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Traditional Icelandic Foods Guide

    Updated: 29th January 2024

    Icelandic cuisine offers a unique culinary adventure for your taste buds, combining a rich history with the fresh, natural produce of a country that’s surrounded by the ocean and graced with untainted landscapes. Whether you’re curious about the traditional meals or the modern foods that are shaping contemporary Icelandic diets, your palate is in for an intriguing journey.

    Selection of Icelandic foods
    Credit: Jason

    Traditional Dishes

    Exploring Icelandic cuisine offers you a taste of unique flavours and traditional cooking methods. Here are some iconic dishes that have stood the test of time in Icelandic culture.

    Plokkfiskur

    Plokkfiskur is a comforting fish stew that typically blends boiled cod or haddock with potatoes. It’s often served with rye bread and butter, providing a homely and satisfying meal, especially during the cold Icelandic winters. Discover more about this hearty dish on Swedish Nomad.

    Hangikjöt

    Hangikjöt, meaning ‘hung meat’, is a form of smoked lamb that’s considered a must-try for any meat lover. The smoking process infuses the lamb with a unique flavour that’s often associated with Icelandic Yule tradition. Savour the taste, usually complemented by a rich béchamel sauce and boiled potatoes.

    Hákarl

    Get adventurous with Hákarl, a notorious Icelandic dish made from fermented shark. The shark is cured with a particular fermentation process and hung to dry for several months. Hákarl has a strong ammonia-rich smell and a distinctive taste, often chased with a shot of Brennivín, Iceland’s signature spirit.

    Harðfiskur

    Harðfiskur is dried fish, usually cod or haddock, and it’s a popular Icelandic snack. It’s typically enjoyed with some butter and has a chewy texture and concentrated fish flavour. The Planet D notes it as not just a snack but a vital source of protein in the Icelandic diet.

    Seafood Specialities

    Icelandic waters teem with an abundant variety of seafood, making it a central part of the Icelandic diet. You’ll find that dishes like Lobster Soup, Gravlax, and Fish and Chips have a unique Icelandic twist, combining tradition with the fresh flavours of the Atlantic.

    Lobster Soup

    Your trip to Iceland isn’t complete without savouring the rich and comforting Lobster Soup. Often referred to as “Humarsúpa” in Icelandic, this soup is a creamy blend containing chunks of succulent lobster meat. The delicious broth typically has a base of lobster stock and is enriched with cream, spices, and herbs, creating a warming dish perfect for Iceland’s chilly climate. For a taste of this local favourite, the seafood restaurants in Reykjavík are renowned for their version of the classic Lobster Soup.

    Gravlax

    Gravlax, a Scandinavian delicacy, is salmon cured with sugar, salt, and dill. In Iceland, you’ll find Gravlax served as an appetiser, thinly sliced and often accompanied by a dill and mustard sauce known as “hovmästarsås”. The curing process brings out the salmon’s vibrant flavours and gives it a wonderfully tender texture. If you want to try making your own, local markets provide high-quality fresh salmon that embodies the essence of Iceland’s cold waters.

    Fish and Chips

    While Fish and Chips might sound distinctly British, the Icelandic take on this dish is something you must try. Freshly caught cod or haddock is the star of the show, fried until golden and flaky, then served with crispy chips. To add a local twist, try fish and chips with a side of rye bread or Plokkfiskur, a traditional fish stew. In Iceland, this comfort food is often enjoyed with artisanal sauces, from tangy tartar to creamy garlic, and a refreshing local beer.

    Dairy Delicacies

    Iceland’s dairy products are a cornerstone of local cuisine, celebrated for their quality and unique characteristics. You’re in for a treat with Iceland’s dairy delicacies, where traditional methods meet contemporary tastes.

    Skyr

    Skyr might remind you of yoghurt, but it’s a unique dairy product with a much thicker consistency and a tangy flavour that you’re bound to love. It’s been a staple in Icelandic diets for over a thousand years and is traditionally made from pasteurised skimmed milk. Here’s a delightful fact – it’s loaded with protein but wonderfully low in fat, making Skyr a healthy choice. You can enjoy it with a sprinkle of sugar, mixed with milk, or topped with fresh berries for a delicious meal at any time of the day.

    Smjör

    When you spread the creamy Smjör on your morning toast, you’ll taste the rich, buttery flavour that only comes from Icelandic butter. With its high butterfat content, it lends a luxurious texture and deep taste that can elevate the simplest dish. Here’s a tip: try Smjör melted over hot, steaming potatoes or on top of traditional rye bread – the result is absolutely divine.

    Breads and Pastries

    Your journey through Icelandic cuisine wouldn’t be complete without savouring the rich variety of breads and pastries. These baked goods hold a special place in Iceland’s culinary heart.

    Rúgbrauð

    Rúgbrauð, or Icelandic rye bread, is a densely textured, dark bread with a slightly sweet taste. It’s traditionally baked in the ground using geothermal heat, which gives it a unique undercurrent of earthiness. Often served with butter or smoked fish, Rúgbrauð is not only delicious but also a staple that you’ll find at almost any meal, symbolising Iceland’s ingenious use of their natural resources.

