Despite its name, Iceland is actually a hotbed of geothermal activity. Once home to the Vikings, Iceland is now home to rich culture and enterprise. This Nordic island is a must-visit for those hungry for adventure, or just plain hungry! The Icelandic food in Iceland is as unique as its landscape and history.
What Is Special About Icelandic Foods
Icelanders are hardy in more ways than one. They have a strong work ethic and will to survive in the subarctic climate. When it comes time to eat, the food in Iceland has to be as hardy as the people. Icelandic foods are rich, low in spices, and filling enough to warm you through the cold.
Icelandic cuisine is influenced by Nordic culture and the landscape. Few plants can survive on this relatively young island except for grasses, so much of what Icelanders eat is focused on grazing meats. Seafood is essential to this island culture, as well.
Most Famous Food In Iceland
Pylsur (Icelandic Hot Dog)
Striking beauty is not all Iceland is famous for. Icelandic hot dogs, or pylsur, are known worldwide for their irresistible flavor. Throughout Reykjavík, locals love to munch these tasty dogs. It’s impossible to order just one of this deliciously famous Icelandic food.
What sets these dogs apart is their composition. Icelandic hot dogs use local lamb in addition to pork or beef.
The resulting hot dog is rich in meaty savor, topped with ketchup, brown mustard, a salty remoulade, and onions. Pylsur are an easy, fast, and sumptuous introduction to Icelandic food!
Traditional Icelandic Food
Hákarl (Fermented Shark)
Icelandic cuisine features a lot of adventurous meats and seafood, and one perfect example is the Icelandic food hákarl, or fermented shark. Being from such a remote island has inspired this nation to cherish all the abundant ocean offers.
Hákarl is made by curing and drying sharks over several months. It is a strong fish flavor that divides even locals, but if you want to sample something adventurous try this traditional Icelandic food.
Kjötsúpa (Lamb Soup)
No dish is a better embodiment of the simple way of seasoning that exists in Iceland. Kjötsúpa is a traditional lamb soup made very humbly. It features lamb, potatoes, and whatever cold-hardy vegetables the Icelanders can get.
The soup is cooked beautifully to render all the great flavor of the lamb and is seasoned just with salt and pepper. It is a rustic and uplifting soup that celebrates the full flavors of well-raised Icelandic livestock.
Hangikjöt (Smoked Lamb)
While every day may seem a little closer to winter in Iceland, there is a tangible difference in this arctic wonderland around the Christmas holiday. Iceland transforms into a veritable snowy playland and the food in Iceland becomes a celebration.
Hangikjöt is a traditional holiday dish in Iceland. It consists of lamb that has been smoked and thinly sliced. Hangikjöt is great either warm or cold, on flatbread, or with potatoes.
Plokkfiskur (Icelandic Fish Stew)
Icelanders love to eat fish! This Icelandic food is the perfect dish for cold island evenings. Plokkfiskur is a traditional fish stew; it’s made with mashed potatoes, fish, and bechamel, so it is briny, creamy, and delicious!
This luxurious stew is the perfect hybrid of mashed potatoes and stew. It has the texture of fluffy mashed potatoes with the creaminess and sauciness of a stew. It’s the perfect pick-me-up after a cold day of arctic adventures.
Hrútspungar (Sour Ram’s Testicles)
In the dead of winter, Icelanders need to warm up, and there is no better way to warm up than with a feast! Þorrablót is a traditional Nordic feast held in the dark of winter, and this feast would be incomplete without hrútspungar, or ram’s testicles.
This daring Icelandic food is made by pickling ram’s testicles. It is a waste-not dish made to add flavor and protein to dark winter days. If you are bold try this unique pickled dish with rye.
Svið (Boiled Sheep’s Head)
Classical ranchers were economical in their use of their spoils. Icelandic ranchers would not want to waste any of their wonderful sheep’s meat, so svið was born.
Sviðis a traditional Icelandic food made from boiled and halved sheep’s head. The cheeks have good meat, and it is sometimes served with rhubarb jelly or rye and butter.
