Foods to Try in Iceland
Iceland is known for its striking landscape and breathtaking geysers, hot springs, and volcanoes, but how much do you know about its cuisine? From an abundance of fresh fish to the free-roaming sheep, Icelandic cuisine is distinctive, and some of the freshest in Europe. While you soak up the natural beauty of Iceland, don’t forget to take advantage of the adventurous and unusual dishes that this Nordic nation has to offer.
Pylsur (Reykjavik Hot Dog)
Sometimes referred to as the unofficial national dish of Iceland, the Reykjavik hot dog (pylsur) is one of the most popular dishes among both tourists and locals. Made from a blend of lamb, beef, and pork, these unique hot dogs are both delicious and affordable. Open since 1937, the most famous hot dog stand in Reykjavik is called Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, which means “The Best in Town” and has been visited by politicians and celebrities including Bill Clinton and the Kardashian family. Order a hot dog from the best hot dog stand in Europe eina með öllu, or “with everything” to get the true Reyjavik cuisine experience.
Hákarl (Fermented Shark)
Hákarl, also known as fermented shark, is the official national dish of Iceland. While it’s not part of the traditional daily cuisine anymore, hákarl is considered a delicacy and many tourists opt to try this unique dish at least once. Not too popular among the locals, it is said that this dish has a distinctly fishy taste and a strong smell due to the fermentation process that it undergoes. Typically, hákarl is eaten in small pieces and is often followed by a shot of Brennevin, a type of clear unsweetened schnapps that is considered Iceland’s signature distilled beverage.
Harðfiskur (Dried Fish)
When it comes to snacking, Icelanders’ favorite choice is Harðfiskur, a type of dried fish. Packed with vitamins and protein, harðfiskur is a type of fish jerky usually made from fresh cod, haddock, or Atlantic wolffish. The fish is caught fresh and then hung to dry in the salty cold North Atlantic air giving it a delicious savory taste. This snack is sold pretty much everywhere in Iceland and is typically eaten with salted butter.
A widely popular breakfast or snack choice in Iceland is Skyr, a high protein, low-fat cultured dairy product. Made of pasteurized skim milk and a bacteria culture similar to yogurt, Skyr is technically considered a soft cheese and has a milder flavor than the greek yogurt that it resembles. Skyr has been part of Icelandic cuisine for centuries and is traditionally served with cold milk and topped with sugar. This delicious creamy snack can be enhanced by adding fresh fruit or berries, and can be found in many local supermarkets in a variety of flavors such as vanilla or strawberry.
Plokkfiskur (Icelandic Fish Stew)
This simple Icelandic fish stew is an extremely popular dish among both Icelandic tourists and locals. Plokkfiskur is made with boiled fresh cod or haddock filets that are mashed together with boiled potatoes and mixed into a roux-based white sauce. Delicious and easy to make, this dish started out as a way to use up leftover fish and later evolved into one of the most popular comfort foods in Iceland. Plokkfiskur is traditionally served with Icelandic rye bread and butter, and will warm you up even on the chilliest of days.
Lamb is extremely popular in Iceland and is cooked and served in a variety of different ways. The reason this is such a common main ingredient in Icelandic cuisine is because of the purebred Icelandic sheep that roam the country freely, never being fed grain or given any type of growth hormones. Try the smoked lamb known as hangikjöt, or warm up on a cold winter's day with a bowl of Icelandic lamb soup also known as kjötsúpa. No matter how your meat is cooked, it’s guaranteed to be fresh and delicious.
Rúgbrauð (Rye Bread from a Hot Spring)
Rúgbrauð, or rye bread, is a traditional type of Icelandic bread that has been eaten for centuries. The crustless, dark brown, dense loaf is baked in a pot that has been placed on the embers of a dying fire. The traditional way of baking this bread is to bury the pot near a hot spring and let the geothermal heat do the cooking, that’s why it is sometimes known as hot spring bread. Rúgbrauð is often served as a side dish to the popular Icelandic fish stew plokkfiskur, or it can be served slathered with butter or topped with smoked salmon.