- Recently Updated: November 2022
Icelandic food has evolved very little ever since the country’s colonization over centuries ago and many of its unique culinary offerings are famed making Reykjavik one of the best travel places to visit in Europe.
More than a third of Iceland’s population resides in and around Reykjavik, the country’s capital which boasts tons of restaurants offering traditional and contemporary Icelandic cuisine.
From lambs to trout and the legendary Icelandic skyr ( creamy yogurt ). It’s safe to say that traditional Icelandic food scene is not short of choice because of the country’s abundance of clean water and natural habitat.
Over the last few years, popular food in Iceland has grown leaps and bounds. From humble beginnings of frozen pizza, fermented shark to today’s variety of high quality lamb and fresh seafood.
It’s no wonder tourists are flocking to the country to experience authentic Icelandic dishes that pairs pretty well with the country’s leading alcohol brands.
What Traditional Dishes To Try When Visiting Iceland
Iceland is one of the happiest and safest locations on the globe, according to numerous statistics. The locals are quite gentle and family-oriented, and there is a strong sense of belonging and trust in the community.
All types of seafood and grass-fed lambs are used in traditional Icelandic food. For millennia, Iceland was an isolated island surrounded by the frigid Atlantic Ocean with rough terrain.
There were few things available for the people to consume. The hardy Icelanders (slendingar) had to survived the long cold months by eating lambs that they had raised and by capturing wild fish.
Fortunately, the chilly and pure Atlantic Ocean is home to some of the healthiest marine species. So yeah, although traditional Icelandic food is basic in some ways, it’s also one of the healthiest on the planet.
Icelanders favorite alcohol include menthol and eucalyptus flavors and used to eat them as hard chewable candies when they were kids. Ölgerðin, that distribute these spirits also sells non-alcoholic chewable candies with the same flavors.
Icelandic youngsters are already acquainted with the tastes of this form of liquor from a young age before they are old enough to start drinking the real thing.
By the time they grow up, they have linked the flavor of these liquor candies with happy childhood memories. I’m not sure whether that’s brilliant or insane but it seems to work in Iceland.
We had Stockfish for dinner, a popular Icelandic dish with a long history. It goes super well with Brennivin which is a famous Iceland alcohol drink. The pairing was nice since the charming local guide had taught me so much about the old Icelandic F&B tradition ways.
The foodie tours that local establishments provide for visitors to taste and understand traditional Icelandic cuisine are highly recommended to try.
1. Hangikjöt (Smoked Lamb)
The Icelanders favorite Christmas meal is Icelandic smoked lamb. It’s everything an Icelandic holiday meal should be: delicate, nutritious, and delicious. But, read how it’s prepared and cooked using nature’s fossil fuels.
“Dry-salted or brine-pickled Hangikjöt traditional smoked lamb is cold-smoked over a fire fed by dried sheep dung. The method of smoking over a fire adds a distinct flavor to the meat”.
It’s usually served with boiled potatoes, white Béchamel sauce, Peas, and Pickled Red cabbage as a warm meal for lunch or supper. It’s comparable to ham as a cold snack that you may place on a piece of bread.
2. Kjötspa (Lamb Soup)
Kjötsùpa is often regarded as the most iconic Icelandic dish. It was initially interpreted as meat soup since lamb was considered a protein staple for many years.
Kjötsùpa is prepared using organic free-range, grass-fed lamb and a variety of hardy vegetables grown by the people in these tough conditions (such as potato, carrots, onion).
It’s still a popular dish in Iceland, whether served in restaurants or prepared at home. Perfect for giving you an energy boost on chilly winter days.
3. Pylsur Icelandic Hotdog (Lamb Hot Dog)
Locals and tourists alike like Icelandic lamb hot dogs. Since 1936, the Bjarins Beztu Pylsur hot dog stand (which translates to “best hot dogs in town”) has proudly served them near the waterfront in Reykjavik.
Fresh Icelandic lamb is used to make the trademark Icelandic hot dog, which is served on a warm bun with raw white onions, crispy fried onions, ketchup, remoulade (mayo, capers, mustard, herbs), and pylsusinnep (brown mustard).
4. Atlantic Sea Trout
Trout is perhaps the most popular and common saltwater fish in the world, second only to salmon. I’m sure you’ve tried them before since it’s sold in shops all around the world but the trout harvested or farmed in the Atlantic Ocean is the healthiest available.
