The Icelandic diet contains mostly of fish, dairy, lamb, and vegetables. Skyr, harðfiskur, flatkaka, hangikjöt and kleina are eaten by Icelanders daily, as well as the traditional meals pylsa, kjötsúpa, plokkfiskur, grjónagrautur and lambalæri.
Þorrablót is a midwinter festival in Iceland where the traditional food is eaten, like sour ram's testicles, shark and sheep's head. On a daily basis, this is usually not in the Icelandic diet; then it mostly tends to be eaten by the older generation.
Below are a few suggestions on what to try while travelling in Iceland, to get to know the traditional Icelandic food and drinks.
Pylsa is the Icelandic hot dog. One pylsa, many pylsur. The national fast-food of Iceland award can go without debate to Pylsur. It's not expensive, it's delicious and can be found everywhere.
Every Icelander remembers asking their parents, "what's for dinner", and the answer is "oh I'm too lazy to cook we will have Pylsur". Pylsur is also a very popular festival food, and Icelanders love cooking them on barbeques in the summer period.
The hot dog is made out of a mixture of lamb, beef and pork meat. It is served in a bread bun with two kinds of onions, raw and crispy-fried, as well as sweet mustard, ketchup and Icelandic remolaði. Icelandic remoulade is a mayonnaise based sauce with a gentle touch of vinegar, pickles and onions.
Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, translated to "The best in Town hot dogs", is the most popular hot dog stand in Iceland. It's a small hut, not more than 5 square meters, but the line can be very long all year round. They have been serving hot dogs since 1937 near the harbour. It's recommended by almost everyone in Iceland. Bill Clinton also played a small hand in promoting the hot dog in 2004 when he had one here with just meat and mustard.
What to order?
"Ein með öllu" or One with Everything.
Where are they located?
Tryggvagata, near Kolaportið
Sundays to Thursdays, 10 AM– 01 AM
Fridays to Saturdays 10 AM – 04:30 AM
In 1915, Iceland banned alcohol. In 1930 the government partially repealed prohibition, by giving permission to drink wine and hard liquor, and Brennivín became the national drink. This caraway seed flavoured, colourless aquavit, with a potent grain spirit, remains beloved booze. Brennivín means "burning wine" and is 37.5 percent alcohol by volume.
Brennivís has also been referred to as "Black Death", which goes back to when the government wanted to discourage the consumption on the snaps, and made the producers change the looks of bottles to completely black with a skull logo. That didn't change anything though and if anything just made it more popular. The logo today has been changed and is a picture of Iceland.
Brennivín is a shot drink served straight from the freezer, giving it a kick, ultra refreshing liquid. Traditionally, celebrants at the midwinter festival of Þorrablót take shots of Brennivín to wash down the taste of the ammonia scented fermented shark known as Hákarl.
Rúgbrauð is a thick, chewy "hot spring" rye bread. The key ingredients are rye flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, salt, brown sugar, milk, molasses and hot water.
The old classical way to cook the bread is to put a box full of just mixed bread dough in a hole down in the ground near geothermal springs. The process can take up to 12 hours, which leads to a perfectly rectangular loaf of rye bread, gently steamed by the spring heat.
Iceland has so many hot springs for such a small country, and almost two-thirds of the country's energy comes from geothermal sources. The bread must gain some power during the steaming process, with the result a dense, nutty, chewy, and a little sweet taste. The modern way to cook rye bread is in a square baking pan in the oven.
Rúgbrauð is best served with Icelandic butter, and it is also a tradition to put pickled herring or salmon on top.
It's a dry fish where cod, wolffish and haddock are the most commonly used to make. It can also be called fish jerky. The fish is hung upside down and gets dry with the help of the wind. It's very easily available in the grocery stores in Iceland, and the most common way of eating is with a little butter. Hardfiskur is a protein boost. In fact, it has over 70% protein and is very rich in nutrients.
Taste it, and you will never forget it. Shark is toxic, and it has to go through a process before we eat it. It is buried underground in the first phase for a quarter of a month and then dried for a half-year period.
The smell comes close to 100 blue cheese put together and looks kind of like cheese. Brennivín and Hákarl together are very popular. You can get it in most of the bars for tasting.
6 Íslensk kjötsúpa
Íslensk kjötsúpa means Icelandic meat soup. It has been eaten in Iceland for centuries and is very popular amongst Icelanders as well as tourists. Each family has their own recipe, but traditionally the soup contains lamb meat, potatoes, turnips, carrots, onion and various Icelandic herbs. It's a meal that's extra cosy on a cold, dark winter's day.
Svið is a traditional Icelandic dish, it is literally a sheep's head with only the fur and the brain removed, boiled and usually served with potatoes and turnips. It goes way back to when Icelanders were poor and could not let any part of the animals go to waste. Today it is not eaten on a daily basis, mostly only on the days around Þorrablót, and tends to be eaten by the older generation.
