Wherever you stop in Iceland, pure beauty and magnificent nature are your constant companions. It is not surprising that this stunning country has so much to offer - not only a feast for your eyes but also a banquet for your taste buds. Here are the top 10 local Icelandic foods that should be on your bucket list!
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Skyr - The Icelandic Yogurt
Skyr is a really well-known Icelandic product. It has been a part of Icelandic cuisine for over a thousand years. Skyr is a cultured dairy product with the consistency of yogurt. It is very similar to Greek yogurt, but the flavor is milder.
Icelanders usually eat skyr with milk and fruit or berries, but it is also popular to use it in smoothies, ice cream and skyrkaka, a lighter and popular alternative to cheesecake. Technically, Skyr is a soft cheese although it is widely regarded as a yogurt.
Recently Skyr has been gaining popularity in other countries, and it is becoming more and more visible in grocery stores in countries such as the United States and England.
Slow Roasted Lamb
Icelandic sheep are one of the purest breeds in the world. They have grazed on the hills of Iceland ever since the first settlers brought them to this country in the 9th century.
Lambs in Iceland are not fed on grain or given growth hormones. They roam freely outdoors from Spring to Autumn, therefore, their diet is wholly natural, consisting of grass, sedge, moss campion and berries. The meat of the Icelandic sheep is widely considered to be a gourmet meat, it is one of Iceland's finest and most often used culinary ingredients. Lamb very often features on celebration dinner menus or on Christmas Day.
The traditional way to cook a leg of lamb in Iceland is to cook it in the oven on a low heat for many hours, placing fresh herbs, particularly blóðberg (Arctic thyme) on the meat. The truly Icelandic way was to cook it for many hours in a geothermally heated pit in the ground!
Nowadays, cooking a perfect leg of lamb could not be simpler, place your chosen fresh herbs and seasoning (marjoram, oregano, basil, sage, parsley, garlic, salt and pepper) on a 2.2 - 2.5 kg) leg of lamb and place it into an oven that has been heated to 200° C. After 30 to 40 minutes lower the temperature to 180° C and cook it for a further 60 to 75 minutes, depending how well done you want it.
The higher temperature sears the skin after you turn down the heat, you should check on the meat from time to time and cover it with foil or a lid if the skin is becoming too crisp, or the herbs are singeing. Individual ovens vary so keep an eye on things!
If you want to cook lamb quickly just buy lamb fillet, which you can cook in 30 to 40 minutes at 200° C - you can even buy lamb fillet which is already marinated if you want.
Hákarl - Fermented Shark
Hákarl is a traditional dish in Iceland. Shark meat has been cured with a particular fermenting process, then hung outside to dry for four to five months. It has a very strong ammonia smell and a distinctive fishy taste.
Hálarl is often served in cubes on cocktail sticks. First-timers are advised to pinch their nostrils whilst taking their first bite, the smell is actually much stronger than the taste! After your first bite, do as the Icelanders do and take a good sip or two of the local spirit, brennivín, a type of aquavit, often referred to as Icelandic schnapps.
Today, the fermented shark is not a food that is commonly eaten by the locals. Most people who try it think that it is fairly gross. Icelanders used to eat hákarl back in the day when they did not have refrigeration or many other food options. Even though this dish isn’t necessarily the tastiest, it is a traditional local food which is characteristic of Iceland - something that you must try when you come to Iceland.
Icelandic Lamb Soup - Kjötsúpa
Lamb soup is an Icelandic delicacy. It is becoming very popular amongst visitors and it has been eaten in Iceland for centuries.
This rich, tasty soup is the perfect comfort food for a long, dark winter's day. Each family has their own recipe but traditional Icelandic meat soup is made from lamb shank or shoulder, potatoes, rutabagas (swede) and carrots. It can also contain leeks, onions, dried herbs, salt, and pepper.
Iceland has a great variety of fish on offer, about 340 species of saltwater fish have been recorded in Icelandic waters. The most common saltwater fish are:
- Greenland shark
- Lumpsucker or lumpfish
Three salmon species can be found in the rivers or lakes:
- Arctic char
- Atlantic salmon
- Brown trout
You should try to eat as much Icelandic fish as possible when you are in Iceland. Not only is it very good for your health, but it also tastes great! In many restaurants, you can eat fish that was caught earlier that day, just look for the 'fish of the day' offer on the menu. It doesn’t get any fresher than that!
Icelandic Hot Dog
You may have already heard about the famous Icelandic Hot Dog. This seemingly everyday item has gained worldwide stardom over the years, Bill Clinton once famously called these “the best hot dogs in the world”.
The Baejarins Beztu Pylsur is Iceland’s most popular and most frequented 'restaurant'. There is often a long line of people waiting to eat this delicacy. Despite their fame, these hot dogs are totally affordable, so do not miss the opportunity to try a hot dog when you visit Iceland!
Rúgbrauð - Dark Rye Bread from a Hot Spring
Rúgbrauð is a traditional rye bread that Icelanders have been eating for many years. It is traditionally baked in a pot or steamed in special wooden casks which have been buried in the ground near a hot spring.
This bread is crustless, dark brown, dense and its taste is quite sweet. It is great with butter, smoked salmon mutton pâté, hangikjöt (smoked lamb), or with pickled herring or cheese. Icelanders often eat this bread as a side dish with the Icelandic fish dish, plokkfiskur. You can buy this bread in most grocery stores in Iceland.
Harðfiskur - Dried Fish
Harðfiskur (it literally means hard fish) is an Icelandic delicacy that most locals love. It may sound gross to many foreigners, but it is Iceland´s favorite snack. Locals eat it with salted butter while watching a movie. It is thought to be a healthy alternative to chips or popcorn.
Harðfiskur has been part of the Icelandic diet for centuries. Most often it is made from cod, but haddock or wolffish can also be used. It is dried in the cold North Atlantic air until it becomes cured by bacteria, the process is similar to maturing cheese.
Many people eat the fish without anything on it, as a healthy high protein snack, but others like to eat it with loads of butter on it. You should definitely try it!
If you go to Iceland, you should make sure you enjoy a quick stop at a local bakery. Iceland has many delicious bakery foods that you should try. The Icelandic snúður is a soft cinnamon bun, usually with an icing topping.
Kleina is a very popular Scandinavian pastry, probably the most popular pastry in Iceland. Bakeries are an affordable option when eating out in Iceland, and their offerings are, for certain, delicious!
Icelandic Ice Cream
Icelanders are obsessed with ice cream. It doesn’t matter if it is winter or summer, frost can even add to the experience. You will see it for sale at many gas stations, in most of the cafés, and there are also some amazing specialist ice cream shops around the country.
Some ice cream parlors are open until 1 am, so people can enjoy their ice cream at night too. There is an extremely wide selection of ice creams with many different toppings and sauces. Make sure you put an Icelandic ice cream on your bucket list!