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The traditional cuisine of Iceland

In the 9th Century, Norse Viking Warriors came to Iceland with one intention. The intention was to settle in the Scandinavian country. Cold harsh weather had habitants scavenging for food from anywhere they could get. Iceland is basically surrounded by the extremely cold Atlantic ocean, therefore the extreme harsh cold weather also surrounds it completely. With having an ocean right alongside its coast, local dwellers started fishing for food in the ocean due to the scarcity of animals on the Icelandic surface. The Atlantic Ocean is a large habitat to different species of fish, which made it possible for individuals living in Iceland to have food. This is the reason that most of the cuisine found in Iceland is made up of fish.

iceland fishing - atlantic ocean

A Culmination of Extravagant and Delicious Ingredients:

Lots of species play host to a different dish that can be found in Iceland. Most of the residents have their fish preserved for the winter months through fermentation and many others dry their fish for cooking later. Icelanders are known to have at least one fish dish for one of the food courses of the day for example in lunch. Some also like to boil, fry, grill or roast the fish.

Fish has also been helping Icelanders economically in the aftermath of the 2008 Financial crisis. Since then fish has been a huge part of the economy as it has become the most exported material from Iceland driving its economy to a better future ahead. Even in Iceland’s capital Reykjavik alone, fish is being consumed in a shipful of quantity, which means in thousands if not millions. Different species are cooked to perfection or according to customer’s preference in a restaurant. Many high-class restaurants in Iceland are based on the seafood alone, specifically fish.

icelandic dried fish - iceland fish

Why do People like it?

Fish is almost universally liked by everybody and Iceland, a country whose whole cuisine is predominantly based on fish is no exception. Since settling in the country known for its natural landscape, residents have been devouring fish just to survive the harsh weather. But along the way, as the fish transformed into food course and at times a delicacy, now everybody in Iceland love fish. They have developed a taste for it and the fish is also very much culturally attached to individuals.

This was the food that was available in multitudes of numbers and helped with the survival of ancestors of the residents. They say that individuals who eat fish in Iceland do it is a way to celebrate the culture of their ancestors who were the early settlers of Iceland. This historical and cultural significance of fish has led to a huge increase in the popularity of it as a food in Iceland. Even the national food/dish of Iceland is a fish (more of a shark than a fish). This does not at all means that residents do not love it as a food itself as you will find many different ranges of dish that has something relating to a fish or the seafood. Now let’s get into some of the most famous and traditional fish from Iceland:

Iceland fermented shark - icelandic traditional food

Hakarl – Fermented Shark:

Hakarl is the national and a traditional Icelandic food. It is generally eaten year around in Iceland. This dish is so popular that you will see many of the villagers preparing it when you may go for a long drive. One of the first suggestions of food from the locals you will get is this dish. Usually, it is made up of sleeper sharks like Greenland Sharks, a species which populates the seas of Iceland in vast numbers.
The traditional way of cooking this fish was urinating all over it for fermenting it before burying for four to five months. Fermenting is an act of converting carbohydrates into alcohol or other organic acids under anaerobic conditions. You probably would not it like it though with the traditional way. Do not worry as now the fermentation process has changed a bit. Now the shark is buried and then taken out for drying for approximately 5 months. Sometimes 5 to 10 kg is cut and packed into boxes for fermenting, which takes 5 to 10 days. Afterward, it is hung out for drying for 3 to 4 months.

Most tourists in Iceland are suggested to eat this at the advice of the locals (because of their fondness with it). Although most tourists do not like it for the ammonia taste it has, so, therefore, tourists end up saying that this is the worst food they have eaten in their lives.
Reykjavik Outventure offers 2 tours that offers the tasting of fermented shark. Reykjanes Peninsula food & drinks.
Also Guided Reykjavik museum food & drink walking tour. 

iceland alcohol - iceland brennivin

The Black Death:

Alongside eating a Hakarl is the tradition of drinking a Brennivin, which literally translates into ‘Burning Wine”. Though it is actually a schnapp. Please, do no get worry about its name while it may be synonymous with a plague that took millions lives, the name is actually the literal translation of its nickname “Svarti Daudi”.
It is called Black Death for a reason, and this reason was that back in the 1930’s a ban became a reality as many Icelanders were getting high from it uncontrollably. This led the makers of this drink to label it with a Skull and black color. What happened next was that it got more popular for this same reason. Although the skull has been taken off and so is the ban, the black label still stays there.

It is a schnapp made from fermenting grain or mashed potato with a little bit of caraway thrown in for flavor. One of the other reasons its called Black Death is because it makes the drinker wild. It also makes the drinker also forgetful most of the times.

plokkfiskur - plokkfiskur recipe


Another traditional dish of Iceland is the fish stew also known in Iceland as Plokkfiskur. It is boiled haddock fillets or a cod that is served with potatoes, which are either whole, mashed or scrambled. Traditionally this recipe was in usage as a way of preserving food that was a leftover. But nowadays, it is common for Icelandic people to have their own version of the dish.

In Iceland, it is now considered more than a leftover of food. Many cafes and restaurants serve this dish to visitors. Most makers of this dish have disagreements over the true ingredients of the dish. Some people like to leave the ingredients in the fridge for overnight. Others present the dish with a fish as fresh from the ocean it can possibly be. It is considered to be the favorite dish of the current president of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson. Johannesson’s mother says that he always likes a serving of homemade stew whenever he visits her.

iceland dried fish - dried fish snacks

Hardfiskur – Dried Fish Jerky:

In Iceland, it is a popular snack made from fish and is a delicacy in Iceland. This dish is very much like beef jerky but differentiates a little in taste because it derives from fish. The affordable ones can be brought from the supermarket while cafes and restaurants also serve the less affordable ones.

We warn a prospective eater that one the pack is open, smell spreads like wildfire. It is a common occurrence in many of the households in Iceland. The Icelandic version of butter goes very well with this delicacy so do not forget to pack this too. A hardfiskur can have its creation from a dry haddock, cod or a flounder. Once dried to perfection these fish become like beef jerky that is popular in the United States of America.

skyr - icelandic yogurt

This food is also iconic in Iceland but is not a fish. It is actually a yogurt that is available in abundance throughout Iceland. It’s also becoming famous outside Iceland. Therefore it is also becoming a large portion of the food that Iceland exporting to other countries.
Its reasonably priced, comes in a different range of flavors and can also have different kinds of toppings. It is also good for traveling in a budget. This item has good amounts of protein yet it is affordable. If it had to be in words, one could say that is a mixture of cottage cheese and yogurt. It is made from pasteurized skimmed milk and similar bacteria that is used to make the actual yogurt.
Skyr is technically a cheese but most eaters regard it as yogurt. Many health experts around the globe consider this food item as very nutritious and healthy for a daily eater. It is because they say it is rich in different nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that are usually hanging together in so much abundance.
Skyr is naturally a fat-free product as its fat is equal to being nonexistent. Some sugar may be there via cream processing during production for some brands that can increase its fat nutrients. This being rich in protein also means that most of the times the eater will feel full and satisfied as protein is proven to initiate this behavior. The protein in Skyr is around 11g, which is more than enough for a dairy product.

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