Top 10 Most Popular Foods in Iceland
Iceland is a small volcanic island just south of the Arctic Circle in the North Atlantic Ocean. It is known as “the land of fire and ice”, due to the country’s extreme geological contrasts between the largest glaciers in Europe and some of the world’s most active volcanoes. Iceland has also been called “the land of light and darkness”, as summer days have 24 hours of sunshine while there is virtually no sunlight at all on the darkest winter days.
Located north of almost everything and having no borders with other countries, it surely has its own way of doing things. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that this unique island has its unique food traditions and customs.
Like most Northern European countries, Icelandic food is inspired by the ingredients found locally. Icelanders make the most out of everything found there: free-roaming sheep and fish are a huge inspiration for Icelandic food culture, along with horse meat, minke whale, and fermented shark.
Let‘s dive right into the list of the 10 most popular foods in Iceland!
1. Icelandic SS-Hot Dog
Icelanders like to keep it simple, and their favorite food is the hot dog. Since 1944, Icelanders have been enjoying “one with everything“, meaning a hotdog with all the toppings. It might not be surprising that Iceland’s most famous restaurant is Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur (the best hot dogs in town), which is a hot dog stand located in the downtown area of Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík.
These delicious and popular hot dogs are made from a blend of beef, lamb, and pork. The toppings include crunchy deep-fried onion, raw onion, brown mustard, creamy remoulade, and ketchup. You can find these hot dogs at most gas stations, hot dog stands, supermarkets, and also some convenience stores. They are even more popular at summer BBQs and camps.
Hot dogs are a must-have when visiting Iceland; just ask the former president of the United States Bill Clinton, vocalist of heavy metal Metallica, actor Ben Stiller, or reality star Kim Kardashian.
Skyr is a thick and creamy dairy product similar to Greek yogurt. This delicious Icelandic dairy product has been around for about 1,000 years. Made from pasteurized milk and bacteria culture, this creamy delicacy is an excellent source of protein. Being low in calories, fat, and carbs, yet high in protein, vitamins, and minerals, skyr has great health benefits and might just be the secret ingredient that fueled the mighty Vikings.
Back in the day, before refrigerators, skyr was traditionally made at home as a way of preserving milk. Skimmed milk was fermented with curd and made into the famous Viking delicacy we know and love today.
In the last 10 years, the sale of skyr worldwide has increased a lot and it is getting more attention and love from the world each year.
Just like the Icelandic hot dogs, skyr is enjoyed and loved by people of all ages. Children often take it with them to school as a snack and fitness professionals eat it to build up their Viking strength. There has recently been a jump in the popularity of skyr bars, skyr mixed with fruit and crunchy toppings. There are even skyr drive-thrus, where you can order a customized skyr.
Icelandic free-roaming lamb is exceptional! During the summertime, the sheep in Iceland get to roam free around the mountains. They eat plants, grass, and berries and drink fresh water from glacial rivers. It is often said that the lamb in Iceland marinates itself naturally given their free-range diet.
Lamb is prepared in many ways in Iceland, from the classic oven-baked leg of lamb with potatoes and salad to thin-cut smoked lamb slices on traditional flatbread with butter.
The meat is often eaten on special occasions, as a Sunday roast, or taken to school as thin slices of smoked lamb in a sandwich of traditional Icelandic flatbread.
4. Ice Cream
Icelanders eat ice cream all year round! No matter how cold it is outside, there is always a long line at the Ice Cream Store after dinner. Neither freezing winds, driving rain, nor snowstorms will keep Icelanders away from their delicious Icelandic ice cream.
Ice cream stores are open in Reykjavik and small towns around the island every day all year round. You will find ice cream machines in many gas stations, cafés, and, of course, in special ice cream shops all over the island, some of them staying open up to 1 am. The flavor selection is amazing and many people customize their ice cream: mixing their favorite toppings, candy, and syrup!
5. Bakery Products
For breakfast, with the coffee in the afternoon, after a good swim, or as a night snack, bakery food is a go-to in Iceland. In all local bakeries you will find a wide range of delicious fresh baked goods.
From bread, cinnamon buns, and cakes to traditional Icelandic sweets, everyone will find something delicious. One of the most popular go-to Icelandic bakery products is Snúður, a large, soft cinnamon bun topped with icing. Growing up in Iceland, it was the go-to treat after a good swim with friends. Everyone had their preference about the toppings, caramel topping, soft chocolate, hard chocolate, or the classic pink frosting. (Mine was, and still is, caramel!)
Another popular bakery food is Kleina, a Scandinavian pastry. Kleina is deep-fried bread that is soft and sweet and is known for its strange shape.
6. Dried Fish/Hard Fish
This is a high protein, low carb, low-fat item that has been an Icelandic delicacy since the time of the Vikings. Known in Iceland as harðfiskur (hard fish), it is dried fish that is loved by Icelanders, who grow up eating dried fish with a little bit of butter as a healthy snack.
