We Icelanders love our food, and even though we are now far more international in our tastes than our forefathers were, the old traditional cuisine still has strong roots in Icelandic culture. Here are the 12 things you must try on your visit for a genuine Iceland experience. Gjörið svo vel, Bon apetit! So, here’s our list of 12 things to eat in Iceland.
1. Hangikjöt – Smoked Lamb
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Hangikjöt is the smoked lamb traditionally served by Icelanders over the Christmas holidays. On the days leading up to Christmas you can literally smell Hangikjöt everywhere. The meat is usually served with potatoes in béchamel sauce and green peas but there are several other imaginative ways to make a meal of this delicious local delicacy. Leftover Hangikjöt can be used on Icelandic flatbread, in sandwiches or as a tasty snack. Hangikjöt is usually boiled but each family will have its own opinion on how to boil it and for how long. Try it with the Christmas favorite Malt & Appelsín, a mix of two soft drinks that has become traditional drink of choice during the holidays.
2. Vatn – Water
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While I realise that water is something you can get everywhere, the Icelandic water is world famous for its unique freshness. Drinking the water straight from the tap, or creek or river if you’re outdoors, is perfectly safe and recommended. Some say the Icelandic water is directly responsible for the Icelandic people’s bright, youthful skin. Gulping down a glass of cold Icelandic water will make you feel instantly revitalised and fresh. It’s basically like an instant detox.
3. Plokkfiskur – Fish Stew
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The Plokkfiskur fish stew is a perennial favorite in Icelandic homes. The dish is both easy to make and delicious. All you have to do is boil fish and potatoes and mash them together with some onions, butter and milk. At least that’s the layman’s version. You’ll also find Plokkfiskur on the menu of many of the fine dining restaurants in the country, prepared with a modern twist by the talented chefs. Icelanders are also obsessed with sauces and adding a little Béarnaise sauce to your Plokkfiskur is magical, take it from me.
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This unassuming Icelandic dairy product has started to enjoy international success due to its big flavor and combination of low fat and high protein. While technically a cheese, Skyr’s texture is more like thick yogurt and can be used similarly to create delicious and healthy desserts. Skyr is mentioned in several of the Icelandic Sagas and not doubt played a part in the rearing of strong, healthy Vikings. Purists will only sprinkle a little sugar on top of pure Skyr but if you’re feeling a little more adventurous, there are several different flavors, like coconut or blueberry, available.
5. Lifrarpylsa – Liver Sausage
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Similar to the Scottish haggis, but without the spices, Lifrarpylsa has been a staple of Icelandic diets for centuries. Pouches are sewn from sheep’s stomachs and filled with a mixture of fat, flour, oats and liver. The making of Lifrarpylsa and its assorted sausages is called Slátur. This is a family activity and many people look forward to it all year. Lifrarpylsa can be eaten either hot or cold and is often served alongside Blóðmör – Blood pudding or on top of Hrísgrjónagrautur –rice pudding.
6. Ein með öllu – Icelandic Hot Dogs
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Often called “The National Dish of Iceland” the Icelandic hot dog is in a league all of its own. Everyone has an opinion on where to get the best hot dog and what you should put on it. If you want the complete experience you should ask for an “Ein með öllu” which translates to “One with everything” One of Reykjavik’s oldest hot dog stands is still one of the most popular. The stand is family run and is currently on its fourth generation of hot dog chefs. The hot dogs are best with an ice cold Kókómjólk chocolate milk and of course another hot dog, because one is never enough!
7. Lakkrís – Licorice
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Icelanders love their licorice in every way, shape or form you can imagine. Icelandic licorice is most commonly salted licorice, not sweet and the natives will not take no for an answer until you’ve tried it. Whether it’s in liquid form, as lozenges or hidden in chocolate, licorice is everywhere in Iceland and we will do our darndest to make you love it.
8. Berjamó – Berry picking
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Berry picking has been an important part of the late summer season in Iceland since the Settlement. Blueberries, bilberries and crowberries are the most common and can be found all over the country. In Viking times you were allowed to pick berries for immediate consumption on private land but harvesting and transporting them off the land was illegal. Nowadays wild harvesting is allowed and going to “Berjamó” is a favorite pastime of Icelandic families. The berries not eaten while picking are made into jam, sprinkled on top of skyr or just eaten on their own with cream and sugar.
9. Jarðhitabrauð – Hot Spring Bread
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Icelanders are resourceful people and we have learned to harvest the country’s natural energy to our benefit. Not only can it be used to heat our houses and provide electricity, but the geothermal energy that’s so abundant in Iceland can be used to cook as well. The most popular thing cooked in the ground is straight rye bread, also known as hot-spring bread. The bread has a sweetness that is unique to Iceland and keeps for a long time, which was very useful for the long winters. It’s best with a good dollop of Icelandic butter. The Fontana geothermal bakery serves visitors freshly made, hot from the ground rye bread twice daily.
10. Grænmeti – Fresh Vegetables
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Due to the island’s harsh conditions growing vegetables is a relatively new venture for Icelanders. However, thanks to geothermally heated greenhouses, vegetables are now grown year round in several places in Iceland. The limited hours of daylight in winter means that artificial light is an important component in the growing of vegetables. The cold winters do however have the advantage of making the environment inhabitable for insect pests, resulting in minimum use of pesticide and cleaner vegetables. the Friðheimar greenhouse allows visitors to come and see how their vegetables are grown and afterwards you can have a little taste in their charming restaurant.
11. Kjötsúpa – Icelandic Meat Soup
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There is nothing better on a cold winter’s night that a warming dish of Icelandic meat soup. Traditionally made with lamb, root vegetables and onions, this soup has been a part of the Icelandic culinary tradition since the beginning. The soup can also be made using other types of meat, like beef or salted meat and sometimes it’s even supplemented with rice or barley. Comfort food at its best, the meat soup will give you the strength to climb mountains, or glaciers for that matter.
12. Jólasmákökur & laufabrauð – Christmas Cookies & Leaf Bread
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Baking is a big part of Christmas preparations in Iceland. Most homes will bake several different kinds of Christmas cookies and most families will have had traditional recipes handed down through generations and will guard them heavily. What Icelanders find absolutely essential to Christmas is the Leaf Bread. Ingredients to make the wafer thin bread were hard to find year-round, except around Christmas and the bread was baked so thin so everyone could have a piece. Decorative patterns are carved into the bread to make it more festive and the most beautiful ones are often hung in windows for decoration.