What to Eat in Iceland: Here’s What’s Delicious
Fermented shark, whale …. these are the food items that come to mind when I think of Icelandic cuisine. I was glad when I found out this is NOT what most Icelanders eat daily. Instead, I discovered most of their cuisine revolves around organic produce and two main proteins: lamb and fish. And oh, how I love lamb. After discovering all the nooks and crannies of Iceland’s south coast, I am excited to share my list of what to eat in Iceland and where to try it.
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01- Icelandic Lamb
Braised lamb ribs, rhubarb BBQ, smoked buttermilk and celeriac at Skal! Hlemmur Food Hall in Iceland
Ok, I have to start with the lamb.
Did I tell you how much I love lamb?
Some of the best lamb I have ever had was at Pedro’s House of Lamb in New Zealand, so the bar was already set quite high.
Icelandic lamb is known for its premium quality. They are allowed to graze freely in the wild and rugged fertile landscape, snacking on berries and herbs along the way.
No growth hormones or antibiotics are allowed.
No cross-breeding either, so the Icelandic sheep is considered one of the purest species in the world.
Skal! (which means Cheers!) is located in the Hlemmur Food Hall, which used to be a bus station. This restaurant is known for creating innovative dishes featuring local food and foraged ingredients. Their talent led to a Michelin Bib Gourmand award in 2019.
One of the meals we enjoyed was braised lamb ribs, rhubarb BBQ, smoked buttermilk, and celeriac. Mmmm, it was succulent, tender, and oh-so-delicious. This should be top on your list of what to eat in Iceland!
Skal! at Hlemmur Food Hall in Iceland
Icelandic skyr yogurt
Kinda like Greek yogurt but not.
As the Thai people would say “same same but different.”
Technically, skyr is considered a strained skim-milk cheese. Why? Because you have to add a substance called rennet to help curdle the milk.
In comparison to traditional yogurt, skyr is thicker and contains more protein and less sugar. The heirloom cultures used in skyr have been passed down among generations (like a sourdough starter) and impart a rich, creamy taste that is less tart.
Skyr is always made from skim milk, so it is essentially fat-free. To get its cream cheese-like consistency, 1 cup of skyr requires 4 cups of milk. 1 cup of yogurt requires only 1 cup of milk.
We love checking out grocery stores in new countries. After we landed in Iceland, we swung by the Bonus grocery store and picked up some skyr from a brand called Kea.
I usually eat 1 cup of Greek yogurt daily for good digestive health. Now that I know skyr has a similar nutritional profile (including probiotics) to Greek yogurt, I may have to add this to the rotation.
In the United States, you can find skyr in places like Whole Foods under the brands Siggi’s and Icelandic Provisions.
Skyr yogurt. Notice how thick it is and more like cream cheese?
03- Geothermal Vegetables
Fridheimar tomato farm in Iceland
You may be surprised to hear Iceland actually grows over half its own vegetables.
How does this country with cold harsh weather conditions do this? Geothermal energy!
Farmers harness this energy to heat up greenhouses to cultivate tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs, etc. The produce is 100% organic. No pesticides.
The best place to try this local produce is Friðheimar farm.
The focus of this sustainable farm is the tomato.
They have even created a restaurant that celebrates “everything tomato.” We enjoyed some warm delicious tomato soup and fresh bread while sitting among the tomato vines in their glass-paneled greenhouse. The occasional bee would buzz by. A basil plant sits on each table, where you can pluck off a few leaves to jazz up your soup.
You can also order some unique items like tomato-based ice cream, green-tomato apple pie, and tomato beer. We did not try those items, but if you have, I would love to hear your input.
A pretty unique experience. This was a perfect stop to warm up from the cold along our Golden Circle road trip. During the summertime, you can also stick around for the horse shows featuring Friðheimar’s famous Icelandic horses.
Eating all-you-can-eat tomato soup at Fridheimar in Iceland
04- Lobster Soup
Enjoying a cup of creamy lobster bisque at Heimahumar food truck at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Alright, it’s not really lobster in the soup but actually langoustine (aka Norway lobster). I was surprised to learn North Atlantic langoustines are highly-prized and are even more expensive than lobster!
