When most tourists think of Icelandic cuisine, they tend to picture the country’s slightly less appetizing foods. There’s the rotten shark, which Anthony Bourdain claimed was one of the worst things he’d ever eaten, as well as boiled sheep’s head, and Brennivin, a liquor affectionately nicknamed the “black death.” Hungry yet? While these traditional foods make the travel shows, there’s much more to Icelandic Cuisine. Much of it is far less exotic than those listed above, and, even better, most of it’s actually delicious. While Icelandic cuisine is generally very meat-heavy, you do find vegetarian and even vegan options (check out this vegan food guide to Reykjavik). So put down the rotten shark and try these tasty Icelandic foods instead.
The key to Icelandic cuisine
Sheep and lamb outnumber humans in Iceland by nearly three to one, which means lamb is found on nearly every menu. Generally free-range and grass-feed, the meat is tender and delicious, whether it’s served as lamp soup, braised lamb, grilled lamb, smoked lamb, or even lamb carpaccio. For a delicious braised lamb in a red wine sauce, head to Laekjarbrekka in the Reykjavik city center.
As an island nation, Iceland has long relied on the sea for sustenance. Cod, haddock, and langoustines (similar to lobsters but smaller, and with sweeter meat) are found at restaurants throughout Iceland. You’ll also find dozens of varieties of fish served grilled, fried, poached, smoked, dried, and made into soup. One delicious preparation for whitefish (usually cod) is plokkfiskur, a traditional recipe that sees boiled fish hashed with potatoes and drenched in a creamy bearnaise sauce.
Try the famed lobster soup from Sea Baron, in Reykjavik’s harbor, or go across the street for fresh fried cod at Icelandic Fish n’ Chips. Try plokkfiskur at Thir Frakker, a Reykjavik restaurant renowned for its seafood, or drive about 30 minutes out of the city to Rauda Husid, for langoustines drenched in garlic and butter.
While it looks and tastes like a tart yogurt, skyr is technically a cheese, albeit a very healthy one. The creamy treat is very low in fat but has a very high protein content. It comes in multiple flavors and can be found at any grocery or convenience store. People often enjoy it on its own or with fruit or granola, or they use it to create tangy dips and desserts.
Breads and pastries
While Icelandic cuisine isn’t known for its bread products, carb-lovers will find a few delicious baked goods to satisfy their cravings. Rúgbrauð, a dense dark rye bread, is delicious with some Icelandic butter, and flatkaka, a soft brown rye flatbread, can be eaten on its own or topped with smoked fish, smoked lamb, or pate. For something a bit lighter, try kleina, small fried dough knots similar to doughnuts.
Other unusual meats in Icelandic Cuisine
In addition to lamb, fish, chicken, and pork, Icelanders also eat some less common meats. Horse is often found on menus, as is reindeer. In the seabird category, there’s puffin, which may be grilled or smoked. And, controversially, you’ll still see whale on quite a few menus around town. Whaling for minke whales was once banned but is now legal again, though many people disagree with the practice. If you want to try some of the country’s exotic meats but don’t want to commit to a large potion, try Tapas Barinn, which offers small plates ranging from traditional Spanish to more unusual Icelandic options.
In a country where fresh fish and lamb is so readily available, it seems odd to seek out a hot dog, but the hot dogs in Iceland really are something special, mostly thanks to their delicious toppings: mustard, ketchup, fried onion, raw onion and remolaði, a mayonnaise-based sauce with sweet relish. Cheap and plentiful, they can be found at nearly any gas station or convenience store, though most Icelanders will say that the best place to get one is at the Bæjarins Beztu stand near the harbor.
Written by and photos by Katie Hammel for EuropeUpClose.com