COMMENCE DROOLING! (OR MAYBE NOT)
When you first learn about the “traditional Icelandic food” you are going to hear about some pretty scary sounding dishes to seasoned ‘foodies’. Things like Icelandic rotten shark and boiled sheep head may appear in your search of things to try in Iceland. Don’t worry, it is not all sheep heads and fermented foods in Iceland!
In fact, the modern Icelandic cuisine, it is quite delicious full of fresh fish and lamb with a focus on using local products. You are in for a treat when dining in Iceland!
To help you experience the best meals Iceland has to offer, we have created a guide full of fun Icelandic foodie facts and a handy list of delicious places to eat while in Reykjavik.
ICELANDIC FOOD 101
When Iceland was first settled, you can only imagine the climate and conditions those first Vikings found. Let’s just say they were not the most farming friendly of conditions. Instead of growing crops, like barley, Icelanders turned to the resources they could find such as lamb, dairy and fish. These items were staples in the Icelandic diet and continue to be so with one major difference, the preservation methods used.
Hundreds of years ago the process of preserving food to last through the winter became an important part of the cuisine. There was little salt available on the island, so instead Icelanders turned to different preservation methods to make their food last. From fermenting fish in whey or brine to drying and smoking meats, these methods preserved the food for months. They also gave them a ‘unique’ flavor.
In today’s cuisine, most of the traditional Icelandic food is some form of meat that has gone through a fermentation process. Tasty dishes like smoked lamb or salmon to other dishes made for the adventurous palate such as fermented shark. If you are interested you can take on the challenge of eating the fermented shark at the local flea market over the weekend. Or just watch this video and you will get the idea. That might be enough!
DO NOT FEAR, WE HARDLY EAT THIS ANYMORE!
Thankfully the fermentation process is not as commonly used today, but there still are holidays that involve the eating of the traditional Icelandic food. One such holiday is Þorrablót, is a midwinter celebration in honor of the Viking Norse God Þor. The celebration begins mid-January and continuing through mid-February. Þorrablót festivities include singing, dancing, reciting of poems and eating as much traditional Icelandic food as possible. And the traditional Icelandic food you dine on, that would be slátur (the Icelandic version of haggis), boiled lamb heads, rotten shark and ram testicles. Yummy…
While the ingredients in today’s Icelandic cuisine haven’t changed much over the years, there is now a more modern twist on how the dishes are prepared. You’ll be happy to know that fermenting of foods is no longer as common. Icelandic cuisine now has a strong focus on using fresh local Icelandic products. This goes beyond just meat and dairy items, with lots of fresh produce now available thanks to the geothermal greenhouses located around the country. Read on to learn more about certain dishes you have to try while in Iceland!
UNIQUE DISHES TO TRY IN ICELAND
Each country has dishes that you wouldn’t leave without trying. For example, you can’t go to Italy and not have pasta or pizza! In Iceland, there are several such dishes that are must tries for all visitors. The below items are just a few tasty unique treats you have to try at least once while in Iceland.
Okay you can have lamb just about anywhere in the world, but Icelandic lamb is special. The meat is said to have a unique flavor thanks in large part to the farming practices of the Icelandic sheep. The animals are all free-range animals who enjoy life roaming the Icelandic fields eating as much pesticide-free grass they desire. If you enjoy lamb, you have to give the Icelandic lamb a try!
Titled by some as Iceland’s favorite snack, harðfiskur is dried fish that is often enjoyed with butter. Harðfiskur is made by hanging out to dry on large racks which you may see around the country when you are on your road trip. Make sure to give Iceland’s “fish jerky” a try so you can say you snacked like the Vikings.
ICELANDIC HOT DOG
This isn’t your usual hot dog –this is THE Icelandic hot dog, it has a flavor all of its own. Made with lamb, pork and beef and topped with condiments such as sweet mustard and crispy fried onion this will be a hot dog to remember.
This is going to become your new favorite snack! Skyr is a dairy product with the texture of greek yogurt but a much milder taste. Skyr has been a staple in the Icelandic diet for over a thousand years. Today you will find several rows in the grocery stores packed with different flavors of Skyr. In addition to being a delicious snack, Skyr is often used in baking. Make sure to try a piece of Skyr cake!
A Icelandic fried pastry with a unique flavor, pick up a kleina fresh at a local bakery and enjoy the Icelandic version of a donut.
WHERE TO EAT IN REYKJAVIK
Iceland may be a small country, but they have a dining scene that will blow your taste buds away! Reykjavik is considered the cultural hub of Iceland. Many of the country’s best restaurants can be found in the quirky capital city so make sure to schedule a few days to eat your way around town. Below is a breakdown of a range of different restaurant options so that everyone can find something to enjoy!