Icelandic sea trout can eat a lot of nutritious food in the sea and grow very big because of the Atlantic Ocean’s diverse marine life. They have few natural predators which allows them to breed swiftly and naturally.
Fresh fish is available on the menus of all Icelandic restaurants and many of them also offers “catch of the day,” which may or may not be Trout. Matur og drykkur restaurant, prides itself on preserving traditional Icelandic food.
This Michelin guide restaurant also offers Codhead, a centuries-old delicacy. It does not look to be as terrifying as it appears. The Codhead is cooked for 40 minutes on a barbeque pit and has a lot of soft rich flesh to chow down.
5. Langoustines Creamy Soup
One of the most popular meals at Greifinn Veitingahús family friendly restaurant in Reykjavik is the Icelandic Langoustine (little lobster) soup. Icelandic lobster is fished in the wild (and never cultivated) off Iceland’s south coast.
The lobster flesh is very delicate, flavorful and the lobster soup is creamy and salty making it a true treat at any time of the year. It’s always served with toast or pieces of baguette.
6. Plokkfiskur (Fish Stew)
Plokkfiskur is a well-known simple Iceland’s national stew. Cooked and mashed Atlantic fish, flour, milk, potatoes and onions seasoned with salt and pepper. The name means “plucked fish or pulled fish” because it’s a dish from a day’s before leftovers.
The Plokkfiskur was created centuries ago as a way to utilize and mix up all the leftovers from other Icelandic meals. This habit as well as others (such as eating Codhead), are examples of ancient Icelandic mentality.
Food was rare and hard to come by in Iceland, therefore they treasured it and never wasted a mouthful. Plokkfiskur goes well with handmade rye bread which is a traditional Icelandic bread.
7. Arctic Char
Icelandic freshwaters are home to Arctic char (Iceland has many crystal clear rivers, lakes and streams). It’s the most common freshwater fish on the coastal waters and it’s also the world’s biggest producer of Arctic char.
It is fished and farmed, but no medication products are made from it. This kind of fish may be unfamiliar to you but it belongs to the Salmonidae family, which means it is closely related to Salmon.
It has a delicate, sweet, buttery flavor that reminds me of salmon and trout (somewhere in the middle between them). This species of fish are usually found on Nordic countries.
Arctic char may be prepared in a number of different ways. It may be cooked, smoked, grilled, broiled, or barbecued; it can be served with mushrooms, vegetables, or fries; it can be prepared in a variety of ways to suit your preferences.
Brennivin & Flóki
Iceland Most Famous Alcohol
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Brennivin is a word that has a lot of different meanings. This is one of those Iceland alcohol drinks that are produced or enjoyed locally. Brennivin, also known as Black Death, after all, what else could a Viking drink be called!
This beverage is a powerful grain schnapps from Scandinavia that has been a part of Icelandic culture since the 16th century. Sugar are sometimes added but mainly it’s prepared with fermented potato mash and caraway seeds.
This Iceland alcohol beverage is similarly related with Vodka with an Alcoholic Vol of 40%.
It’s often served after main courses particularly with Iceland’s signature fermented shark dish Hàkarl. The cured Greenland or Nordic countries shark meat is often chopped into cubes and served with a shot of Brennivin.
The Icelandic Flóki sheep dunk smoked reserve whiskey is named after Hrafna-Flki, a Norseman who was the first to set foot on Icelandic territory.
Distilled in Iceland with Icelandic natural spring water and malted with local sheep dung. Though, it may be the best sheep dung smoked single malt (ALC VOL 47%), this is not a bottle you want to bring home just because you want something totally unique.
Nonetheless, eat and drink like an Icelander if you’re in the country. Flóki whiskey pairs superbly with Harfiskur, which is a mainstay of the traditional Icelandic cuisine.
It’s a rough, papery, and chewy feel dish using Haddock, cod, and wolfish fish.
When traveling to Iceland, nothing beats a bowl of traditional Icelandic soup in winter season or a plate of healthily prepared fresh Icelandic fish.
Many visitors are drawn by its natural beauty but it’s good to know that the country’s traditional food is also an appealing attraction.
Magnús, my excellent local guide has taught me that Icelandic food is also something to look forward when visiting this Nordic country in a far-flung part of North Atlantic.