Like, twice the cost. It’s considered a delicacy.
Langoustines are relatives of the lobster and are smaller in size. These premium saltwater crustaceans are found in several parts of the world including the ice-cold waters off the coasts of Iceland, Norway, and Scotland. They are known for their delicious, sweet, delicate tail meat which turns white when cooked.
There are several great places to try Iceland’s famous lobster soup. If you want to try the best, travel to Hofn. This small fishing town is known as the lobster capital of Iceland. They even hold an annual Lobster Festival every June. Needless to say, the locals in this town are serious about their lobster.
We did not have time to travel all the way to Hofn. However, we did find an amazing local food truck called Heimahumar while visiting Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.
The food truck first opened in Hofn but now operates at the Glacier Lagoon. Our first experience tasting a delicious piping hot bowl of Icelandic lobster soup was sitting at a picnic bench with glaciers slowly floating by. Wow, it’s these little moments that make travel amazing.
Definitely put this on your list of what to eat in Iceland! After you are done chowing down, check out the neighboring Diamond Beach.
Eating lobster soup at Heimahumar food truck at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
05- Fish & Chips
Fish & Chips Vagninn in Reykjavik’s main harbor
Surrounded by freezing cold waters, Iceland is home to some incredible seafood. The dish you were just served was likely swimming hours ago. Some favorite Icelandic fish include cod, haddock, and arctic char.
We had expertly prepared cod fried in a light crispy batter at Fish & Chips Vagninn. The quality of fish is super important.
What distinguishes this food truck is it’s operated by an actual fishing company called Fiskkaup Ltd. They do it all! Catch, prepare, and cook the fish made-to-order. Talk about fresh.
While walking around Reykjavik’s main harbor breathing in some fresh sea air, we came across this little gem. We picked up our order, sat down on one of the picnic benches, and sunk our teeth into some delicious fish & chips and mushy peas.
Expectations were surpassed! Yet another great example of what to eat in Iceland.
Fish & Chips Vagninn food truck in Reykjavik’s main harbor
06- Icelandic Ice Cream
Ice cream choices at Efstidalur II farm in Iceland
Icelanders love their ice cream year-round no matter how cold the weather may get.
This treat is offered everywhere from gas stations to farms.
There are a lot of different ways to enjoy Icelandic ice cream from soft serve, gelato, lúxusdýfa (chocolate/caramel sauce often used to dip soft-serve ice cream), and bragðarefur (blend of ice cream + candy, like a blizzard).
We decided to try Icelandic ice cream at a countryside dairy farm. If you are already driving the Golden Circle, Efstidalur II makes for a great pit stop.
This multi-generational family farm offers up many tempting flavors. We enjoyed a cup of salted caramel and chocolate organic ice cream while hanging out with the dairy cows.
Eating salted caramel and chocolate organic ice cream at Efstidalur II in Iceland
Hanging out with cows eating ice cream at Efstidalur II in Iceland
07- Rye Bread (aka Lava or Thunder Bread)
What to eat in Iceland: rye bread
This very dense bread is made with baking powder and slowly steamed in the ground near a geothermal spring or slowly baked at low temp in an oven.
If cooked in the ground, it is known as “hot spring” bread or hverabrauð. Check out Laugarvatn Fontana if you want to experience hot spring bread firsthand right when it comes out of the ground.
We picked up a loaf of rye bread at the Bonus grocery store and gave it a try straight out of the cellophane wrap.
Let’s just say some local foods are fun to try once. Not my favorite. I have heard the bread is best served warm with a little butter, so I probably need to give it another shot.
Another popular way to enjoy this special bread is in ice cream. On our next trip to Reykjavik, I will be sure to check out Cafe Loki. This restaurant is known for its unique rye bread ice cream with cream and rhubarb syrup.
Interesting fact. Why is this bread sometimes called “thunder bread’? Eating too much of this high-fiber bread can make you fart. You might want to skip this if you are in a new relationship.
