Going on a vacation brings with it different priorities for different people. But there’s one thing that most travelers do agree on, and that’s food. There is a universal type of enjoyment that comes from eating meals out and trying the local cuisine in a new city or country.
So, what can you expect in terms of Icelandic cuisine? Let’s explore what to eat in Iceland, touching on everything from popular flavors and must-try dishes to, shall we say, the more acquired tastes? We’ll be covering both the traditional foods of Iceland, as well as diverse foodie options you’ll find across the country. We know you’re hungry just reading this, so let’s get stuck into our Iceland cuisine guide!
What Food to Eat in Iceland: Top 10 Dishes to Try
In Iceland, you’ll find a rich, hearty and versatile palette everywhere! From cosmopolitan Reykjavík to remote Icelandic mountain towns. Iceland is well-known for its traditional fish and meat dishes, which still occupy an important place in Icelandic cuisine. Still, you may be surprised to learn there have been a dramatic shift. The popularity of vegan and vegetarian food in Iceland have notably increased.
Icelandic gastronomy has renewed itself, bringing about a whole range of vegan food and restaurants across Iceland. So, if you’re vegan or vegetarian in Iceland, never fear! There are sure to be some local Icelandic eats to suit you. So, what do they eat in Iceland? Here are our top 10 recommended dishes and snacks to try to sample the authentic flavor of Iceland.
This creamy, protein-rich yogurt-like product has sustained Icelandic people for centuries. Back in the day, skyr was largely homemade, with each farmstead having its own signature recipe. These days, it can be purchased from convenience stores and supermarkets up and down the country.
Skyr offers a healthy boost of energy and most Icelanders swear by it. From breakfast to afternoon snack to fine-dining inspiration, skyr is both a versatile and delicious food. You can buy it in a whole host of different flavors, as well as plain. It can also be used to make a fortifying smoothie-like drink. Traditionally, plain skyr was sprinkled with sugar as a kids’ breakfast. From all the food from Iceland, this is, perhaps, their most international product!
2. Icelandic Lamb
If you plan on hiring a campervan for a roadtrip across Iceland, you’ll most likely notice that there are a lot of sheep. You’ll often see them straying across unfenced roads while you’re out and about. Icelandic sheep are one of the purest breeds in the world. It was originally been imported to Iceland in the 9th and 10th centuries by Viking settlers.
The delicious and succulent lamb is often on the menu at Icelandic restaurants and family dinners. Flavor-packed roasts and savory are a staple of traditional Icelandic food. Since the animals graze on the grasses and wild herbs of Iceland all day long, their meat is especially flavorsome. Not to mention, there are hardly any antibiotics used in Icelandic farming! That makes the final product absolutely delectable.
3. Fish and Seafood
Fish and seafood has been one of the mainstays of Icelandic cuisine for centuries, after all, the country was built on fishing. It is still one of the main industries here, helping to revive Iceland’s economy after the financial crisis of 2008. From the freshest Atlantic Cod fish and chips to delicious langoustine dishes, seafood lovers will be in their element in Iceland.
Whether grilled, roasted, fried, stewed, or even mashed, as in the traditional mashed fish stew called Plokkfiskur, fish is a staple of Icelandic cuisine. As well as a feature of many traditional Icelandic meals, fish is a popular snack food throughout Iceland. Hardfiskur, which is Icelandic fish jerky made by wind-drying cod or haddock, can be found in most Icelandic supermarkets.
4. Fermented Shark
Speaking of fish, let’s move on to the Icelandic classic you’ve probably heard of: fermented shark. One of the ‘acquired tastes’ that we mentioned earlier, fermented shark is a very traditional bar snack in Iceland.
Many visitors wrongly believe this is Iceland's national food! If you hit a few bar tops in Reykjavík, you’ll likely be dared to try it, so brace yourself. Fermented shark has a strong and pungent flavor with a chewy texture. It’s safe to say the majority of people will probably find it a little… what shall we say? Challenging.
The origins of this snack date back to Iceland’s early years. Centuries ago, food was pretty scarce here, so the locals used any means that they could to preserve foodstuff for leaner times. Dried fish was a popular dish, as was fermented shark meat. Although fermented shark is no longer part of daily Icelandic cuisine, the dish played an important role in Iceland’s culinary heritage. That's why it had to be included in this Iceland cuisine guide!
