Iceland for Foodies: Must Try Delicacies and Dishes

About 10 years ago, no one would have traveled to Iceland for the cuisine, but today it’s a whole different story. Our local Katrin steers you to the best.


Photo © iStock/Marcin_Kadziolka

Traditional Icelandic Food

When my father was a little boy in Vestmannaeyjar, he ate fish, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Boiled fish, dried fish (harðfiskur), pickled fish (síld), rotten shark (hákarl), smoked salmon (lax), cod liver oil (lysi), and once in a while, some whale (hrefna).

Sundays and holidays were reserved for lamb, salted (saltkjöt), smoked and boiled (hangikjöt), or roasted, head included (svið), and the accompaniments came from a can: red cabbage (rauðkál) and green peas (grænar baunir). Potatoes, bread, and dairy products like “skyr“ filled the rest of the gaps.

Beer wasn’t legal until 1989, so people drank a lot of “Brennivín” schnapps, aka Black Death… especially to wash down hákarl, often eaten during Þorrablót. This sour food festival, celebrated since the Viking age, is held the first Friday after January 19th each year. To find this type of food, look for the cross-eyed, pink pig logo of Bonus, a common supermarket, or try your luck at Kólaportið, the weekend flea-market held near Reykjavik´s downtown harbor.

Other traditional foods to try are horse (hestakjöt and folaldajköt) and reindeer.

Fermented shark. Photo credit: iStock

Modern Icelandic Cuisine

Today, you can still eat fish every meal of the day, but the assortment, quality, and preparation have improved tenfold. You’ll find gastropubs and upscale restaurants serving fresh catch, from traditional to totally experimental.

Iceland has lagged a bit behind Scandinavia’s rising food reputation, but recently Icelandic chefs have started winning major awards for their spin on traditional dishes. With 500+ restaurants in Reykjavik alone, there are plenty of places to sample our style of New Nordic cuisine.

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Icelandic Craft Brews and Spirits

If you like local, small-batch microbrews and craft spirits, you’re in luck. Keep an eye out for Ölvisholt, Steðji, Kaldi, Gæðingur and Segull 67 craft beers, and Iceland´s first-ever single malt whiskey, Flóki, just released this year.

Street Food in Iceland

Nearly all fuel stations around the country have a grill and sell a decent, affordable burger and fries. The creamy, old-style ice cream called “gamli ís,” is another staple. But the king of all street foods is no doubt the Icelandic hot dog. Order one “with everything” from any gas station, corner store, or from Iceland’s longest-running restaurant and most iconic food stand – Baejarins Beztu in downtown Reykjavik.

Want to know more about Iceland? Check out our podcast. We chat about where to capture the best photos in Iceland, how to speak like a Viking (almost), and how a social policy got the country to the World Cup.

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