Icelanders are known for a quite humorous mixture of the most amazing cuisine and then, some of the worst. Somewhere in between scrumptious seafood and incredible lamb dishes you’ll find things like a sheep head and ram testicles. Mostly brought on by the ancient culinary traditions of the Vikings some of which fortuitously still live on today.
However, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that you’ll find fermented shark or a minke whale on the plate of the average Icelander on a regular Tuesday but, some will enjoy it from time to time, especially during festivals like a Thorrablot (an old Viking feast tradition in February). Still, there do remain some traces from the olden times that are still considered proper food today, enjoyed daily. To help guide you through this abundance of options, the good and the bad, I have put together a list of the must-tries. Some of which more demanding on the tastebuds than others but all worthy of your attention!
I know many of you might have tasted rye bread before but you haven’t really until you’ve tasted the Icelandic version. There is just something about the moistness and the subtle sweetness that is just glorious. They go deliciously well with all sorts of toppings but some of my favorites include liver paste (kaefa in Icelandic) and loads of Icelandic butter.
Available at: any bakery, supermarket or fish shop!
Favorite place to get it at: Laugarvatn Fontana Spa where you can taste Rye Bread cooked in a hot spring!
This might just look like the most complicated short Icelandic word you so far have seen but in reality, this is quite simple…and more importantly delicious! You basically pick your ice cream and then three different toppings, they can be candy, sauces, fruits or anything you see in the buffet of yummies in front of you at the ice cream parlor. The ice cream maker will then swirl them together blending each bite to excellency. As you might see from my description, this is my ultimate favorite!
Available at: almost any ice cream shop around Iceland.
Favorite place to get it at: Brynja at Akureyri and Reykjavik, Vesturbæjaris in Reykjavik and Skúbb in Reykjavik.
This is for many their all-time favorite, middle-of-the-week food to have with the family. It is basically fish, usually cod or haddock, potatoes, onions, flour, milk and a cheese topping. What could go wrong!
Luckily for you, this can be purchased already made at most supermarkets and actually also at many restaurants around the country. Preferably served with some rye bread and a glass of cold milk.
Available at: most supermarkets and many restaurants with a traditional menu.
Favorite place to get it at: Einarshús Bolungarvík, Westfjords but at supermarkets, I like Gríms Plokkfiskur the best.
This one you’ll probably know. Icelanders should really have gotten the trademark rights for this dairy treat. Skyr is basically Iceland’s version of greek yogurt or more like the Viking’s version, as the recipe is ancient, though technically it is a soft, fresh cheese. Nowadays you’ll find it almost anywhere in the world but not in the variety as you will in Iceland. My favorite is the creme brulee-flavored one, it’s exquisite!
Available at: any supermarkets and even gas stations. It is also commonly served in some way as a dessert in many restaurants with a more traditional menu.
Kjot is meat and supa is soup, and with this I have pretty much given it away. This is a mouth-watering autumnal dish, much like a lamb stew, that many Icelanders consider to be their favorite. The recipe usually contains carrots, onions, rice, potatoes and, of course, lamb meat and is better tasting the longer it gets to simmer. This is the ultimate reheat and reheat again so it’s best made in large portions.
Available at: many restaurants offering more traditional Icelandic food.
Hardfiskur is basically dried fish, best served with a good smathering of Icelandic butter. When the fish is dried out all the “good stuff” vitamins and oils get shrunk into what remains of the fish so you get an amazing amount of healthy ingredients even in the smallest bites. Moreover, about 100gr of hardfiskur contain about 80-85% off protein! And if that wasn’t enough for you it is also incredibly tasty! The only fault is the smell, it can really stink up a car.
Available at: supermarkets and bigger gas stations.
Favorite place to get it at: anywhere they have catfish hardfiskur, that’s my favorite!
Hákarl, the fermented shark or rotten shark as many like to call it. But don’t let the name nor smell scare you. Once past the initial whiff, the taste really isn’t that bad. Even though the late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain once described it as “the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing” he had ever eaten.
Fermented shark is one of the more traditional dishes in Iceland, considered by many of the older locals to be a true delicacy. The shark meat, which is usually from a Greenland shark is cured in a special way and then made to hang for months on end.
Head to minute 2:00 to see Gordon Ramsay and James May from Top Gear taste it!
Available at: Some restaurants specializing in Icelandic cuisine and most supermarkets. As the locals for the best.
Favorite place to get it at: Bjarnarhöfn Shark museum on the Snaefellsnes peninsula or Kolaportid weekly weekend flea market in Reykjavik.
