Iceland Food Revealed: Lamb, Shark, and Beyond - What's on the Viking's Plate?

Iceland Food

blog authorBy Johanna Sigurðardóttir shield verificationVerified Expert

    Have you ever wondered what cooking is like in Iceland? Well, you're in luck because we're about to dive into the delicious and intriguing world of Iceland food. With intimate knowledge of Iceland's culinary scene, we're your go-to guides for everything from Viking feasts to the cool, modern twists that define today's Icelandic cuisine.

    Iceland's food is a journey of taste, steeped in history and bursting with innovation. Think of it as a plateful of history and tradition served with a side of creativity. Ready to explore what makes Icelandic cuisine stand out? Let's embark on this flavorful adventure together!

    A Brief History of Food in Iceland

    Icelandic cuisine, a culinary saga as epic as the land itself, began with the Vikings setting foot on this rugged terrain. Rooted deeply in Scandinavian fare, Iceland's food has evolved from the simple sustenance of medieval settlers who farmed oats and barley and embraced a menagerie of livestock. The sea's generous bounty graced their tables with an abundance of fish, becoming a staple alongside dairy delights crafted from every milk imaginable.

    Ingenuity in food preservation transformed necessity into art, giving rise to a smorgasbord of fermented, smoked, salted, and even jellied dishes to withstand the island's formidable climate. The early settlements and Viking influence underscore a legacy of sustainability and resourcefulness, where nothing went to waste.

    Their culinary methods, born from a blend of adaptation and survival, set the table for Iceland's food culture to flourish even in the face of geographic isolation and harsh climates. Today, this resilient spirit lives on as modern Icelandic cuisine marries time-honored practices with contemporary flavors and techniques, showcasing an innovative culinary scene that's as dynamic and captivating as the northern lights.

    Food in Iceland

    11 Traditional Icelandic Food Dishes You Can't-Miss

    Now that you know a bit about the history of Icelandic cuisine, let's dive into some of the delicious dishes that make up its vibrant culinary landscape. From hearty and flavorful meat dishes to unique seafood offerings, here are 13 typical Icelandic food dishes that you simply can't miss when visiting this beautiful country:

    1. Plokkfiskur (Pulled Fish)

    Plokkfiskur is not just a dish; it's a warm hug from the icy waters of Iceland. Imagine, if you will, the ultimate comfort food, where the humble potato meets the mighty fish from the cold Atlantic, mashed together in a culinary dance with a luscious béchamel sauce. This dish is a testament to Icelandic culinary wisdom, turning leftovers into a feast that could easily be the highlight of your day.

    Using primarily haddock or cod, Plokkfiskur, or 'Plokkari' to those who hold it dear, is the epitome of Iceland traditional food. Its origin story? A brilliant example of Icelandic ingenuity—transforming the simple into the sublime. It's like they looked at the leftover fish and said, 'No, my friend, your journey is not over.'

    They added potatoes, a bit of this creamy, silky béchamel sauce, and voilà! A dish that embodies the very soul of Icelandic cuisine was born. It's no wonder it holds a special place in the heart of Iceland's traditional food landscape. When in Iceland, missing out on Plokkfiskur is like skipping the Northern Lights—simply unthinkable!

    Iceland fish soup

    2. Hákarl (Fermented Shark)

    Hákarl is the legendary Icelandic national dish that separates culinary adventurers from mere tourists. Imagine, if you will, an old Norse Viking, weathered and wise, poking at a Greenland shark and thinking, 'Aye, this will make a fine dish after it's cured for months beneath the very soil we conquer.'

    Made from the Greenland sharks (or other sleeper sharks), notorious for their fresh toxicity due to high urea and trimethylamine oxide content, Hákarl takes you on a daring taste quest. It undergoes a unique fermentation process, initially buried in a shallow pit and then hung to dry for 4 to 5 months, creating a dish that is both a survival technique and a bold culinary statement.

    The flavor? Oh, brace yourself for an aroma of intense ammonia and a taste that's an acquired symphony of old cheese, a whiff of ammonia with a sweet, nutty undertone that finishes with a surprisingly pleasant, subtly fishy aftertaste. The smell might remind you of an epic saga of changing a valiant newborn Viking's nappies, but ah, the taste transcends the olfactory prelude. 

    If you're itching to try this chewy delicacy, march to the Viking Village Restaurant (Fjorukrain) near Reykjavík, where Hákarl is served with pride alongside a feast of Icelandic marvels. It's an experience!

