Food in Iceland – what to eat and what to avoid?

Is it delicious or disgusting? Check what is skyr, why the sharks are buried and what to cook in a geyser.

Food in Iceland what to eat what to avoid 

* Photos mostly from my phone

Iceland is a great place for the meat or fish lovers. And if you also like dried, pickled or smoked food – then even better! Harsh winters and cold climate are not suitable for growing vegetables, so Iceland doesn’t have many of them. In fact, they were just introduced to the island in the last century. Before that, for many years, Icelandic diet was based mostly on meat (mainly lamb) and seafood. Still, fruit and vegetables found in shops are not as fresh as in the continent and have higher prices. Therefore, traditional Icelandic dishes involve other ingredients.

Here are some of the “delicacies”, that are worth to try at least once during your stay in Iceland – we’ve tried them all!

Kæstur hákarl  – fermented (rotten) shark

Hakarl fermented shark Iceland

Imagine very stinky French cheese. Then multiply it by 10, add some acidity and you will have a small approximation of a smell of hákarl. Yummy.

Hákarl is a national Icelandic dish made from shark meat cured with specific fermentation process by burying it underground and then drying for 4-5 months. The fresh shark meat is full of acid, that makes it impossible to be consumed, however, after the fermentation process, it’s possible to be eaten (if you manage the smell ha ha).

It is called a “national dish of Iceland”, although not many Icelanders still eat it. It’s more like an old tradition and mostly older people like it – bartender who we met in one of the restaurants where they were serving Hakarl, said that he wouldn’t touch it, but his grandma loves it for special occasions.

We tried it in Cafe Loki in Reykjavik. For 500 krona you get 4 cubes of fish, as it’s commonly served as a taster with a toothpick. The bartender recommended to rinse it down with a shot of local spirit Brennivin – the type of Akvavit, which was a very good idea (1000 krona for a shot). Some people think that the vodka is already terrible enough, but for me it was fine.

The worst part of eating fermented shark is a smell. It’s strong ammonia-rich, pungent and rancid, definitely not welcoming. When you start eating it, you can’t really sense the taste, the problem is the smell and the very rubbery texture making it hard to chew. After few seconds of trying to chew the fish, the taste is getting stronger and you start noticing the acidic and significant fishy taste. That’s when the sweet Brennivin vodka is very helpful. Thanks to the shot, I managed to finish my one piece of shark, opposite to Alex, ha.

We left two other shark cubes untouched. I doubt that bartender would appreciate it though.

Skyr – yogurt or cheese?

I fell in love with Skyr from the first spoon. It’s this type of food, that almost every visitor in the country likes.

It’s Icelandic very thick and creamy yogurt. It’s so thick, that it looks more like cheese. Despite its richness, it contains barely almost any fat. It has a slightly sour flavor, but the taste finishes with a hint of sweetness.

It has been part of the local cuisine for over a thousand years. The most popular one is traditional, but it comes in many flavors. During our stay in Iceland, it was my usual breakfast and I tried a different flavor every day – yummy!

In restaurants, you will also find desserts made from Skyr. The most popular is skyr cheesecake, very smooth and silky, the best with some Icelandic berries.

Skyr cheesecake in Iceland
Skyr cheesecake, Skogafoss restaurant

Skyr is unique to Iceland but it made its way abroad and you can find it in shops in the UK or US (but the one in Iceland is obviously better). For other desserts – try some  Icelandic chocolate when in Iceland!

Pylsur – Icelandic hot dog


Icelandic hot dog pylsur

If you think that the USA is the main country for hot dogs, think again. This fast food gained a big popularity in Iceland and almost became one of the local dishes. Cheap and sold at every petrol station, it’s a best friend of a budget backpacker.

To be honest, I didn’t see much difference between any other hot dog that I’ve ever tried before in different countries – but I must admit that Pylsurs were good. The sausage was meaty and the mix of fresh and fried onions was crispy. The interesting part was a selection of Icelandic sauces, where you could find spiced mustard and mayonnaise with gherkins and capers.

Hot dog Pylsur Iceland

 We also got weird spinach pastry with it – I still don’t know how.

Rúgbrauð – traditional Icelandic bread

Geothermally baked bread in Iceland

Coming from Poland, I always appreciate good bread. Sometimes in the UK I miss the taste of the proper bread, so when I discovered Rúgbrauð in Iceland, I was very happy.

It’s rye bread – dark, dense and usually rather sweet. Traditionally, it was baked in a pot by burying it in the ground next to the hot spring. You can still find bread baked like this and they are just delicious!