The flatkaka recipe has been with Icelanders for centuries but has quite possibly never been as popular as it is now. This low-carb traditional version of bread is not just yummy but healthy and vegan too! Try it with hummus or if you eat meat go all-in with some Icelandic butter and hangikjöt topping. It is the perfect thing to pack for a road trip!
Available at: at supermarkets and even some road shops and gas stations along the ring road.
Favorite place to get it at: the most delicious ones, in my opinion, are sold at Almarsbakari in Hveragerdi and Gudni Bakari at Selfoss.
The classic Icelandic pastry. If ever there is a gathering of Icelanders, involving coffee rather than alcohol chances are that vínabrauð will be on the menu. This long and buttery puff pastry deliciousness is nothing to kid about. You can get them with chocolate or icing sugar and buy in half or wholes. I would recommend going for the whole. Thank me later!
Available at: any bakery, just make sure to go early. They tend to finish in the afternoon.
Favorite place to get it at: Passion bakery in Reykjavik or Gamla Bakaríið at Isafjordur in the Westfjords.
The combination of the Icelandic hot dog, the soft buns it is placed in and all the different sauces and toppings the hot dog stands offer to create the most delectable mixture that has, for a very evident reason when you taste it, been a favorite of the locals since it first arrived. Don’t let this chance of a tasty yet cheap meal pass you by!
Available at: gas stations and hot dog stands.
Favorite place to get it at: Baejarins Beztu in downtown Reykjavik.
There is something about Mix. This poppy orange- and pineapple soda is the perfect fresh drink to have with on a road trip, with a good meal or to mix with alcohol.
Brennivín or Black Death like some like to call it is definitely at the top of the chart for the most famous Iceland drink. It is the Icelandic aquavit but with an added Arctic cumin flavour that really leaves a trace. Goes perfectly with a bite of Hákarl!
These should go together, yet both deserve a number of their own. These liquors are every licorice lover’s fantasy. They are fantastic at cold-fixing as well and can be ideal after a flight!
Whether you love them or you hate them but one thing is for sure, you must try them!
The Icelandic red bull but a whole lot healthier! It is refreshing, tasty and contains caffeine and collagen!
The traditional Icelandic Christmas drink. A blend of two of Iceland’s most beloved drinks, malt and appelsín, is the only proper way to do an Icelandic Christmas. Likewise Easter and other great family holidays. Nowadays you can buy them pre-blended but for those who prefer more of either, we recommend to blend them yourself. They can be purchased at any supermarket or gas station.
Now, Icelandic Beer deserves a blog on its own (we’ve got you covered). With beer ingredients being just about the only things that we can grow in bulk (alcohol-related) here in Iceland, Icelanders have taken to producing a lot. Almost any small town around Iceland now has its own micro-brewery and well, we wouldn’t be happier. Skál away!
Ps. Skál is cheers in Icelandic.
Icelanders are famous for their quality dairy products; skyr, ab-milk, surmjolk and other tasty treats but personally I think the country’s chocolate milk should be the talk of the town. Kokomjolk is the best road trip partner, the best baked-goods level-upper and merely the most divine chocolate milk on earth. Have a taste, you won’t regret it!
I just love seeing the Reyka Vodka appearing on bar menus around the world. It is easy to be proud of a product of this caliber. Whether it be in a cocktail or even just on its own this brilliant vodka, distilled from barley and wheat will truly blow your mind. Additionally, is the Reyka Vodka production incredibly sustainable. The makers use glacial water and distill the product using geothermal energy!
There could be no list of Icelandic drinks without a mention of the best. The Icelandic tap water is truly the winner of this list. It is the crown jewel in Iceland’s royal fleet. Don’t get fooled into buying bottled water. Bring a water bottle and fill it up. Even the rivers and waterfalls are sources of clean drinking water. Make the most of it!
Bolludagur, Sprengidagur and Öskudagur. These three amazing days are pretty much the foodie’s birthday here in Iceland. First up is Bolludagur or Bun-Day. This is where the cream bun takes the stage in all its marvelous and sugary glory. The cream, the jam, the chocolate and the plain puffiness. This one is by far my favorite.
You can purchase the buns at any local supermarket during the days leading up to Bolludagur but, in my opinion, it is best to get them at the bakery.
Second, is Sprengidagur which literally translates the explosion day but that is exactly what is expected of you on this day: to eat until you explode. We try our best not to, but it can certainly feel like a close call when the food is this good. On this day Icelanders eat salted meat with beans or bean soup. Preferably cooked with a long time until the meat literally falls off its bones.
Third and last is Öskudagur, which is Iceland’s version of Halloween. This is when we dress up in costumes and go around companies singing for candy. This is the day when no one watched what they eat. The more sugar the better. It also marks the end of the three fabulous food-days. Why not go all out!