    Icelandic hakarl

    3. Svið (Singled Sheep Head)

    Alright, brace yourselves for Svið, the showstopper of traditional Iceland food! Now, this dish is not for the faint-hearted, but if you're game, it's a culinary adventure like no other. Picture a sheep's head, cut in half, brain thoughtfully removed, and singed to perfection to bid adieu to any lingering wool. It's then boiled to the brink of tenderness, offering a delicate bite that'll have your taste buds singing an Icelandic saga of their own.

    Served with a hearty side of mashed turnips or fluffy potatoes, Svið creates a symphony of flavors and textures that dance together in perfect harmony. This dish is a testament to the Icelandic ethos of respect and resourcefulness, turning something as daunting as a sheep's head into a delicacy that's steeped in tradition and bursting with taste.

    Feeling brave? Then head on over to Café Loki, where Svið is not just a meal but an experience. Right in the heart of Reykjavík, Café Loki prides itself on serving up traditional Iceland food that tells a story on every plate. Sampling Svið here isn't just about eating; it's about immersing yourself in the Icelandic way of life, one bold bite at a time. 

    Svid in Iceland

    4. Harðfiskur (Dried Icelandic Fish)

    Harðfiskur is the snack that whispers, 'Iceland' with every crispy, chewy bite. This isn't just dried fish, folks; it's a hearty wink from the Icelandic seas, transformed into a protein-packed powerhouse that could give any jerky a run for its money. Made from the most stalwart warriors of the ocean—cod, haddock, wolfish—this quintessential Icelandic snack is more than a treat; it's a tradition.

    Imagine rows of white fish strung up like flags of victory against the Nordic breeze, their flavors intensifying under the vigilant guard of the wind, keeping those pesky flies at bay. What emerges is a jerky-like marvel, boasting not just a burst of oceanic flavor but a treasure trove of Vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids, and enough energy to fuel your own Viking conquest.

    Eaten with a dab of salted butter, it's the snack that tells a tale, the essence of Iceland food in every bite. Wander into any Icelandic grocery, and there it is—your bite of tradition, a crunchy, fishy, delightful passport to centuries of Icelandic lore.

    icelandic cuisine

    5. Hangikjöt (Smoked Icelandic Lamb)

    Strap in culinary daredevils for a ride back to the Viking Age with Hangikjöt, or as it's affectionately known, 'dung-smoked lamb.' Oh yes, you read that right. This delicacy is the Sven-Göran Eriksson of Iceland cuisine—resourceful, rugged, and utterly remarkable.

    Imagine Icelandic settlers, beards glistening in the frosty air, pondering, 'How do we preserve our precious lamb with not a tree in sight for smoking?' Eureka! Icelandic sheep dung to the rescue! Slow-smoked to perfection over a fire fueled by what the land generously offered, Hangikjöt emerged as a smoky, succulent marvel that has danced through the centuries to become the crowning jewel of Icelandic feasts.

    Served cold, sliced thin, and laid atop bread or flatbread, it's not just a meal; it's a slice of Viking innovation. And for those yearning for a taste of tradition, Hver restaurant offers an authentic Hangikjöt experience that'll have you singing Icelandic sagas of culinary conquest.

    Icelandic smoked Icelandic lamb

    6. Rúgbrauð (Rye Bread)

    Ah, Rúgbrauð, the rockstar of traditional Icelandic food, charming carb lovers with its dense, yet magically moist texture, and a sweetness that whispers tales of ancient Viking feasts. This isn't your ordinary loaf; oh no, it's a culinary relic!

    Thriving on the economic smarts of relying on rye grains, this bread is a testament to Icelandic ingenuity. Icelandic rye bread is baked in the very bosom of Mother Earth, using geothermal heat that tickles it into perfection over 24 hours; it's a bold expression of love from the land itself. Now, imagine pairing this slightly sweet marvel with a slice of cheese or a dollop of butter - it's like a hug from Odin!

    And if you're feeling particularly adventurous, why not dive into the Rye Bread Tour? Get down and doughy with an earth-baked baking session that ends with a steaming slice of rúgbrauð, making every bite a moment to treasure.

    Rugbraud, Icelandic bread

    7. Skyr (Icelandic Yogurt)

    Jump into the creamy dream that is Skyr, the superhero of the dairy aisle! This isn't just your average yogurt; it's a thick, protein-packed, centuries-old champion of typical Icelandic food. Originating nearly 1,000 years ago, Skyr is the stuff of legends, crafted from the wizardry of special heirloom Icelandic cultures.

    This culinary marvel is so rich and luxurious that regular yogurt looks like a mere sidekick. It takes a whopping four cups of milk to conjure just one cup of this creamy delight. Talk about efficiency, right?

