These Foods You HAVE To Try In Iceland
When it comes to traditional Icelandic food, the country’s history and natural environment impact the eats. You’ll find traditional foods infused with things like smoked lamb, dried fish, and dairy items like skyr, cream cheese, and ice cream at Icelandic restaurants in cities big and small.
Here we’re talking about the best authentic foods in Iceland and covering the dishes that locals love and all visitors should try.
What kind of food is available in Iceland?
Icelandic culture serves up some of the most amazing seafood in the world, from fresh fish to lobster, crab, shrimp, an array of shellfish, and even oddities like puffin and whale meat. Other major staples of an Icelandic diet are fresh meat and dairy from Icelandic sheep–even lamb brains.
- Skyr. A favorite of Vikings and still enjoyed by Icelanders today, you have to eat skyr at least once when visiting Iceland. The creamy delicacy is one of the most popular foods in Iceland because of its low sugar, no fat, and high protein content. Skyr is like an Icelandic version of Greek yogurt and easy to find in local shops and grocery stores, and woven into the menus of local restaurants.
- Rugbraud. A dense, moist Icelandic rye bread, rúgbrauð was historically made by burying a pot in the coals of a fire next to a hot spring for about a day. It takes after traditional rye bread from Germany, and this sweet, dark rye bread can be found at most supermarkets. If you want to try it fresh, visit Brauð & Co (Bread & Co) in one of Reykjavík’s famous food halls.
- Pylsa. Pylsa or Icelandic hot dogs are probably one of the best hot dogs you’ll ever eat and a classic local cuisine. Made from Icelandic lamb, pork, and beef. To get the full experience of this popular Icelandic food, order it eina með öllu, or “with everything.” You’ll get a slew of crunchy deep-fried onions, sweet brown mustard, and a creamy remoulade sauce on this Icelandic hot dog. Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur in Reykjavik has been serving this traditional dish for over 60 years!
- Harðfiskur. This is one of those traditional Icelandic foods that’s been popular with locals for centuries. It’s usually dried fish like cod, haddock, or wolffish–all plentiful on the shores of Iceland. Full of protein and nutrients, this Icelandic fish snack is usually prepared in sheds outside the cities but can be found in most stores and even gas stations around the country.
- Plokkfiskur. Roughly translating to “mashed fish stew,” plokkfiskur remains a traditional Icelandic food found in homes and restaurants alike. It’s usually dried saltwater fish mashed and made into a flavorful fish soup. Simple, classic Icelandic dishes like this have helped locals survive the cold north Atlantic air and harsh winters of the Arctic Circle for centuries.
- Kjötsúpa. Lamb meat is one of the traditional ingredients in any Icelandic meat soup. Norse settlers brought livestock with them to Iceland at the end of the first century, and soon relied heavily on the animals for survival, using every but from the sheep’s head to its hoofs. Today Kjötsúpa is lamb meat soup made with a tasty combination of Icelandic herbs.
What are the regional food and delicacies in Iceland?
Iceland eats based on what’s been available historically, and is still widely available in the country today. Traditional dishes include unique items like horse meat, smoked puffin meat, and pickled herring.
Here are some of the most surprising yet scrumptious foods to try when you visit Iceland:
- Reindeer Meat. You’ll find wild reindeer meat on menus in Eastern Iceland year-round. The tender meat is used in traditional dishes like meat soup and reindeer tartare, a popular Icelandic cuisine found at Nielsen Restaurant in Egilsstaðir. Reindeer meat is considered an Icelandic delicacy and can be a little pricey, but totally worth the try. Explorer Chick founder, Nicki Bruckmann says reindeer meat is “bomb-diggity”.
- Hvalur. Iceland has changed policies more than once when it comes to whaling and harvesting of whale meat, and it’s controversial in lots of countries. Hvalur is available in restaurants and stores for purchase and is usually minke whale, which isn’t endangered. It’s a delicious Icelandic cuisine usually served as steaks but it can also be smoked or dried.
- Lundi. Iceland is home to the world’s largest puffin colony. It’s also the only country where residents can legally hunt the seabird, which is what makes this cuisine available but a somewhat controversial food. The flavorful, gamey bird cooked similar to pastrami can be sampled by visitors at restaurants in Reykjavik and Vik.
- Hákarl. How appetizing does fermented shark meat sound? This Icelandic food is specially cured and hung to dry for five months. It has a rich, fishy aroma and most say it’s really an acquired taste on its own. You can find hákarl in plenty of Icelandic stores. In restaurants, it’s usually served as part of a selection of traditional foods, consisting mainly of cured meat and fish.
What are the different kinds of sweets and desserts in Iceland?
Like lots of food in the country, most Icelandic sweets center around what’s been available historically. Icelandic people LOVE their ice cream, especially bragðarefur, vanilla soft serve ice cream blended with different types of candy. Um, YUM!