5. Brennivín Liquor
Brennivín, also known as Black Death, is a strong, clear liquor traditional to Iceland, usually served in shots during festive occasions. This potent signature spirit of Iceland carries the warm, earthy flavors of cumin, as well as the licorice and citrus notes of caraway.
Looking for a classic pairing with much traditional Icelandic cuisine? Brennivín goes perfectly with fish dishes, such as pickled herring. Perhaps most famously known as being the perfect chaser for fermented shark, Brennivín helps to neutralize the strong fishy taste of this dish. If you’re not a fan of liquor, you might like to visit a traditional Icelandic brewery instead, where you can sample some homebrewed craft beer.
6. Reykjavík’s Hot Dogs (Pylsur)
One of Iceland’s most ubiquitous foods has to be the humble hot dog. It is the go-to snack for Icelandic people out and about in the towns and cities. Icelanders even consider it to be the unofficial, national dish of Iceland! Fast, tasty and affordable, it is popular with visitors, too. For your fix, be on the lookout for hot dog vans parked up in towns and villages.
Fortunately, Reykjavík is home to the most long-standing and famous hot dog stand of them all: Baejarins Beztu Pylsur. In business for over 60 years, this legendary spot can be found down at the old city harbor. You won’t be able to miss it, since it always has a long line of residents and tourists alike waiting outside.
A staple of Reykjavík cuisine, the most popular option is the legendary-blended beef, lamb and pork dog with all the toppings. From fried onions to an array of tasty sauces, you’re in for a real flavor sensation.
7. Icelandic Rye Bread
Rye bread is another staple of Icelandic cuisine with an interesting history. Traditionally, rye bread was baked underground using geothermal heat. The dough was put into a clay pot and buried in the ground for a full day of baking. Talk about quality homemade bread!
This practice still continues in some bakeries today. If you do visit a traditional geothermal bakery, make sure you try it hot from the pot! Alternatively, you can take a trip to one of Reykjavik’s top cafés to sample some traditional rye bread. Enjoy your Icelandic rye bread with butter and a sprinkle of sea salt, or piled with cream cheese and smoked Icelandic salmon.
8. Geothermal Tomato Soup
We know this might sound like an odd recommendation for such a northerly country. Obviously, these Mediterranean fruits are not native to the Arctic! But this is where the country’s geothermal energy kicks in yet again. Today, tomatoes are cultivated in Iceland year round in large glasshouses heated by geothermal energy.
Some of these geothermal farms are open to visitors and are combined with cafés. There, you can taste the produce in the form of a warming and nourishing tomato soup – perfect for a cold evening. If you visit one, such as Fridheimar in Southern Iceland, which is around 1 hour 20 minutes by car from Reykjavík, you’ll find out that they use no pesticides. This means that every tomato is organic and totally delicious.
9. Ice Cream
Going out for ice cream is pretty much a way of life in Iceland. This might seem a little strange given the average temperatures in this chilly country, but many people say that eating ice cream keeps them warm. You’ll have to try it for yourself to find out if that reigns true for you!
When touring Iceland, you’ll find that nearly every town and village will have a busy ice cream parlor to visit. Once inside, you’ll likely feel like a kid in a sweet shop. There is an abundance of tantalizing flavors to try, plus some unusual ones you’ve most likely never seen before, such as rye bread flavor!
As in many Nordic countries, people just adore licorice, which is known as lakkrís in Icelandic. In the harsh subarctic cold of Iceland’s climate, many plants were simply unable to grow. Licorice, however, doesn’t need to flower, as the root is edible. This made licorice one of the few sweets available in Iceland for many centuries.
In modern Iceland, you’ll find this sweet go-to snack in many forms and flavors from soft to hard, chewy to sweet, and even salted. However, if you have a sweet tooth, you might like to try the traditional Icelandic cuisine of licorice smothered in chocolate. Iceland was the first country to start chocolate-covered licorice production. You’ll also be able to find licorice-flavored ice cream, licorice-covered raisins and licorice gummies.
Taste Traditional Icelandic Cuisine For Yourself
Has our Iceland cuisine guide whet your appetite? Ready to discover traditional Icelandic cuisine for yourself? Give your taste buds a treat by sampling some of these unique and delicious Icelandic delicacies. Whether in Reykjavík or a remote mountain village, Icelandic food will not disappoint. Get set for your once-in-a-lifetime trip to Iceland by reserving your campervan in Iceland now! Give yourself the ultimate freedom to explore this remarkable country and all the food it has to offer.