Icelandic Foods: Breakfast
This creamy Icelandic food has been enjoyed by locals for centuries and today it is available worldwide. It’s clear why this dairy has been gaining in international popularity, it’s delicious!
Skyr is an inviting Icelandic yogurt with a very thick consistency and mild flavor. It’s a beloved breakfast food in Iceland and can be topped with fresh fruit, jam, or honey.
Rúgbrauð (Rye Bread)
The land in Iceland has a hand in shaping the cuisine, as is the case with rúgbrauð. This traditional Icelandic rye bread is made in a non-traditional fashion.
This rustic rye is classically baked in the steam of an Icelandic geyser. It is dense and mildly sweet rye that holds up well against all the seafood and meats in Icelandic cuisine.
Nowadays the bread may not always be baked in a geyser, but it is always the perfect compliment to any Icelandic plate.
Ponnukokur (Icelandic Pancake)
Icelandic pancakes are more of a crepe-like breakfast creation. Ponnukokur are very thin pancakes cooked in a large griddle or pan to get a beautiful crisp on the outside and edges.
These lightly sweetened crepes are a perfectly cheery way to start an Icelandic day. Icelandic pancakes go well with whipped cream, honey, jam, or fresh fruit.
Snúđur (Sweet Rolls)
This treat is a sort of Icelandic dough that gets twisted into lots of tempting treats. Snúđur refers to the sweet roll dough that has become a tradition in Icelandic cuisine.
It’s a basic yeasted and enriched sweet dough, but what makes it special is the way it is filled and topped! Some of these rolls will get a cinnamon filling while others get more adventurous blends like cocoa and hazelnut.
They’re topped with sweet buttery icing or a rich chocolate coating. No matter what is on top or inside, snúđur is one Icelandic food that is sure to satiate your sweet tooth!
Iceland Food: Snacks and Sides
Hardfiskur (Fish Jerky)
Icelanders’ favorite snack is hardfiskur or hard fish. It’s a salty treat that locals love to snack on.
Hardfiskur is essentially fish jerky. It is made through a traditional Icelandic process of drying locally caught fish, especially cod and haddock. The fish retains some moisture as it dries and then is pounded into flat pieces.
Locals love to smear butter on the thin, salty pieces of fish. Hardfiskur is toothsome and chewy, but locals love the bite! If you are a fan of jerky, be sure to give this a try.
Laufabrauð (Leaf-Patterned Flatbread)
This winter delight is as nice to behold as it is to eat. Laufabrauð is a pretty-patterned flatbread traditionally made around the winter holiday season.
This beautiful bread is made in designs of snowflakes, leaves, and braids. The dough is very thin and typically fried into a crispy, cracker-like texture. You will find laufabrauð on Christmas tables across Iceland.
Brúnaðar Kartöflur (Caramelized Potatoes)
Potatoes are cold-hardy therefore they are a frequent player in Icelandic foods. One local favorite preparation of these spuds is brúnaðar kartöflur or caramelized potatoes.
This holiday side dish combines fresh potatoes and sugar and then cooks them in a little animal fat. The whole dish is a savory and sweet masterpiece that pairs perfectly with rich local lamb.
Kleinur (Twisted Donuts)
Something about exploring in the cold will make you crave a sweet snack. The perfect sweet snack food in Iceland is kleinur. These small fried bites are divine!
Kleinur are basically fried donuts or crullers. Their dough typically uses skyr or sour cream to add richness and sourness to the donuts. After frying these beauties are tossed in sugar. They are small enough to eat a few, which is good because you won’t want to stop enjoying this Icelandic food.
Flatkaka (Rye Flatbread)
This delicious flatbread is a staple of Icelandic cuisine. Flatkaka is unleavened bread made with rye flour so they have a wonderfully complex flavor and satisfying texture.
The locals in Iceland love to eat this bread with sweet jam, but to experience this snack like a true Icelander you need meat! Top flatkaka with smoked lamb for a delectable Icelandic snack.
FLAVORS AROUND THE WORLD
Iceland Food: Meat and Seafood
Icelandic food is all about bold meat options. Here locals eat what is available and sometimes that involves some unique protein options, like the puffin. The seabirds are legal to hunt and eat in Iceland.