Also known as Plokkari. It is a traditional Icelandic fish stew. It is a mix of fish, potatoes, onion and béchamel sauce. Everyone loves it and especially kids. It is best served with Icelandic rye bread and butter.
Kleina we can say is the Icelandic donut! Kleina is one of the most popular pastries in Iceland and is known to have been with Icelanders since the late 18th century. It's like a twisted doughnut and looks a lot like a bow tie. Kleinur can be found in every bakery and on all coffee tables, all year round.
Flatkaka is a traditional bread in Iceland. It is round, thin and dark unleavened rye flatbread. It is usually eaten with butter and thin slices of hangikjöt or cheese.
Hangikjöt or "hung meat" is smoked and salted, boiled lamb meat. It is both a Christmas tradition for Icelanders as well as it is used everyday, in thin slices, as bread toppings. During Christmas it is served with béchamel sauce, potatoes, green peas and red cabbage, and like in my family, it is eaten on flatkaka with red cabbage.
Skyr is a healthy, rich in protein, low fat, strained Icelandic yoghurt which comes in various flavours. It has been in the Icelandic diet since forever and is eaten by Icelanders every day, in any meal of the day. It became so popular that today it is being sold in many other countries.
Lambalæri is the leg of a lamb. It has been a tradition in Iceland to eat oven-baked or grilled Lambalæri on Sundays as well as in family gatherings. Good to eat it with some delicious sauce, potatoes and vegetables.
Grjónagrautur, or milk-based rice pudding, is a traditional food both eaten as lunch and dinner by Icelanders. It is usually eaten with Slátur and cinnamon sugar and sometimes raisins, which Icelanders really disagree with, either you love raisins in your Grjónagrautur, or you hate them. Grjónagrautur is a bit like ris a la mande.
Slátur, or "slaughter", is made of sheep's innards and other things that are leftovers in the sheep when the meat has been taken away. The tradition of eating slátur goes back to when Icelanders had to use every part possible of the animal. There are two types of slátur, blóðmör or "blood pudding" and lifrarpylsa or "liver sausage".
16 Icelandic liquorice
Liquorice, or lakkrís, is by far the most popular candy in Iceland. It is rather salty and is available in various types, chewy, hard candy, lollipops, ice creams, cakes and desserts. Liquorice is very often covered in chocolate, which I would say is the most popular type.
17 Ópal and Tópas
Opal and Topas are liquorice candy pills that are either salty or have more of a mint flavour, and they are also a very famous liquor. Opal and Topas have been mixed with Vodka and used as shots that are around 19-27% alcohol by volume. You can buy it in every liquor store, bar or restaurant. It is very popular amongst Icelanders.
18 Malt & Appelsín
Malt and Appelsín is a mixture of these two classic Icelandic soft drinks. Malt is a malty sweet soda, and Appelsín is a delicious orange soda. Together they make this heavenly blend that is traditionally drunk over Christmas and Easter.
19 Súrir hrútspungar
Sour Ram's Testicles is not something that is eaten often, it's mostly just eaten once a year on Þorrablót. Sour Ram's Testicles became food in the old days when Iceland used to be a poor country, and the farmers would use anything they could to feed themselves and their family. The testicles were soured to preserve them throughout the winter.
Vínarterta is a traditional Icelandic celebration cake. It has many layers of buttery shortbread and some kind of filling. In Iceland, Vínarterta is often just called "Layer-cake", and there are two types: a white one with rhubarb or peach jam filling and a brown one that has more of a cardamom and cinnamon taste, that has a buttercream or both jam and buttercream in between layers.
21 Reyktur lundi
Smoked puffin is often served cool, especially at festivals such as the national festival, Þjóðhátíð, in the Westman Islands. Smoked puffin is best served with Icelandic butter, and if it is served hot, it is very appropriate to have boiled potatoes and turnips on the side.
Hrefnukjöt is the meat from a minke whale which is called Hrefna in Iceland. Minke whale is one of the most common whales around Iceland. The meat is considered very healthy and tasty and can be eaten both raw and cooked.
Laufabrauð, or "leaf bread" is eaten around Christmas time. It is a tradition in many families to make Laufabrauð together. They are very thin deep-fried wheat breads, decorated with all kinds of pattern.
Skata, or “skate”, is eaten on the day before Christmas in Iceland, on the 23rd of December. In Iceland, that day is called Þorláksmessa. Skata is a fish that has been fermented, so it has a very strong taste and a smell that some people just can't handle. For others, it is impossible to skip the fermented Skata.
Mysa is acid whey. It is the liquid that separates from milk during the cheese and skyr making process and has been used for centuries by Icelanders to pickle and sour meats and vegetables. Mysa was also used as a drink in the good old days, but today it is mostly just a fun tradition. Mysa is sour and has a very strong special taste that most people don't like. But every Icelander has to taste Mysa at least once in their lifetime.