A Guide to the Cuisine of Iceland
We know and love Iceland as a Northern Nights and thermal lake hotspot, yet there’s also plenty to talk about when it comes to Icelandic food. It ranks among some of the most inventive and outlandish in the world, although there are also a great number of home-grown classics to savour when you’re feeling peckish.
Whether you’re dining in a rustic cabin set in the Icelandic countryside, or gulping down a flavoursome hot dog from a stand in Reykjavik, make sure you’re armed with some knowledge on Iceland’s most enticing – and often most eclectic – cuisine.
Spoonfuls of skyr
By far the most famous of Iceland’s food is skyr, which is so packed with proteins, vitamins and other good things that it’s often considered to be a super-food.
Skyr can be found all over Iceland and is eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Locals will be buying it in streetside cafes, loading it into their trolleys from the supermarket shelves and ordering it in restaurants throughout the country.
So what exactly is it? Well, it’s a little tub of rich, creamy goodness that technically is a kind of cheese, yet has the texture and consistency of yoghurt. And just like yoghurt, there are several kinds of flavours to try, from the fruity to the nutty.
Skyr can also be added to other meals as a side dish, although it’s most commonly eaten alone, and its versatility means it’s a snack on the go as much as a dish enjoyed over coffee and conversation in a stylish Reykjavik bar.
Hand yourself a hot dog
You might think this classic is more an American convention than an Icelandic one, and we’d be the first to agree that it doesn’t exactly come from the same Nordic traditions as many of the meals in Iceland. However, Icelandic hot dogs, known locally as pylsur, combine lamb with their beef and pork to create a distinctive flavour.
Added to the meat are a blend of condiments, including locally made mustards, tangy ketchups and a mayonnaise specifically invented just to entice out the natural flavours of the hot dog. A fully loaded pylsur also comes with both fried and raw onions. They’ve become so renowned and respected that even Bill Clinton made a beeline for one when first arriving in Reykjavik.
Have you tried the lamb?
Iceland’s wide open spaces and surprisingly temperate climate make for a perfect environment for sheep, which in turn makes lamb chops in an Icelandic eatery a pleasure. The flavours that come through are a cut above the lamb you’ll find in many other destinations, and Icelandic people proudly proclaim their lamb as the finest in the world.
Of course, you should be aware that no part of the animal goes to waste when producing meat, so you’re going to find boiled sheep’s head on the menu at more than one restaurant. Meat meals can get pretty outlandish here compared to those back home, as puffin steaks and fermented shark fillets are pretty much par for the course in these parts.
Breads, pastries and sweet treats
They know how to do the sweet stuff in Iceland just as well as they do savouries. A great example of that is the leaf bread they have at Christmas, which is baked super-thin and decorated with elegant designs. For more robust provender, try the distinctively-shaped kleina, a doughy deep-fried bun, or opt for a gooey slice of skuffukaka, a chocolate cake dusted with shredded coconut bits. There’s also snudur, a cinnamon roll covered in icing or chocolate, for those of you really looking for a taste of tradition.
We’re only scratching the surface of the eclectic eats and fantastic flavours to be had in Iceland, but rest assured that it’s one of the most distinctive cuisine options in Europe.