Here are some of the popular Icelandic sweets locals love:
- Ice cream. Icelandic ice cream is a special kind of treat and can be made with traditional cream, from skyr, or as a smooth, creamy gelato. With every flavor from plain ice cream to rugbraudsis, or rye bread ice cream, you’re bound to find an exciting one to try in one of Reykjavik’s dozens of shops.
- Licorice. Icelandic people love licorice because for years, it was the only candy available due to embargos or restrictions on foreign candies. Chocolate-covered licorice bars and other confections combining black licorice and chocolate are traditional foods that can be found in shops all over.
- Snúður. A must-try among Icelandic sweets is chocolate-covered cinnamon buns or snúður. When you picture those classic, giant pastries in Icelandic bakery shops, THESE are what you’re looking for! Otto Matur & Drykkur, a shop in Höfn, Southeast Iceland, is famous for these and tons of other bakery food.
- Cinnamon Rolls. Nicki Bruckmann says the Brauð & Co Cinnamon Rolls are life changing. Nuff said.
What kind of drinks do Icelanders like to enjoy?
- Coffee. Icelandic people are the fourth largest consumers of coffee in the world! It’s safe to say they love their java. Small cafes and coffee shops far surpass chains like Starbucks and can be found on every block in Reykjavik.
- Brennivin. A type of Icelandic schnapps nicknamed “the black death” and flavored with caraway, this signature spirit of Iceland is best enjoyed straight, chilled, and in the form of a shot.
- Beer. Though it’s available in bars and liquor stores across Iceland now, beer was actually outlawed until the late 1980s. Icelandic classics include Viking Gold or Einstok White Ale.
- Reyka. Somewhat new on the scene in Iceland, Reyka is vodka made with water from a lava field, which naturally filters the water. It goes down smooth and needs no chaser to enjoy.
- Malt Og Apelsin. Popular around Christmas, this classic soft drink is made using sweet malt soda and Appelsin, a popular sparkling beverage, to make a fizzy chocolate tonic perfect for a sweet treat.
- Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary’s are fabulous here too at this greenhouse. We stop here during our trip in Iceland, so that tells you how good they are.
Where are the foodie places in Iceland?
Iceland’s food scene is unique with some of the most exciting eats in Central Reykjavík. The Hlemmur Food Hall is a former bus stop converted into a European-style food truck court, where you can find everything from smoked salmon and Icelandic lobster to more obscure street food, and don’t forget—ice cream! Locals eat their frozen sweets at Ísleifur Heppni.
As for fine dining, Rok is an excellent place in Rek. We have our Explorer Chick welcome dinner there on our Iceland trip.
PRO TIP: When traveling outside Reykjavik, it’s a good idea to stock up on non-perishable and snack food at the grocery store, and on things like shampoo and other toiletries. These items get much more expensive the further from Reykjavik you venture.
Even though English is spoken in lots of places in Iceland, it’s still appreciated to use some local words, especially if you have food allergies or limitations for communicating. Here are a few phrases to help get you around!
- Já and Nei. Pronounced: y-ow ney. Plain and simple, “yes” and “no.”
- Góðan daginn. Pronounced: go-thah-n die-in. One of the most common greetings used in Iceland, the literal translation is “good day.”
- Hvar er. Pronounced: kva-r er. Knowing how to say “where is” will open up untold doors for getting from place to place.
- Ég heiti. Pronounced: ye-gh hey-tee. This means “my name is.”
- Klósett. Pronounced: k-low-seht. When ya gotta go, ya gotta go. This word means bathroom, restroom, or toilet.
- Afsakið. Pronounced: af-sah-kith. This is a way to say “excuse me” or offer a gentle apology, like for bumping into someone.
While tipping is customary in the U.S., it’s not necessary in Iceland since your restaurant bill will usually include a service charge. This isn’t to say that a little extra tip isn’t appreciated, but it’s not expected the same way it is in certain countries, especially in casual establishments or bars. If you do want to tip, 10 percent of your total bill is more than enough generosity!
Which foods are you excited to try in Iceland?
Ready to get your grub on with these AMAZING Iceland eats? Join Explorer Chick on our Iceland Winter Adventure! We’ll trek glaciers, soak in hot springs, and you better believe we’re making time for the best food in Iceland!
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Meet the Writer
April is an adventure lover and freelance writer based in New England, with a passion for public lands, wild places, and all things outdoors. She loves camping in any form and spends as many weekends as she can hiking New Hampshire’s highest peaks, or road-tripping with her sweet dog Marley. If not in the mountains, you can find her planning her next expedition or caring for one of her far-too-many-houseplants.
Favorite outdoor adventure: National Parks Hiking and Road Trips!