You can find a cheap substitute of it in Bonus ( the equivalent of Asda or Wallmart), but it’s better to try the proper one, like those from the Geothermal cooking restaurant in Hveragerði.

Bread Iceland
Bonus bread

Geothermal earth cooked food

Geothermal cooking restaurant
Geothermal earth cooking in Hveragerði

Hot springs in Iceland provide heat and energy, that is used in different forms. One of them is traditional geothermal cooking – performed by burying pots in the ground next to the hot spring. You can find the restaurant still using that method in Hveragerði. They have different types of local bread (above) and buffet with geothermally cooked soups and cold meats. Alex tried local fish, which was also cooked in a traditional method. Everything was delicious.

Geothermal buffet
Earth cooking restaurant buffet in Hveragerði

Lamb in different forms

Lamb leg
Lamb leg in Skogafoss

Before coming to Iceland I’ve read that their lamb tastes different to European ones. And I don’t know if this was just us being lucky in the restaurants that we chose, but all the dishes made from lamb in Iceland were just amazing!

I had lamb leg, soup, and a stew.

I tried the lamb leg (“Skogafoss pride”) in the restaurant next to Skogafoss and it was one of the most tender meats, that I’ve had in a long time. It wasn’t the cheapest, as most of the things in Iceland, 2900 krona, but it was worth it.

Skogafoss restaurant menu
Menu in Skogafoss restaurant

We had the Icelandic lamb stew on one of the petrol stations near Vik. It was a mix of meat, vegetables, potatoes and very aromatic sauce – very tasty. It was a rainy and windy day and nothing could make us happier than a hot pot of rich meaty meal.

Lamb stew in Vik
Lamb stew in petrol station in Vik

Traditional Icelandic lamb soup (Kjötsúpa ) was part of our last meal in the country in Reykjavik. It was hearty and delicious clear soup, with vegetables and chunks of lamb meat in it.

Meat soup in Iceland
Lamb meat soup in Reykjavik

Slátur  – black pudding/haggis

In Poland we have our “kaszanka”, in Scotland there is “black pudding” or” haggis” for a white version. I like both and I don’t really mind what they are made from, so when I found something similar in Iceland, I wanted to try. We just tried the black “blood pudding”, and I loved it.

We had it for a week, fried with fresh eggs, while camping . It was crispy and smooth – you can’t imagine a better meal when spending most of time outdoors. The taste is different than the one in Poland or Scotland – I must say, that I prefer Icelandic one. It’s smoother, richer and tastier. I was even considering bringing some back.

Fiskur – fish

Fish earth cooked
Earth cooked fish

Fish is a main type of food in Iceland. You can try fresh fish in every restaurant. I was more into another type of food during our stay, but Alex tried several different types of fish and all of them were delicious – Local arctic charr in Skogafoss (2700 krona), monkfish in Reykjavik and local fish in the geothermal restaurant in Hveragerði.

Plokkfiskur – traditional Icelandic fish stew

Fish stew Iceland

If you want to try the real one, I wouldn’t recommend buying it from the supermarket, but we had limited budget and needed some food for camping, so we got it from Bonus. It was quite good – big chunks of fish with a lot of potatoes and onion.

Harðfiskur – dried fish

Food and drink in Iceland

Very popular among Icelanders, it reminded me about dried fish in Norway. Here it’s also cod or haddock, however, it’s eaten dry with butter on top. We bought some, but never managed to try and it’s still in our cupboard. But we will try it one day – as it’s dry it can keep for long, so it’s good food for travelling. Although it might still smell a bit fishy.

Other things, which we didn’t always know what they were:

Kæfa – Paté

Camping food Iceland
Lunch in the black beach

Once we bought “Gamaldags Kindakefa” in Bonus. Not entirely sure what was inside, I just assumed that there was lamb. It was more like a paste, a little bit like Polish lard (smalec). We had it on sandwiches. It turned out, that it was Icelandic pate, mainly made out f mutton and being a favorite layer on bread for the islanders.

Fiskibollur – Fishballs

fish cakes and Slátur in campsite
Fish cakes and Slátur in Skaftafell campsite

Similar to meatballs, but light in colours, as made from fish and onion with potato. We had them from the supermarket for our first dinner in the campsite in Reykjavik. They were quite tasty but didn’t have any exciting flavor. Quite cheap and good food for cooking on the campsite.

Pork scratchings

Pork scratchings IcelandWe got them as a kind of snack in a bar in Reykjavik. They were similar in taste to the British ones but much bigger.

