Whether you are visiting Iceland for the first time or returning for another visit, you will always be taken aback by the beauty of the natural landscape. The rugged mountainsides, the cascading white waterfall, the colorful auroras, and the horizon at dawn or dusk are a sight to behold. The beauty does not end there, as the name implies, Iceland is a fantastic ice cover land with more incredible places to see underneath than above.
As you marvel at the beauty that the length, breadth, and depth that Iceland has to offer, we implore you to get your taste buds ready for the taste experience of a lifetime. Most people are, quite frankly taken aback; about the food that Iceland has to offer. To be honest, it looks different, smells strange, tastes slightly weird, but unquestionably exquisite
Being part of the Scandinavian countryside, Iceland food is mainly natural and fresh food that nature has so generously provided, and while the cooking method is also different. We are happy to say Icelandic food has gone through some revolution and a must if you are in Iceland. If you are expecting a burger and coke, well, you are no ready to experience the totality of Iceland’s treasures.
While the food is less artificial seasoning or genetically modified, Iceland’s cuisine has a history that is deeply rooted in the Viking’s existence of the island. A century later and the Vikings are nothing but history. Yet they play a significant role in what Iceland has to offer to the world today.
Coming into Iceland, you will be confronted with a lot of fish, cooked in every manner you can think of, including fermentation. Yes, the fermented shark is one appalling but tasty dish you have to try out when in Iceland. Other fish dishes are made with cod, herring, char, and other seafood. In addition to eating, you will need to learn how to pronounce the names.
Apparently, they look like English alphabets but sound different. You will hear foods like mysa, skyr, flatbrauð or flatkaka, and Hangikjöt among others.
However, to really experience the beauty of Iceland and eat their food, one must be on the best travel tour. Else you will miss all the exciting parts of this country. Reykjavik Outventure specializes in food tours. They will take you around the local settlements of Iceland to feast your eyes and stomach with the best Iceland has to offer.
With Reykjavik Outventure, you will learn a lot about Iceland gourmet foods and visit top restaurants that have made it a passion to serve locals and visitors the best of Iceland’s delicacies. Furthermore, their fare is fair and stress-free
If you want to tour Iceland’s food scene the right way, book your space on Reykjavik Outventure now. You do not want to miss out on the fun and tasty places in Iceland. However, while you are booking your seats, get your pen and paper or cameras ready, it is going to be the adventure of a lifetime. We will delve into the history of Iceland food.
The Icelandic Settlement
Legend has it that Iceland was a deserted landmass meant for the Gods. I guess that is why it is such a beauty filled with abundant foods from the sea, land, and air. Although the picturesque paradise depicted in numerous paintings and history pages of the abundance of Iceland has greatly diminished, it is still a beauty. The land is still abundant with wild games, fishes, and forests that cover the mountain top to the valley beneath. As civilization came into Iceland, this once desolate landscape occupied by the spirits, elves, gods and supernatural beings becomes home to the inhabitant who relies on its every gift to make the best of it.
But one is poised to wonder, how did the original settlement survive the harsh cold and freezing weather?
The Vikings were said to be the first settlers on the desolate frozen land. They were recorded as huge men like giants with beards who wore thick animal skins to manage the cold and sailed the seven seas searching for to overtake other lands. Iceland was their stop where they brought back everything they collected as they voyaged through the earth.
Although there is another story about the Gaelic monks who were on the island before the Vikings, other literature points to a Norwegian family who was reported among the early settlers on Iceland. He was said to settle in a place called smoke cove or what is today known as REYKJAVIK. This place is now the capital of modern Iceland and the start point of seeing the beauty of Iceland.
Back to our Viking story!
So the Vikings were like raiders. They packed themselves in boats, raided other towns and settlements, and brought back the loot, which sometimes includes humans. To wade off the harsh Scandinavian winter, most Viking settlement was a rural setting with log houses.
They were farmers, and fishermen, who plowed the land and fished the waters for whales, sharks, walruses, seals, and other in-season fish.
During their travels, salt was a commodity the Vikings brought home from other lands and was used as preservatives. The Vikings would slice the fishes, remove the bones, and used the salt to preserve them for the long winter when food was in short supply.
