You've probably heard about some of the weird and wacky delicacies that Icelanders love to see travellers eat, from hakarl (fermented shark) to svid (boiled sheep's head) and even surir hrutspungar (sour ram's testicles!). But Icelandic food delivers so much more than shock value. Flanked by the North Atlantic Ocean and populated by almost twice the amount of sheep as humans, Iceland understandably boasts a cuisine dominated by seafood and local lamb. The country's specialities are all about keeping you warm, using what's local, and packing a traditional punch.
What to eat in Iceland
Here are six of the most popular Icelandic foods to try while you're there:
- hot dog
Surprisingly, hot dogs are one of Iceland’s most iconic fast foods, and are found all over the country. It will also probably be the cheapest meal you’ll have during your visit! Order one and you can choose your toppings – sweet mustard, ketchup, raw onions, deep-fried onions or remoulade. If you can't decide, just ask for 'eina med ollu' – one with everything.
Iceland's diet includes plenty of potatoes and lamb, but seafood trumps all – sourced fresh year-round from the waters of the North Atlantic and Arctic and prepared in a variety of ways. Be sure to try the delicacy of Hardfiskur: a salty fish jerky, best enjoyed slathered with butter. It's usually made from cod, but haddock or wolffish can also be used.
Rye bread, known to locals as rugbraud, is a common side to most meals in Iceland, but the preferred way of cooking the loaves is quite unique. Traditionally, the bread is buried near a natural hot spring, sprinkled with sugar and left to gently steam for up to 24 hours. The end result is dense and cake-like, with a slightly sweet taste. Spread with some butter and enjoy alongside a traditional Icelandic soup, some slow-roasted lamb or – of course – fish.
Iceland's cold climate and grazing pastures have, throughout the centuries, shaped the cuisine today. One of the best ways to enjoy all the local produce on offer is by feasting on kjotsupa, an Icelandic meat soup. Every Icelandic family will have their own spin on this local favourite, but it usually consists of lamb shank or shoulder, with root vegetables like potato, carrot and swede, and mixed dried herbs.
Skyr has been a popular yoghurt product in Iceland for centuries, despite it technically being a very soft cheese. It's very similar to greek yoghurt but has a milder flavour. Eat it like the locals do at any time of the day – for breakfast with some berries, as a snack, or as a dessert topping. It's also the star ingredient in a popular type of light cheesecake called skyrkaka.
Name a food and chances are Icelanders have tried to add liquorice to it. Black liquorice is beloved by locals and found in a wide range of desserts and candy bars. If you're in Reykjavik, head to Valdis to try a cone filled with salted black liquorice ice cream. Even if the weather’s cold, the ice cream joints will be open!
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