    And for those wandering the mystical lands of Iceland, Skyr is as easy to spot as a Viking in a convenience store, reigning supreme in the dairy section amongst its yogurt kin. It's the delicious, creamy badge of Icelandic pride, offering a taste of tradition in every spoonful.


    8. Pylsur (Icelandic Hot Dogs)

    Hold onto your hats, culinary adventurers because we're about to take a whimsical wander into the world of Pylsur, the Icelandic hot dog that's so much more than a snack—it's a cultural icon! Ubiquitous in Icelandic cuisine, this delightful treat reigns supreme as the unofficial national dish, warming the hearts and bellies of locals and visitors alike.

    Fast, tasty, and oh-so affordable, it's the knight in shining armor for anyone craving a quick bite across the frosty towns and cities of Iceland. The crown jewel? Reykjavík's Baejarins Beztu Pylsur, a legendary hot dog stand boasting over 60 glorious years of history, is snugly placed at the old city harbor.

    The queues are long, a clear sign of its unwavering popularity and the promise of a uniquely Icelandic flavor experience. Picture it—a succulent blend of beef, lamb, and pork, snuggly tucked into a bun and loaded with all the trimmings. Truly, a must-try marvel!

    Pylsur, Icelandic hot dogs

    9. Geothermal Tomato Soup

    Buckle up, soup lovers, because Iceland's bringing the heat with its geothermal tomato soup, a dish so steaming with innovation, it'll make your taste buds do the Viking clap! Who'd have thought the land of ice could make the Mediterranean jealous with its tomatoes? Thanks to geothermal energy, Iceland has turned what sounds like a culinary oxymoron into an Icelandic cuisine.

    Picture a vast, gleaming glasshouse, their bellies warmed year-round by the Earth's own fire, growing lush, pesticide-free tomatoes. Yes, in Iceland! Venture into the heart of these geothermal farms, like the famed Fridheimar farm, and you're not just taking a tour; you're stepping into a realm where nature and ingenuity dance cheek to cheek.

    And the best part? Ending your day with a bowl of organic tomato soup in their cozy café, a comforting, heart-warming ode to Icelandic creativity. Trust us, it's not just soup; it's an experience—a must-sip marvel for any visitor!

    typical icelandic food

    10. Brennivín (Black Death)

    Ah, Brennivín, Iceland's notorious 'Black Death,' a moniker that belies its true spirit as the life of the party in the land of fire and ice. This famous Icelandic clear liquor is not for the faint of heart, boasting a bold flavor profile that dances a lively jig of cumin, caraway, and hints of licorice.

    It's like a Viking feast for your taste buds! Perfect for festive shots, Brennivín is the go-to spirit for toasting Iceland's merry-making moments, warming the cockles of your heart with every sip. But wait, it doubles as a culinary cupid, pairing splendidly with fish dishes, especially the iconic pickled herring, elevating this marine morsel to celestial heights.

    Facing the legendary fermented shark? Fear not, for Brennivín is here to tame that fearsome fishy flair, making the daring delicacy a trifle more palatable. 

    11. Kleinur (Icelandic Donuts)

    Step right up, folks, for a chewy chit-chat about Kleinur, the granddaddy of pastry in Iceland. This is no ordinary doughnut; it's a historical hoot, with roots wiggling back to the end of the 18th century, whispering of even more ancient origins. Imagine the very hands of Vikings getting doughy with a kleinujárn, a fancy kleinur cutter, crafted from whale bone because, well, metal was as rare as a sunny day in November.

    These aren't your run-of-the-mill munchies; they're hulking, thick beasts with a deep, dark brown hug and a crispy shell that crunches with history. Bite into one, and you're met with a rich, yellowish heart singing with the zest of cardamom.

    Fancy trying one? They're reigning champions in cafés and supermarkets across Iceland, proving their mettle as a legendary Icelandic treat. Trust us, skipping on Kleinur is like visiting Paris and ignoring the Eiffel Tower – absolutely unthinkable!

    iceland traditional food

    A Digest of Iconic Iceland Food

    And there you have it, folks, a rollicking roll call of Iceland food, where every bite tells a story of fire, ice, and everything nice. This isn't just food; it's a saga of tradition and innovation spooned out from the heart of the volcanic isles. Venturing through Iceland's culinary landscape is like taking a bite out of history, each flavor a window into the soul of this rugged, beautiful land. 

    Want the full experience? Rent a campervan in Iceland, where every stop unveils more of this delicious narrative. From Skyr to Pylsur, Kleinur to Brennivín, immerse yourself in the epic tale of Iceland food – your taste buds will thank you for the adventure!

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