Furthermore, while there is no written history of how the Vikings cooked the food, the landscape tells a lot. Perhaps they used fire sometimes or the geothermal source the land provides. From there days of using salt to preserve food, we are guessing, most of their foods were boiled too, which means they probably ate soups to keep warm in addition to other foods.
Besides, they kept lots of livestock like cattle, sheep, lamb, and other domestic animals. The livestock not only provided milk, but they made butter from it and also yogurt or the Icelandic skyr. A typical meal day for the Viking consists of two meals per day. One is in the wee hours before the start of the day and at night after working the fields and tending to the animals.
Like modern-day Icelandic people, the Vikings diet was everything from fruits, bread, milk, whey, cheese, and feasts would be lots of goodies. While their food was as rugged-looking as they were, it was all-natural, delicious, and worth every bite.
Fast forward, today, Iceland eats very much like the Vikings did except it is more refined and delicately served, especially in fine restaurants. As the land was cleared to make room for an increasing population, it looked as if Iceland will suffer the same fate as other civilizations. However, the citizens acclimatized themselves with the harsh realities and made do of this landscape.
Today, Icelanders have adapted to their country and are preserving the heritage and environment by respecting the land and using the resources available to them.
Some ancient food that is part of Iceland since the beginning of time
Iceland is a treasure trove of healthy and delicious food. Some foods that have remained a significant part of Iceland’s history and culture are skyr and fermented shark.
As mentioned above, the Vikings were very good at rearing livestock for meat and milk. Milk was a staple in their diet and still is today. With milk, they could churn butter, make cheese, buttermilk, and the infamous, skyr. Milk was gotten from cow, goats, and sheep, but as their population dwindled, the Vikings resorted to ewes.
While milk was consumed fresh, it was also the main ingredient in Skyr, butter, and cheese. One would notice that Icelandic butter is smoother and salt less because salt was not part of their diet but was brought in after a raid and use in preservation. Even as salt became available, unsalted butter was a staple in Iceland to date.
Back to our subtitle, Icelandic skyr
Skyr has been a part of Iceland’s specialty since the settlements were recognized on the terrain. This dairy staple is depicted from the medieval times as a significant part of their diet and still is today. In fact, skyr is a national food in Iceland.
If you are visiting Iceland for the first time or want to experience what local taste and historic food taste like, this is your first stop. Icelandic skyr is like yogurt but thicker and creamier. It looks like cottage cheese and yogurt mixed together, but it is made from pasteurized milk and cultured.
In the olden days, this same product was made from cow or sheep’s milk. The process involved allowing the milk to settle down after milking the animal in a bucket. It is later skimmed off and mixed with bacterial culture. The culture used was kept from a previously made skyr batch.
The creamy delicacy is super healthy, has no preservative, artificial additives or coloring and has and has no sweetener added too. The mix was poured into a cheesecloth and left to hang. This process allowed excess water to drain off to produce the thick creamy yogurt known as skyr.
Today, it is consumed alone and is likened to Greek yogurt. It tastes better when added to fruits or berry tarts for a healthy breakfast or snack. It is available in different flavors like mango, coconut, and more. Make your pick and enjoy freshness 100 percent. The liquid collected as it drains was used in preserving food.
Scouring the lands, drinking water from the melted glaciers, picking up little greenery from the ice, and having a good time, it is such a delight to watch. You cannot mention Iceland food without meat, and there are lots of meat dishes, but lamb takes the crown. This delicate, flavorful delight is the center of almost all Iceland meat dishes. First off, if you go to the countryside, you will notice how freely these four-legged creatures seem to be on a vacay.
Lamb is served in so many ways. Whether smoked, roasted, stewed with veggies, or in soups. One way or another, you are bound to eat a lamb dish when in Iceland. If you are hoping to enjoy a fine dining experience of lamb, you can take a visit to an upscale restaurant in Reykjavik to KOL
Here you will enjoy a delicious sirloin of roasted lamb cooked with a modern twist with aged Tindur cheese, pistachio Crumble, and blueberry polenta. Sound like food you will eat at a southern restaurant in the USA, but this is way better. The smokiness of the lamb, the tartness of the blueberry with creamy polenta and texture from the pistachio, it is a match in heaven.