Svið – Sheep’s head

Shee head Iceland

We haven’t tried this one and I am not sure if I would, although apparently it just tastes like meat and only the appearance of the sheep looking at you is a bit uneasy. I just saw it frozen in the shop and it felt weird already. However, it’s one of the favorite foods for Icelanders and they eat it for special occasions.

Alcohol in Iceland

Iceland hot pools
Iceland hidden swimming pool

Alcohol is very expensive in Iceland, so generally it’s better to bring your own – we brought some wine for our hot springs chilling out times. But we also tried some Icelandic ones.

One of the local beers is Gull, which you can buy in pubs. In normal shops, you won’t find stronger alcohol and even beer has only maximum of 2,5% – for other ones you need to go to specific place. We didn’t know that and we didn’t really have time to look for it, so apart from normal beer in the pub, we bought some lower percentage ones from supermarket – Gull and Thule.

Beer prices in Iceland

In a pub in Reykjavik, I had the most expensive beer of my life – Lava. It was a proper one, though. Locally brewed, from a small brewery Ölvisholt Brugghús overlooking a volcano Hekla, beer has 9.4% of alcohol. It’s full bodied, black beer with rich flavours of dark chocolate and roasted malt. Delicious. And I still have a bottle – the illustration shows the view from the brewhouse door when volcano eruption happens.

Lava beer Iceland

Another Icelandic spirit is Brennivín – Black Death – that’s what helped me to survive eating fermented shark. It’s popular Icelandic liquor, clear unsweetened schnapps made from fermented grain or potatoes and flavoured with caraway (that’s why it’s similar to aquavit).

Brennivin Iceland

Coffee

It’s free in public places like banks, post offices, shops, usually from the coffee machine and very good!

And, as a bonus, you can also cook some eggs in a geyser!

Eggs in geyser

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Food in Iceland what to eat what to avoid

Would you try any of those dishes? Which one is the most hardcore for you? Let me know in comments!


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6 thoughts on “Food in Iceland – what to eat and what to avoid?

  1. z tą darmową kawą to tyle razy o tym słyszałam, a nigdy się z tym nie spotkałam! to ja już nie wiem 😉

    co do suszonej ryby: my też mamy swoją w lodówce, ale dla odmiany – spróbowałam. nie chcę probować więcej (a jestem bardzo otwarta na nowe smaki). i myślę że nawet posmarowana masłem (however it’s eaten dry with butter on top.) mi nie wejdzie 😉

    1. A wchodziłas do banków czy innych biur? Ja bym normalnie pewnie tam nie zajrzała ale akurat wymienialiśmy pieniądze w banku gdzie był wielki ekspres do kawy – i kawa była bardzo dobra (a jestem kawamaniaczka i muszę mieć dobra kawę ;)), innym razem widzieliśmy darmowa kawę w jednym z biur podróży w Skaftafell jak się dopytywaliśmy o wycieczki na lodowiec. Więcej do biur nie wchodziliśmy 😉

      A jak rybę próbowałaś? My początkowo kupiliśmy żeby ja może namoczyć i jakaś zupę zrobić ale wciąż nie mam na nią dobrego pomysłu, wiec siedzi. Ale z masłem spróbuje jak juz otworze 🙂

  2. Wybieram sie do Islandii na Wielkanoc i sie nie moge juz doczekac! Zawsze mi sie marzylo tam pojechac na koniec zimy, jak jest tyle samo godzin swiatla i nocy, i szansa jeszcze gdzies moze zobaczyc troche sniegu. Akurat w tym roku dobrze sie ulozylo. Nie wiem, czy sie odwaze sprobowac hakarl, ale mam smak na puffin. Zobaczymy, najprawdopodobniej bede jadla instant noodles w hostelu najczesciej 😀

    1. Na Wielkanoc pewnie jeszcze śnieg uświadczysz 😉 Z tego co czytałam to Maskonury są gatunkiem zagrożonym, więc może poczytaj więcej zanim będziesz chciała je zamówić. Ale w menu można je znaleźć, tak samo jak wieloryba – ale z tym to też kontrowersyjna sprawa.
      Za to zdecydowanie polecam wszystko co zrobione z jagnięciny – zwłaszcza nogę po islandzku i typowy islandzki gulasz, mniam mniam 😀

  3. I loved Skyr in Iceland! I started making it at home because it’s so expensive in the US. I wish I’d gotten to try the Skyr cheesecake…it’s on my list for next time!

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