    Kleinur

    Kleinur are a beloved Icelandic pastry, akin to a twisted doughnut, but with a character all of its own. They’re fried to achieve a perfectly golden exterior while maintaining a soft and airy inside. Each bite offers a slightly spicy taste, typically owing to the cardamom seasoning that sets kleinur apart from other sweet treats. A glimpse into Iceland’s local bakeries and you’ll see these tasty pastries charming everyone from locals to tourists alike.

    Laufabrauð

    Laufabrauð, or ‘leaf bread’, is typically associated with the Christmas season and is renowned for its delicate, intricately patterned artistry. You’ll appreciate the thin and crispy texture, an outcome of careful handcrafting and deep-frying. Laufabrauð isn’t just food; it’s an edible art form, often made in family gatherings to celebrate the festive spirit, bringing both beauty and flavour to your plate.

    Soups and Stews

    In the culinary landscape of Iceland, you’ll find hearty soups and stews that are a testament to the nation’s ability to make the most of its local ingredients. These dishes are a cornerstone of Icelandic cuisine and offer a warming embrace from the Nordic chill.

    Meat Soup

    Your Icelandic culinary adventure wouldn’t be complete without savouring the traditional meat soup, known locally as Kjötsúpa. This soup typically features tender pieces of lamb and a mix of root vegetables like potatoes, carrots, and rutabagas. It’s seasoned with a blend of herbs that often includes lovage and thyme, which infuse the broth with a fragrant and earthy aroma.

    Fish Stew

    If you’re fond of seafood, you’ll be delighted by the variety of fish stews on offer in Iceland. One popular variant is Plokkfiskur, a comforting blend of white fish, commonly cod or haddock, and potatoes in a velvety white sauce. It’s often enhanced with onions and black pepper and served with rye bread, making for a wholesome and satisfying meal that will leave you feeling content.

    Festive Foods

    As you explore the festive foods of Iceland, you’ll discover unique flavours and traditions that make the holiday season truly special. From the delicate patterns of Laufabrauð to the rich taste of Hangikjöt, these dishes are a testament to Iceland’s culinary heritage.

    Laufabrauð

    Laufabrauð, also known as “leaf bread,” is a traditional Icelandic Christmas delicacy. You take thin sheets of dough, intricately carve them into beautiful patterns, and then quickly fry them until they are crisp and golden. These delightful treats are often made in a festive gathering, emphasising family and community during the holiday season.

    Jólabrauð

    Also known as Christmas bread, Jólabrauð is a sweet loaf that is typically enjoyed during the Christmas period. It’s characterised by a rich, spiced flavour, with hints of cardamom and cinnamon. Your holiday experience wouldn’t be complete without a slice of this bread, often served with butter or as an accompaniment to a warm cup of coffee or cocoa.

    Hangikjöt

    Hangikjöt, meaning “hung meat,” refers to the traditional Icelandic smoked lamb that is a centrepiece at Christmas meals. You’ll savour its savoury and smoky flavour, commonly served with potatoes, peas and a creamy sauce. This dish is not only a gastronomic delight but also a soul-warming link to Iceland’s pastoral heritage.

    Snacks and Sides

    In your Icelandic culinary adventure, be sure to indulge in the comforting selection of snacks and sides that feature both traditional flavours and unique ingredients.

    Flatkökur

    Flatkökur is your go-to for a tasty, unleavened bread that pairs perfectly with butter, smoked lamb, or hangikjöt. This soft, rye flatbread is a staple in Icelandic cuisine, versatile enough for a quick snack or part of a larger meal.

    Fermented Shark

    For the more daring foodies, fermented shark, or hákarl, is a polarising delicacy that’s not for the faint-hearted. Cured and dried over several months, it’s an unforgettable taste of Iceland’s culinary heritage.

    Dried Fish

    Hardfiskur, or dried fish, is an immensely popular snack, often likened to jerky. Rich in protein, it’s commonly enjoyed with butter, offering a crunchy, savoury treat that’s found in most Icelandic homes.

    Beverages

    In Iceland, your palate is in for a delightful adventure with a variety of unique beverages, some of which hold a special place in the country’s culture and celebrations.

    Brennivín

    Brennivín, often referred to as Iceland’s signature liquor, is an unsweetened schnapps that’s considered a national drink. It’s traditionally enjoyed during the midwinter festival Þorrablót, but you can savour its distinctive caraway flavour all year round.

    Christmas Ale

    Christmas Ale, or Jólaöl, is a festive treat that you’ll find filling the glasses of locals during the yuletide season. It’s a special blend of beer and malt ale, creating a sweet and hearty beverage that perfectly complements Iceland’s wintry holiday fare.

    Skyr Smoothies

    Rich in protein and deliciously thick, skyr is a dairy product similar to yogurt that’s a staple in Icelandic diets. Transformed into skyr smoothies, it becomes a refreshingly healthy drink option, blended with fruits and sometimes sweetened with honey or sugar.

    Check out the best places to eat around Iceland with our restaurant guides!

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