You could eat like the locals do and visit an old cozy Icelandic eatery with wooden chairs and tables. In this family-style dining experience, you are in for some really delicious traditional Icelandic food. Islenski Barinn. Located in Reykjavik, you will find simple fish and chips with Iceland beer, but you need to try out their lamb stew.
It is so hearty, rich, warm, and piping hot when it gets to the table, the flavor is so deep it is superb. There are other Icelandic lamb dishes, but you must be wondering why lamb is so popular. It is because the Vikings used their skin to make warm clothing to brace up for the harsh winter. The Icelandic sheep are also used in cooking meat dishes, but lamb delivers a flavor punch that pairs well with most food and drinks.
Just like most Scandinavian countries, winter sees people and animals cooped up inside for warmth while spring and summer bring them out to enjoy the little sun. For the animals, it is time to enjoy the rich vegetation of grass, berries, and seaweed from the water. This type of grazing is why Icelandic lamb or other meat dishes taste divine.
Hangikjot is another elegant lamb dish usually eaten at Christmas around the table with the fireplace blazing. This can be found in most restaurants in Iceland. It is named after the cooking process, which is smoking. The meat is smoked as a way of preserving it but to develop the flavors in it. It is served with gravy and enjoyed with a good beer, boiled potatoes, peas, cabbage, white sauce, and laufabrauð’ – this is a traditional Iceland bread eaten during Christmas.
Kjotsupa is a hearty soup made with the tough parts of the lamb, root vegetables, and fresh herbs. It is filling and a dish worth sharing with friends and family during the cold winter months. Today, many restaurants have redefined this dish, making it into a stew and serving it with rye bread.
Fish is a celebrated staple in Iceland food. This is due to the location and fishing being a way of life for Icelander. The fish of the day is a common clause you will see in most eatery and restaurants who serve fresh catch delivered by local fishermen every morning.
The water surrounding the region is said to contain over 300 species of saltwater fish, including catfish, cod, mackerel, halibut, dealfish, Pollock, lumpfish. It is also said to have three varieties of salmon fish. Other fishes like whales and sharks are also part of edible fish in Iceland.
If one fish dish stands out in Iceland that visitors should taste, it is the fermented shark or Hakari. You have to have the courage and nose to take a bite of this delicacy, but with a shot of Black Death, you will get over it.
Fermented shark is one the menu all year round in Iceland, this fish dish is cured via a fermentation process and then hung to dry outside for 4 to 5 months. If you are new, you need to know that you will be instantly taken aback by the pungent ammonia smell. The odor is strong, but the taste is delicious.
History has it that before civilization and technology, the fermented shark was cured using urine. Do not squeeze your nose just yet. The process involved burying the shark in the sand and peeing on it for months to help with the fermentation process
We are guessing the ammonia in urine was the reason. Well, thanks to technology and better curing process and liquid, you will not be eating any urine cured fermented shark in Iceland. This delicacy is hard to find, but with Reykjavik Outventure, you will visit two restaurants that are serving this but doing it differently.
Þrír frakkar or 3 Frakkar is a small cozy restaurant in the heart of Reykjavik that has been serving delicious fish dishes for almost 3 decades. This family-style place seats 44 guests and offers a fine dining experience for all its visitors. Visitors are treated to varieties of meals at moderate prices with fermented shark cube on the menu. The cubes of fermented shark are followed by a shot or Black Death. This is Iceland’s finest, purest, unsweetened spirit to help mask the pungent smell and quite frankly enable you to swallow it smoother.
However, since Reykjavik Outventure is touring with you, you get a sneak peek into how the fermented shark became a significant part of Iceland’s history and the story behind it. This will mean traveling all the way to the Snæfellsnes peninsula to a family-owned museum and restaurant in Bjarnarhöfn.
Well, it will take a good history and understanding to swallow a fermented shark bite, but it is also an excellent day trip to see the beauty of Iceland.
If you are not a fan of pungent fermented shark cubes. Follow us to enjoy seafood like lobster or other exquisite fish dishes that are synonymous with the Icelandic past.
