Friends and family often ask me while visting us in Iceland: What is the taste of Iceland, what is typical Icelandic food and what you have to try when you are in Iceland. Here goes my list of top 10 Icelandic delicacies, you should try to get the authentic Icelandic “smakk”.
Icelandic skyr isn’t an unknown diary product to the world any more. It experienced quite some hype during recent years since it contains almost no fat and a lot of protein, this makes it the perfect snack after gym and since Iceland has several powerpacked athletes, Skyr was often named their secret for so much strength. The old traditional way to eat it, is with either milk or cream to make it easier to eat. It used to be way thicker in consistency and actually it is a fresh cheese. Back in the days people bought it wrapped in paper just like actual cheese. Top it with fresh berries and voilá – you have the authentic Icelandic national dish. It also makes a tasty-authentic souvenir. Or make the easiest cake in the world with it.
2. Hangikjöt & Flatkaka
The Icelandic flat bread is called flatköku, which literally translates to flat cake. It is often eaten with the national dish hangikjöt, smoked Icelandic lamb cut in slices. It has a very different, unique taste to other smoked meat or fish. This is because it is smoked with … be strong now: Dried sheep manure. Sometimes also with birch or peat. Since wood was and is a very costly material in this treeless island, people need to find a different solution for smoking. You eat it usually with the typically salted Icelandic butter and put hangikjöt on flat bread and cut it in half. I personally do not like hangikjöt, but I am a fan of flatköku. This is definetly an authentic Icelandic snack.
The Icelandic version of Fanta. You have to try this bottled overdose of orange sugar in liquid form. Should Iceland ever in a billion years join the European Union, rumour has it you wouldn’t be able to test it any longer, since the sugar content allegedly is so over-the-top that it is against EU standards. Also part of the fun: The instant hiccup or tears in the eyes you will get from the excessive amount of carbon dioxide, just as Icelanders prefer it. Mix it with malt beer during the christmas season and call it Jólaöl.
4. Icelandic hot dog
The hype is true: Icelandic hot dogs are truly something different. The special mixture of lamb and pork meat in the sausage gives it authentic Icelandic taste and interesting spin. I like the version with grilled bun more, but for some reason Icelanders love their bun flabby and unroasted. Of course, you need to order it with everything (með öll): fresh and roasted onions and ketchup, mustard and tartar sauce.
I am a huge fan of this simple, traditional Icelandic dish, which literally means “plucked fish”. My colleague is literally addicted to it. This is one of those meals that sticks with you from your childhood until the days when eating has gotten replaced by slurping. Potatoes, fish and onions create a creamy dream team and will make you happy whenever you are sad.
Even though you might know this kind of doughnut, the Icelandic version Kleinur is less sweet and usually comes with a more distinct kardamom note than its European or American siblings. Also, it comes in a different shape: A twisted rhomb. You can get them with or without chocolate dip. They are very good with coffee. Buy them at the bakery, though, since the cheap ones in plastic bags do not have the nice crisp to it.
Icelanders LOVE their liquorice to bits and pieces. You can find it everywhere and in every variation you can dream of: Sweet, salty, strong, mild, in ice cream, mixed into chocolate, as snaps or cakes.
Guðrún Helga Sigurðardóttir explains in her book “Traditional Icelandic Food” that Harðfiskur or stockfish used to be the “bread” for Icelanders and is Icelands oldest exported good. I like this traditional Icelandic food. It is a healthy snack, even though it can be quite chewy. Unfortunatelly you might not be the most popular person around when eating it (at least not around non-Icelanders), since Hardfiskur is dried fish and therefore not overly lovely smelling.
Kjötsúpa is the Icelandic equivalent to chicken soup. Eaten with lamb, potatoes and vegetables, this soup will pick you up instantly. It will always make you happy and most certainly help you recover from the flu and other nasty stuff.
10. Rye Bread
You probably wonder what is so special about rye bread, since most countries have it. But bear with me: Icelandic rye bread has a totally different taste as it is way sweeter and more compact. Besides it is differently baked: Traditionally rye bread was geothermally baked in hot puddles. It fits perfectly with Nr. 5 Plokkfiskur or simply with salted butter.
Where is the disgusting food?
In case you wonder why I didn’t mention the gross Icelandic food, which you can find in all the “Must Try” lists out there: There are two reasons why I do not mention neither Fermented Shark (Hárkarl) nor sour ram testicles & Co. on my list.
Because these are not authentic dishes anymore. No Icelander – at least I know – is eating fermented shark, sour ram testicles, sour whale or similar food on a daily basis. Yes, this food was way more authentic – centuries ago during times of unbelievable scarcity. These days it is only served to watch tourists try not to gag or during very specific, rather rare occassions.
In the case of the fermented shark I think it is not ethical to hunt this species only for the sake of entertaining tourists. As I said, the average Icelander is not having dinner with fermented shark anymore. This kind of food is usually exclusively eaten during Þórrablót. With promoting this kind of unauthentic food amongst visitors, the demand is artifically increased or maintained. It is the same principle as with whale meat: It is almost entirely produced for sensation-chasing tourists to go back home and tell all their peers what crazy stuff they dared to eat. Nope, not with me.