
In Iceland, you’re never too far from good seafood (unless you’re talking about hakarl). So why not throw all the good stuff in a bowl of broth and call it good? Find a coastal town with a charming seafood restaurant and warm up to this bowl of goodness. We chose a well recommended restaurant called Narfeyrarstofa in Stykkishólmur on Snaefelsnes Peninsula. We waited an hour for it to open and it was well worth it once they placed in front of us a steaming bowl of onion, local blue ling, whitefish, salmon, prawns, and mussels in an opaque broth.
When it comes to food in Iceland, you can always expect the seafood to reign supreme.
“It’s a traditional home dish.” That’s what our waitress told us when I looked inquisitively at this daunting menu item in Icelandic. She explained that it’s something her parents made with fish leftovers as she grew up. It literally means “mashed fish.” Supposed to be like a fish stew, it’s more like a fish gratin with mashed whitefish, potatoes, onion, and spices baked in a creamy, almost cheese-like sauce. Alright, bring on the home cooking! You know what it tastes like? It tastes like comfort. Plokkfiskur for president.
Besides her good looks, Iceland is also a really fantastic baker. No, really. You know the fire part in the Land of Fire and Ice? The volcanic earth works as a natural, geothermal oven. Place the bread dough in tins, simply bury underground, and leave to cook slowly for 24 hours. Delicious, mother-earth baked bread. Nature is the best. The bread is dry and sweet, so it’s best enjoyed when topped with smjor (butter) and thinly sliced, smoked arctic char.
Traditional Lamb Stew
The Icelandic landscape is dotted with happy, little, free-range lambs, cheerily munching away completely hormone and antibiotic-free. Of course, the most free spirited lamb make the most delicious lamb stew. Savory, hearty, and full of flavor, it’s the best meal to warm up after a chilly hike. The best lamb stew I tried was at the Gullfoss Cafe, where you can get free refills (free refills!).
Yes, you can order horse steak while in Iceland. Just don’t think about Seabiscuit or Black Beauty when eating. I didn’t order it, but my other half did. Eric’s commentary: it tasted excellent, was leaner than beef (don’t ask for it cooked more than medium), and is worth a try to expand your red meat repertoire.
Taste of Iceland
Many restaurants offer a “taste of Iceland” menu featuring a slew of local dishes in multiple courses. This is a perfect opportunity to sit down and try a variety of different bites to determine if you have palette for Icelandic dishes (spoiler: you will). A lot of these places do include the controversial Minke whale. We happened upon the Public House Gastropub in Reykjavik, where their taste of Iceland menu opened our culinary horizons to arctic char, slightly seared reindeer (sorry Rudolph), lamb love balls (lamb cooked in a donut-like ball), and licorice-smoked puffin. Menus like this are useful to get a sample of the variety of unique food in Iceland.
Icelandic Ice Cream
Ice cream is always a good choice, even in a cold climate. If anyone questions your ice cream consumption while it’s snowing, remind the naysayers that it won’t melt as quickly in the cold. There’s something special about Icelandic ice cream — it probably has something to do with the “pureness” of the land and ingredients used. Brynja was mentioned as best ice cream in Iceland on multiple occasions. Located in Akureyri, I can attest that there is definitely something different about Brynja and I had never tried ice cream quite like it. I can barely explain it, but I’d say it wasn’t thick and creamy… more like light, fluffy, and almost gritty.
Dessert Bonus: Ask someone to say “chocolate cake” in Icelandic.
Drinking in Iceland
Icelandic Drinks Worth Trying
Beverage fact of the day: Did you know that Icelanders drink more Pepsi per capita than any other country? Thanks for the info, guidebook!
In addition to food in Iceland you need to try, there are some Icelandic drinks you’ll need to add to your list of culinary and beverage experiences.
Iceland wins for creativity with their unique alcohol. We encountered some interesting bottles, including Birkir, Fjallagrasa, and Lava. Birkir is a woody-flavored schnapps made from Iceland birch. Each bottle comes with a birch stick. Fjallagrasa is a liqueur containing extract of the lichen moss from the Icelandic highlands. There’s literally a kelp-like plant in the bottle. Lava is Icelandic bitter, best served with ice and carbonated water. It’s unique because it is purified through red lava pumice stones from the Heimaey Island Volcano.
PRO TIP: Alcohol is expensive in Iceland. Before you leave the airpot, purchase some local liquor from Duty Free.
The famous Icelandic schnapps known as “Black Death” belongs in the same realm as hakarl — gotta try it, probably won’t enjoy it. Throw it back like a shot and prepare for a bitter aftertaste of pungent fennel. You’ll feel a little more manly and a little hot in the belly after drinking this.
Until 1989, beer was banned in Iceland. Hence, there isn’t a burgeoning craft beer scene. If you happen to be in Iceland on March 1, get your liver ready to celebrate “Beer Day,” commemorating the day prohibition was lifted. There’s a little place in Reykjavik, Micro Bar, tucked away between buildings. A tiny bar that only seats about 20, Micro Bar pours local beers for the thirsty traveler.
What is it about Icelanders and their love for licorice? Appreciate the mystery and try a licorice latte. Sure, there are many other licorice-inspired food and drink, but I didn’t quite understand the craze until I tried this drink. Licorice adds an unexpected element to the flavor that’s surprisingly delicious.
Have you tried any of the food in Iceland on this list? What was your favorite? Did I miss anything?
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