The Plokkfiskur translated plucked fish
This rich Icelandic stew is locally made using haddock or cod cooked with chicken stock, béchamel sauce, potatoes with lots of fresh herbs. It is boiled until the right consistency of a slightly thick stew is gotten. For Icelander, it is a treat that is eaten with friends and family, but for guests; get ready for a culinary transformation.
The Plokkfiskur is a traditional meal you will find anywhere in Iceland. Whether you are visiting a family, friend, or dining with the local or a fine space restaurant, it is a dish that screams Iceland beautifully.
Icelanders are known to preserves fish and meat using a variety of methods. So, as you tour around this beautiful city, have some Harðfiskur with you to snack on. This dried fish jerky is Iceland delicacy and available everywhere. The fish are either of Pollock, haddock, catfish or cod brined and cured. The original version was slightly too salty, but thanks to technology and better preservation and drying methods, it is edible without all the salt.
To eat this delicacy, you will need some Icelandic butter; it allows you to create a balance in your mouth as you chew away. It is said that the best way to enjoy this piece of fish is to allow your saliva to soften it before you start chewing.
Enough of dried and fermented fish, Iceland does offer some exquisite fish dishes that will have you licking your plate and hugging the chef. For a once in a lifetime experience, take a trip to the Zimsen building in Reykjavik.
This building is home to a very cozy rustic restaurant with a modern touch. It serves the best lunch, dinner, and even late-night outdoor food for guests far and wide who have come here to eat. The Fiskfelaqid boosts of elegant cuisines and drinks that will comfort and transport you throughout Iceland. One thing is assured; you will not get a better seafood plate, than here.
Now visiting Iceland means eating bread or something on that line, but how it is cooked is also essential.
The Hverabrauð or hot springs bread is locally baked Iceland bread using the hot springs on the landscape. This dark, rich rye bread is a dense loaf sweetened with dark molasses and baked for 12 to 24 hours in ovens dug in the ground.
It uses the geothermal heat energy to gradually cook the dough, releasing and building a depth of flavor. The result is dark, moist, but crunchy bread that is eaten with unsalted butter and smoked proteins –fish or meat.
Now, it will not be fair to visit Iceland and not indulge in the street food scene.
You definitely do not need a restaurant to enjoy one of these. This is Iceland’s signature hotdog made with ground pork, beef, and lamb sausage, deep-fried, and slithered in a bun. It is then topped with ketchup, mustard, raw and crunchy onion, and a remoulade sauce.
However, if you want the best pylsur in Reykjavik, then you should hurry up to a little stand called the Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. You will see a long queue of people waiting to have one pylsur it is astonishing.
It is a bite to Icelandic heaven.
Now, you cannot come to Iceland without passing through the sweet scene, Icelanders love their sweets. Whether it is ice-cream or chocolate covered licorice, there is something to make your taste buds sings all the way back home.
Whether it is the dead of winter or summer, Icelanders love their ice cream. Seriously, you will not pass through any town in Iceland that does not have an ice cream parlor. The best part is most are located close to a geothermal pool to enable you to jump into the warmth and knock the cold off.
The most popular ice cream is the Is Með Dýfu Og Kurli, soft-serve ice cream served in candied chocolate made shell. Regardless of the flavor and color, Iceland has plenty of choices with hundreds of toppings to go with it. This is the ultimate tasting experience.
Iceland cuisine –food, drinks, pastries, and treats have come a long way. Out of the little, the land produced with the ingenuity of Icelanders, recipes, and cooking techniques was passed down and still used today. Taste is not an issue with Iceland’s food; you need a good stomach and some courage to eat them.
If you are visiting Iceland, discovering new foods is the best way to see, feel, know, and enjoy the beauty of Iceland. Prepare your taste buds for a culinary journey that will open your mind, heart, eyes, and buds to the unique flavor and mix of food.
As you prepare for this journey, remember that Icelandic foods are super healthy. Everything you eat is either harvested or caught in the sea. The meats are from free-grazing sheep, cows, pigs, and lamb. There is not GMO, no use of chemicals to preserve or cure food.
Besides, Icelandic food is all about the people, the culture, traditions, and their love for good food. However, all this will not happen without the right tour team to take you around the best spots.
You can try all these dishes and more by booking your next Icelandic tour with Reykjavik Outventure for the most unique culinary experience that Iceland has to offer.