Puffins are caught in large nets in Iceland during the summertime. Local preparation of puffin typically consists of smoking and it’s said that the dark meat has a unique gamey yet fishy flavor.
Leturhumar (Icelandic Lobster)
The abundant ocean supplies much of the food in Iceland. Luturhumar, or humar for short, are Icelandic lobsters and they are a beloved mainstay of Icelandic fare.
These cold water crustaceans are smaller than the American variety but big in flavor. They have a briny and sweet flavor that goes well with cream or butter. A few favorite local preparations of humar are in a creamy stew or atop a pizza.
The fishing in Iceland is simply unparalleled, and the options for fresh fish in Iceland are vast. An Icelandic favorite is an arctic char. It is a cold-water fish from the salmon family. It has bright pink skin and a lux flavor reminiscent of trout or salmon.
Icelandic food uses simple preparations and seasoning, so this fish would commonly be pan-fried or baked with minimal dressings.
Lettrøkt Hvalkjøtt (Smoked Whale)
Many unique proteins come out of the cold waters of Iceland, including the divisive dish of whale meat. Iceland has committed to ending its whaling practices by 2024; however, gastronomes in Iceland often seek out whale meat.
Lettrøkt hvalkjøtt is a classic preparation of the meat wherein it is smoked and lightly seared. Accounts say that whale has a fatty, briny flavor, similar to cod liver oil.
Gadus Morhua (Icelandic Cod)
Cold-loving cod thrive in Icelandic waters. This hardy fish is eaten by Icelanders all the time. If a local is talking about a non-specific fish, they almost certainly mean cod. This fish has a wonderfully flakey white flesh and a balanced fishy flavor.
Cod is prepared in many different ways here, but one favorite Icelandic food is fish and chips made with local Icelandic cod.
Hjónabandssæla (Happy Marriage Cake)
Worry not, this dessert is not just for newlyweds! Hjónabandssæla or “happy marriage cake” is a classic Icelandic food eaten by local sweet-seekers.
Happy marriage cake is more of a crumble or pie than cake. It has layers of delicious oatmeal crumble and fruity rhubarb jam. This sweet has the perfect pair of earthy oats and sweet fruit; it’s a marriage destined for culinary bliss!
Rugbraudsis (Rye Bread Ice Cream)
Icelanders just don’t feel the cold, this is clear from their devotion to ice cream! Locals love to eat ice cream, no matter the weather. A favorite flavor of Icelandic ice cream is inspired by their favorite baked good, rye bread.
Rugbraudsis is ice cream flavored with cinnamon and studded with bits of sweet rye bread; it is truly an Icelandic food flavor. One benefit to eating ice cream in the cold is that melting isn’t an issue!
Lakkris (Icelandic Licorice)
One favorite sweet food in Iceland is licorice. The warm flavor of sweet anise is sure to cheer you through a harsh but beautiful Icelandic day.
Lakkris, or licorice, is found in lots of formats here, including plain ropes and licorice with other flavors stuffed in the center. These sweet bites are sold by the bag or in pick-a-mixes across Iceland.
Möndlu Grautur (Rice Pudding)
Rice pudding is a decadent treat in Iceland. Some international varieties of this treat skimp on the sweetness, but not in Iceland.
Möndlu grautur is the Icelandic version of this pudding and it uses day-old rice, dairy, and plenty of sugar to make a dreamy porridge-like dessert that will tantalize your taste buds.
This traditional Icelandic food is a staple of winter holiday celebrations and dessert menus alike. Pair the pudding with fresh fruit or honey for classic Nordic delight.
READ MORE: 10 ICELANDIC SWEETS AND DESSERTS IN ICELAND
Discovering Traditional Icelandic Food In Iceland
Iceland is a surprising place full of unexpected wonders, and its food is part of that magic. Icelandic food is rich, meaty, and made to satisfy. Exploring local food is an enlightening way to learn about Icelandic history and tradition.
Indulge yourself in some hearty Icelandic cuisine, it is sure to warm up even the coldest subarctic days! They are also great for filling you up before heading out to the famous landmarks in Iceland.