FINE DINING IN REYKJAVIK
Reykjavik has some impressive restaurants around town known for their beautiful decor and delicious modern twist on traditional Icelandic dishes. If you love trying new foods while traveling, or just enjoy a great dining experience, the follow restaurants are must visits while in Reykjavik.
The Fish Company–Enjoy the fresh Icelandic fish at its best. The presentation alone of the dishes will have you impressed!
Dill – A modern twist on traditional Icelandic food, this meal will be a memorable dining experience! Note that you have to book way in advance, even months!
Dill’s presentation, possibly too beautiful to eat!
BUDGET FRIENDLY FOOD IN REYKJAVIK
Iceland may not be the most budget-friendly country to visit, but it is possible to find budget-friendly eats! Despite the price, these locations don’t lack flavor! A few locations to check out around town:
Baejarins Beztu Pylsur– Reykjavik’s famous hot dog stand, order one with everything and enjoy one of the locals favorite meal for under $5 USD.
Noodle Station– The best meal to warm up with this soup will only cost you $7-$14 USD.
Noodle Station’s famous chicken noodle soup
The Sea Barron– One of Reykjavik’s oldest restaurants the lobster soup and fresh bread will be a favorite meal for the whole family for under $20 USD.
VEGETARIAN-FRIENDLY FOOD IN REYKJAVIK
One thing you will quickly find out in Iceland, meat is a staple in the Icelandic cuisine. This can make it a bit tricky to find a vegetarian-friendly menu option while dining in Reykjavik. But in recent years, the vegetarian dining scene has quickly grown with some delicious vegetarian restaurants now available around town. You won’t have to miss out on flavor at any of these locations, even your meat-loving friends will find a dish to enjoy!
Glo is as healthy as it gets here in Iceland!
Glo– The most popular health food restaurant in Iceland, you can find several locations around Reykjavik offering fresh vegetarian and vegan dishes. Even Gwyneth Paltrow loves it and she is quite the foodie!
Bergsson Mathús– With a menu changing daily offering both vegetarian and meat dishes everyone in your group will find a healthy meal to enjoy here.
Kaffi Gardurinn– Located right in city center you will find weekly seasonal specials to enjoy.
BEST HAPPY HOURS IN REYKJAVIK
Go for a patio local beer at Kex Hostel
Now that you know where to eat while in Reykjavik, let’s talk about the next important thing. What would this be, you ask? Answer: where to go for a drink! The nightlife in Reykjavik is quite impressive for such a small city. You can almost always find a pub with live music to enjoy! To start off your evening check out one of these locations for a great happy hour deal in a fun environment.
Micro Bar – If you are abeer connoisseur this is the place to be for happy hour. With a range of beers on tap and even more to choose from in the cooler you can easily spend the evening sampling away.
Den Danske Kro – A traditional Danish pub and a local favorite,you can always find a live band and jolly group to enjoy some drinks with in this cozy pub in city center.
Prikið– One of the oldest bars in Reykjavik, this quirky location will make you feel like you are partying in someone’s living room in downtown Reykjavik. Are you one to want to stay out dancing all night? Great news, you can end the night (morning) with a tasty breakfast when this location changes from a bar to cafe as the sun rises.
Tip:Make sure you always know where the closest happy hour in Reykjavik is and what is on offer by downloading theAppy Hour app.
EATING AND DRINKING ACTIVITIES IN REYKJAVIK
The above restaurants alone will keep your stomach happy while in Reykjavik. If you’d like to take your dining experience one step further, we’ve got you covered! Here are some ideas for more Icelandic food fun to check out while in Reykjavik:
GO ON A FOOD TOUR
Join Reykjavik Food Walk and spend four hours visiting 6 different restaurants sampling delicious dishes as you go. Along the way you will hear stories about the restaurant’s history, learn about some hidden local favorite spots, and get further insight to the Icelandic food culture.
VISIT A BREWERY
Spend a few hours at the Reykjavik School of Beer enjoying a tour around Iceland’s oldest brewery, Ölgerðin. Here you can learn about how the Viking’s brew their beer. While you’re at it, enjoy some tasty samples of several different types of Icelandic alcoholic beverages. And if you are feeling brave… try a shot ofBrennivín, the Icelandic snaps! This is traditional taken alongside rotten shark. Delicious…
JOIN A COOKING CLASS
After sampling all the tasty Icelandic cuisine try taking a cooking class so you can re-create some traditional Icelandic dishes at home. JoinSalt Eldhus for an evening full of food fun where you will learn to make a delicious dish using fresh Icelandic products before sitting down to enjoy the three course meal your hard work created. When guests complete the class, they get a recipe folder with all the dishes made that evening. This means you can show off your new skills to guest back home!
For being such a small country Iceland certainly has a booming foodie scene. Reykjavik has the ability to satisfy every palate in your group. One thing is for sure, the Viking’s have come a long way since the days of eating fermented foods. Make sure to give as many traditional Icelandic dishes a try and see which one is your favorite!
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