This might sound strange to foreigners, but then dried meat sounds strange to us. Harðfiskur is usually cod or haddock that has been dried in the cold North Atlantic air.
7. Icelandic Meat Soup
If you ever have the chance to try Icelandic meat soup, do it! It is delicious. It is very popular with tourists and visitors to Iceland. The soup is known for its rich flavor, vegetables, and soft lamb. Popular ingredients are potatoes, carrots, leeks, onions, root vegetables, herbs, salt, and pepper. It is simple and, just like other popular Icelandic meals, it is enjoyed and loved by all ages!
8. Icelandic Traditional Bread: Rúgbrauð, Flatkaka & Laufabrauð
Iceland has three well known locally baked breads that are a huge part of the Icelandic diet.
Rúgbrauð is a traditional rye bread that is baked in a pot or steamed in special wooden casks buried in the warm ground. The dark brown, dense bread is quite sweet. It is often eaten with butter as a side dish with fish. It can also be eaten with smoked salmon, hangikjöt (smoked lamb), or cheese. This bread can be found in most grocery and fish stores in Iceland.
Flatkaka is another popular traditional rye bread. Flatkaka, or flat cake, is made by mixing boiling water with flour and then cooking the dough. It has been traditionally made since Iceland was first settled in 874 and can be purchased in most stores in Iceland. An interesting fact about the flatkaka is that during the period of settlement, flour was considered a luxury so they used moss as a supplement. Later, the moss was replaced with rye flour and today it is common to use wheat flour with rye.
Homemade flatkaka is the best and should be enjoyed with butter and hangikjöt. It can also be enjoyed with butter and cheese or whatever you like; try it with hummus, flavored cream cheese, or peanut butter and bananas.
Laufabrauð, leaf bread or snowflake bread, is a traditional Icelandic bread that is most often eaten at Christmas. Laufabraud is a very thin flat cake that is decorated with a leaf-like pattern. It can be bought at bakeries and supermarkets, though it is often homemade.
Many families gather together at Christmas to decorate laufabraud. Llittle cuts are made in the thin dough and it is folded. It is then fried briefly in hot fat or oil. Take a look at these beautifully decorated laufabraud.
9. Icelandic Fish
Fisheries remain one of the most important pillars of the Icelandic economy. Iceland has recorded about 340 species of saltwater fish and three salmon species that can be found in its rivers and lakes. The most common fish are the Atlantic catfish, cod, haddock, halibut, Atlantic salmon, and mackerel.
Whenever you are in Iceland, you should take advantage of the fresh fish and the many delicious Icelandic recipes. You can order fish of the day, which will have been caught earlier that day. Many Icelandic families observe the fish at least 2 times a week rule, while the older generation grew up eating fish 5 times a week. Icelandic fish is not only great for your health but it also tastes amazing. Try it out! I bet you won’t be disappointed.
The one fish dish you may have heard of is that served as the traditional Þorramatur/Thorramatur (food of Thorri), when traditional food is celebrated in the month of Þorri (January/February). Most people dread eating it, though they do during a Þorrablót (festival). The dish is a mix of rotten shark’s meat, boiled sheep’s head, and sheep’s testicles. So you can appreciate, the festival involves lots of drinking, too.
As an Icelander myself, I am often asked, “do you eat rotten shark’s meat?”. My answer is always most definitely no, only on Thorri, and I make sure to wash it down with plenty of drink.
10. Icelandic Sweets
It is no secret that Icelandic people love sweets! The nation‘s sugar consumption is a dentist‘s dream and though everyone knows it is bad for you, it is just too damn delicious!
So popular is ice cream, we just have to mention it again! Icelanders’ most favorite ice cream is soft-serve. Don‘t just get plain ice cream when in Iceland; do it like the locals with a chocolate dip and covered in small-sized candy. Or if you want to go extreme, order a bragðarefur, flavor fox! This is soft-serve ice cream customized to your favorite fruit and candy.
Spend just a little time in Iceland and you will notice how big the black licorice culture is. Most Icelandic sweets contain salty licorice, or lakkrÍs. Even the chocolate you buy in Iceland could have lakkrÍs in it. Icelanders also tend to cover their chocolate, licorice, dates, almonds, raisins, and more in a spicy-pepper-licorice powder.
The salty black licorice has even made its way from the candy aisle into regular food; licorice sauce for lamb, for instance, and licorice cheese. Here are some of the most popular sweets that you should try out when you visit!
- Draumur and Þristur: chocolate-covered licorice bars. The licorice is sweet and compliments the chocolate flavor perfectly (according to Icelanders).
- Opal: The famous licorice lozenges that have been around since 1945. Often used as mouth fresheners but also candy. You can also buy Opal flavored shots at the liquor market for your next party!
- Appolo Sjörnurúlla: A licorice and marzipan roll.
Verði þér að góðu – Enjoy your meal!