08- Icelandic Hot Dog
Eating a famous Icelandic hot dog at Baejarins Beztu Pylsur
Baseball game staple. Cookout essential. Most Americans have experienced this well-known comfort food full of mystery meat, but I bet most haven’t tried the Icelandic hot dog.
What makes it different is the lamb.
And I have already shared how much I love lamb. Remember an Icelandic lamb is a happy lamb. Grass-fed, freely-grazing, no hormones, no antibiotics.
Where do past presidents like Bill Clinton eat the best Icelandic hot dog?
A little food stand called Baejarins Beztu Pylsur. It has been around since 1937. This iconic institution is a must-visit to check off “hot dog” on your list of what to eat in Iceland.
We topped off our hot dog with ketchup and mustard. The locals recommend ordering “one with everything” which includes ketchup, mustard, crispy and raw onions, and remoulade (mayo-based sauce with sweet relish). Hits the spot!
09- Brennivin (aka Black Death)
Enjoying a shot of Brennivin at Apotek Bar in Reykjavik, Iceland
Ok, so this is not a food, but it is a must-try signature local spirit.
Brennivin is spiced with caraway, giving it a licorice or anise flavor. Caraway is a hardy spice that thrives in the harsh Icelandic climate.
It is best to try it chilled in a shot glass.
We enjoyed trying this unique spirit at an amazing cocktail bar called Apotek in Reykjavik. The bartenders were fantastic and served up some very innovative drinks including the Dillagin, which is made of dill-infused Beefeater gin, mango, lime, and sugar. Weird mix but surprisingly good.
Brennivin has an interesting story behind why it is known as Black Death. Created in 1935 when the government partially repealed prohibition, this spirit was given an ominous black label with a skull to try to deter people from drinking it.
However, it had the opposite effect, and consumers were drawn to it.
The “death” part comes from the Icelandic slang word for “drunk/passed out,” which translates to “dead.” Now, the label has a map of Iceland instead of the skull.
I haven’t tried it in a cocktail yet, but I did bring a bottle back home to experiment with. Some say to try it with tonic water or sweet vermouth. I will give you an update once tried.
10- Icelandic Baked Goods
Baked goods at Braud & Co at Reykjavik Iceland
Most towns in Iceland have their own bakery. The local bakers are known for some wonderful bread and pastries including kleinur (deep-friend doughnut-like buns), kanilsnúður (cinnamon rolls), and skúffukaka (chocolate cake).
We stopped by Braud & Co. while in Rekjavik to try out their cinnamon rolls. You cannot miss the graffiti-decorated storefront. This bakery only uses organic ingredients and prepares its pastries in an open-air kitchen.
Their cinnamon rolls are famous. I’ll be honest, they were good but not mind-blowing. A little on the dry side. Next time I will have to try some other options.
I have heard another great place to enjoy an Icelandic cinnamon roll is at the restaurant Otto in the town of Hofn.
Graffiti storefront of Braud & Co. in Reykjavik
11- Hakarl, Fermented Shark
Hakarl fermented shark with a shot of Brennivin
I know this is a thing. Pop a piece of rotten shark in your mouth and chase it down with a shot of Brennivin.
I just couldn’t do it even for the bragging rights. When we were in Peru, I tried cuy (guinea pig). In Vietnam, I tried balut (fertilized duck egg). Fermented shark was a whole different ball game.
Eating food that smells like ammonia is where I draw the line.
Hold your nose if you attempt it and eat it outside. Some describe the odor as similar to stinky cheese that has been left out in the sun for hours. Ewww. Even Anthony Bourdain said it was “the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing.”
However, if you are more adventurous than me, know the Greenlands shark you are eating is actually poisonous when fresh but safe when properly processed. The preparation involves burying the meat in the ground and then hanging it to dry for months.
My understanding is the older Icelandic generations are really the only ones who still eat it. Have you tried it? Let me know your experience. You are braver than I!
Immersing yourself in a country’s food scene is a great way to learn about the culture. I was pleasantly surprised by Iceland’s culinary contributions. It is not all about eating sharks, whales, and puffins. We really enjoyed the fresh fish, tender lamb, yummy vegetables, and dairy products.
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Any other foods you tried and loved while in Iceland?
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