Iceland is surrounded by ocean, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that fish and seafood is a big part of the Icelandic cuisine. Most of the traditional Icelandic food revolves around fish, dairy, bread, potatoes, and lamb.
The roots of Iceland’s cuisine comes from the Scandinavian cuisine after Norse Vikings settled here during the 9th century and onwards.
Today, food from all over the world is widely available at the restaurants in Reykjavik and other cities. A lot of the restaurants specialize in seafood with an emphasis on quality of products, rather than the traditional ways of cooking.
No visit to Iceland is complete without eating skyr, a thick and creamy dairy product, similar to Greek yoghurt which is made with a bacteria culture and skimmed milk, low in fat and high in protein. It has been a staple of Iceland for centuries and now is considered trendy and sold in many countries. It can be eaten au natural or flavoured with fruit any time of the day as it is not considered a breakfast item.
Håkarl – Dried Fermented Shark
More of a heritage than an everyday dish, but the Icelanders take great pride in their cuisine. The shark can be pickled, dried, or smoked and sometimes even soaked in urine, it is then buried underground for several months to preserve it. Expect a strong smell and an ammonia taste. Living in such a hostile environment the Icelanders had to be creative and preserve their food in the winter months. These days if you ask for fermented shark in a restaurant it will be pickled in vinegar and other natural ingredients. It is also something that you may not rush back to eat again but worth a try if you are feeling intrepid and have a strong stomach.
Iceland has some of the best lamb in the world and is considered a gourmet meat by the locals. The sheep are allowed to roam freely and live on a diet of grass, berries and seaweed. The lamb has a mild taste and is tender, it also requires little seasoning. The Icelandic sheep have been developed in total isolation, they are not given any growth hormones so the meat is completely natural. Just as an aside, there are 3 times more sheep than Icelanders.
The holy grail of Icelandic food is the hot dog. It is not considered a fast food but an every day staple. The taste is very different from the standard American counter part. The hot dog is mainly made from lamb with some pork and beef, however all the meat is organic as it lives in a clean and prime environment. Even the casing is natural so you get that satisfying snap when you bite into one. Hot dogs are sold in convenience stores and gas stations and served in a small cardboard box or wax paper. The hot dog comes in a warm steamed bun with accompaniments such as raw white onions, crispy fried onions, ketchup, a sweet brown mustard called pylsusinnep and a remoulade sauce which consists of a mayonnaise with capers, mustard and herbs. Buy two, because one will not be enough.
Rúgbrauð – Icelandic Dark Rye Bread
A staple of Iceland is the rye bread or lava bread. It is dark brown, dense, moist and slightly sweet. Traditionally it is cooked in a pot for 24 hours and buried 30 cm underground near a hot spring or geyser. It may have a slight sulphuric taste due to the geothermals used in the cooking process. There is very little yeast used in the bread and the flour is all rye so it is perfect for anyone with a gluten intolerance. It is the ideal accompaniment for dried fish, cream cheese or smoked salmon and perfect slathered in Icelandic butter.