Iceland, “the land of fire and ice”, is famous for its many natural beauties. Most tourists visit so they could see its stunning volcanoes and lagoons from which you can see the Aurora Borealis. Along with the untouched nature, Iceland’s greatest treasures are its friendly, warm people and their hospitality.
However, Icelandic cuisine is not as well known as some others in Europe. That’s why many foreigners have a problem when it comes to picking what to eat once they’re in Iceland. If you’d like to explore the most famous dishes and get to know the eating habits of Icelanders, continue reading!
Although fish and other seafood are very common ingredients, Icelandic cuisine is much more diverse. It’s also based on lamb, dairy and delicious mouth-watering pastries and bread.
Here’s an overview of the things that the majority of Icelanders enjoy eating:
Many Icelanders have the habit of eating breakfast at home. Although it keeps becoming more common to grab something on the go, they prefer preparing breakfast in their own kitchens.
One of the most common dishes is hafragrautur. The more simple and well-known translation would be – oatmeal! Icelanders usually sprinkle it with brown sugar and raisins and prepare it with fresh milk.
Another frequent option is skyr, a traditional dairy product. Although it has the consistency and appearance of Greek yogurt, technically, it is considered cheese. It can be eaten plain, but also with fruit, sugar or mixed into oatmeal. It’s a must!
You should know that Iceland is full of amazing bakeries that prepare fresh goods in the early morning hours. Some of the most famous dishes are kleina (donut-like pastry), fresh sourdough bread and sandwiches with smoked salmon or herring.
Iceland is famous for its very high consumption of coffee, so you should definitely enjoy a cup while you’re here. What better time than breakfast? If you’re not a coffee drinker, try the Icelandic moss tea!
Lunch is often served in the form of smörgåsbord – a Scandinavian buffet that serves both hot and cold dishes. Many restaurants offer this buffet, although you can also order à la carte.
Cold fish dishes are always available on the buffet, such as harðfiskur (wind-dried fish) and hákarl (fermented Greenland shark). These can also be consumed as snacks, between meals.
Be careful with the fermented shark – it has a strong taste that won’t appeal to everyone. Some absolutely love it and some hate it. The famous chef Anthony Bourdain called it “the worst thing he had ever tried”.
Icelanders often eat warm, hearty soups for lunch, as well. The traditional ones are the fish soup (fiskisúpa), meat soup (kjötsúpa) and langoustine soup (humarsúpa). You’ll find them in every restaurant and they are often the cheapest meals on the menu.
If you’re on the go, grab a hot dog. Although they’re not originally a product of Icelandic cuisine, they are incredibly delicious here. The key is in the toppings, which include crunchy fried onions and brown mustard.
Another great Icelandic version of a popular foreign specialty is fish and chips. The locally caught fish (usually cod, salmon or haddock) is fresh and full of flavor. Also, some of the dips are made with the Icelandic skyr, which gives it a unique taste.
Just like in many western countries, dinner is the main meal of the day for Icelanders. Icelandic cuisine offers a variety of authentic specialties that you must taste at least once while you’re there!
The star of Icelandic cuisine, besides seafood, is the lamb. The Icelandic sheep is a local breed that is grass fed and not given any hormones, which guarantees great quality meat. The lamb is usually slow cooked or roasted, although it can be made into a stew as well.
They also eat some parts of the sheep that aren’t commonly eaten, like the head. It is a great delicacy in Iceland, especially when it’s smoked. If you want to try some of the more controversial specialties you can start with this one.
When it comes to seafood, there are different ways to prepare it. It is either boiled, grilled or fried. You should try the freshwater trout (silungur), Arctic char (bleikja) and monkfish (skötuselur), as well as shrimp (rækja) and blue mussels (kræklingur). All are beyond delicious!
Although Icelandic cuisine features rather healthy food, Icelanders have quite of a sweet tooth! They have many traditional desserts, some similar to other Scandinavian sweets, but with a unique twist.
Snúður is essentially a cinnamon bun topped with melted chocolate or caramel. Eat it alone or with a cup of coffee, as true Icelanders would!
Pönnukökur and rúgbrauðsís are some of the most famous desserts in Iceland. Pönnukökur are Icelandic pancakes topped with sugar, similar to French crepes. On the other hand, our recommendation is rúgbrauðsís – rye bread ice cream, available only in Cafe Loki in Reykjavik!
Vegetarian Food in Iceland
Although it might seem like fish and meat are impossible to avoid, that’s not the case. There are plenty of vegetarian options that are just as delicious and filling.
For starters, skyr should be on your list, whether you’re vegetarian or not. You can customize it by adding different toppings, sweet or savory, or by adding it to salads or veggie dishes. It’s very refreshing and quite healthy.
Many restaurants have vegetarian and vegan menus. Vegetables can be rather expensive in supermarkets, so sometimes eating out won’t cost much more than preparing veggies at home.
Make sure you take advantage of the country’s amazing whole wheat bread. It’s vegan and incredibly delicious.
Icelandic Food Recipes
If you’re going through post-travel nostalgia, you should consider making some Icelandic cuisine gems in your own kitchen! Except for some exotic ingredients, you can find most of them in large grocery stores pretty much anywhere. Have fun recreating the most authentic food from this beautiful country.
Click here for recipes of some of the most delicious Icelandic specialties.