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What do you eat in Iceland? - 15 Icelandic specialities

What do you actually eat in Iceland? We list 15 Icelandic specialities and share our experiences with Icelandic food. In Iceland, you can find everything from sheep meat to fresh seafood. Join us for a taste of Iceland!


What do you eat in Iceland?

I (Helena) spent an academic year in Iceland in 1992/1993 and have since been back no less than five times. The most recent time was just recently, when we visited the food festival Food and Fun Reykjavik. So, what do you eat in Iceland?

Vad äter man på Island? Isländsk mat!
Breakfast at hotel Hilton Reykjavik Nordica

Icelandic food - past and present

Some of the traditional Icelandic dishes (especially the so-called 'Þorramaten', eaten during a festival in February) are perhaps more a source of horror than appetite. The unappetising nature of the food may be due to the old-fashioned ways of preserving food over the long winters, using drying, smoking, brining and lactic acid.

Today, as in the past, much fish and lamb is cooked, but in ways that suit most of us much better. Vegetables have become more common, and are widely grown in greenhouses in southern Iceland. Of course, international food such as pizza, pasta and hamburgers are also common. But that's not what's most interesting. We present 15 different specialities of Icelandic cuisine!

Det isländska köket

1. Fish and seafood

With all the sea surrounding Iceland, it's no wonder that people eat a lot of fish and shellfish. When I lived on Hemön in Iceland (1992/1993) we ate almost only haddock. The last time we were in Iceland, cod seemed to be the favourite. absolutely hottest. Other common sea foods include salmon, halibut, plaice, ling, sea bass, char, prawns and crayfish.

Vad äter man på Island? Torsk förstås!

2. lamb meat

Lamb is an important part of Icelandic food culture, and can be found in both traditional and more modern dishes. In the past, you might have eaten hángikjöt (smoked mutton) or svið (sheep's head), but today you're more likely to get lamb fillet or lamb saddle. By the way, did I mention that sheep's head used to be a classic picnic item...?

Isländsk mat: lamm

3. Hángikjöt - smoked lamb meat

Hángikjöt is smoked lamb meat, which can be served hot or cold. Sometimes the meat is served thinly sliced on rye bread or "flatkaka" (a kind of flatbread), as we last had it on canapés in the Czech Republic. Residence of the President of Iceland. Hángikjöt is a traditional festive dish and can be served at various festivals, such as Þorrablót.

Isländsk mat: hangikjöt

4. Harðfiskur - dried fish

Harðfiskur is dried fish, which has been a popular snack for centuries. The photo is from Saltrömmen in Norway, where we were served a similar snack last year. How does it taste? Quite ok, but you have to work hard to bite through the woody and hard flesh ...

vad äter man på Island? Torrfisk

5. Whale meat

While whale meat is not commonly served on Icelanders' plates, several restaurants have whale meat on their menus. The whale served is the minke whale, which is not red-listed. We tried the restaurant Fish Market, not bad at all!


6. puffin

Puffins are not only cute, but also edible. Puffin is not a common everyday dish, but we have had it on a buffet and tasting menu. The flavour is a bit special, but good. It is also common for the meat to be served smoked.

Vad äter man på Island? Lunnefågel

7. birds' eggs

In Iceland, people eat not only eggs from hens, but also various seabird eggs. We have not tried this, but it is considered a delicacy and the season is of course in spring. In restaurants, however, we have tried small eggs from mini-chickens.

8. Clear

Skýr is a traditional Icelandic dairy product that can be eaten as a breakfast or snack. Skýr is a high-protein, low-fat food similar to quark, sometimes sold in different fruit flavours. Traditional skýr has a slightly dry texture and is often eaten with milk and perhaps sugar. Tastes great!

Portion-packed vanilla-flavoured ice cream
Isländsk mat: Skýr
Skýr with milk on the side, at restaurant Efstadalur II

9. Salmon - fish liver oil

Icelanders, for some reason, love their lýsi, or fish liver oil. What Icelander doesn't want to start their morning with a shot of this refreshing drink? If you want to try it, just check into any hotel in the country. Lýsi is a staple on the breakfast table. What does it taste like? Well, there are some things that are better ...

Vad äter man på Island? lysi

10. Þorramatur

Þorrablót is originally a pagan sacrificial festival held in the Old Norse month of Þorra, around February. Today's young Icelanders may not love the 'delicacies' of this festival, but I can at least boast of having tasted the main dishes: hákarl (sour shark/fermented shark), svið (boiled sheep's head), hangikjöt (smoked sheep meat), blóðmör (a kind of blood pudding), lifrapylsa (liver sausage), hrútspungar (sheep's testicles), rúgbrauð (rye bread) and flatbrauð (a kind of flat bread).

Isländsk mat: Thorramatur
Þorramatur, Photo:

11. Hákarl - surhaj

We have already mentioned the fermented sauerkraut, but it deserves to be mentioned again. People who have tasted both surströmming and hákarl tend to think that surströmming is child's play, and I am prepared to agree. The shark contains a poison when it is caught, but by letting it ferment and dry, the poison disappears. The flavour (and smell) is ammonia. Only for the toughest of the tough!

Can I tempt you with some fermented shark?, Photo:

12. 'Black Death' brandy

To swallow the rotten shark and some of the other Þorramat, you need brandy - trust me! The classic Icelandic version is called Brennivín. When it was first produced in 1935, after the end of Icelandic alcohol prohibition, there was a warning symbol in the form of a skull on the label. Today, the skull has been replaced by a map of Iceland, but the spirit is still nicknamed 'Svarti dauðinn' (Black Death).


13. Opal - throat lozenges

The Icelandic throat lozenges Opal are pronounced with an emphasis on the o and not the a (i.e. with an emphasis on the first syllable as in all Icelandic words). It is not easy to explain the flavour, but Icelandic blog describes (the black version) very aptly: "Smoky, black, lustful, bloody salty, like going out and tarring the roof in a shower of ash".


14. Liquorice with chocolate

Icelanders have a strong preference for liquorice and for chocolate - at the same time. Today you can find this combination in more places in the world, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Icelanders were the first. In any case, liquorice and chocolate was already a big hit when I lived there in 1992/1993.


15. bollard, kleinur and ... more

Finally, we would like to conclude by telling you that Icelanders like sweet pastries. Just as we Swedes have our fattening day, they have a "bolludagur", when they eat sweet buns with different fillings, such as jam, cream and chocolate. Kleinur (a pastry called klenäter) is also popular, as are huge buns topped with melted chocolate. If you like sweets ... head to your nearest Icelandic bakery! Unfortunately, we don't have a picture, so we'll have a picture of an Icelandic ice cream instead!

isländsk glass

Icelandic beer

Beer was banned in Iceland between 1915 and 1989, and perhaps this is why beer is so popular in Iceland. What's better than the forbidden? 1 March is the date when beer was released and is now celebrated as 'Beer Day'. Today there are many good beers in Iceland. We tried Einstök and Úlfur, among others, which we liked.

Isländsk öl

Icelandic food in a restaurant

So, what do you eat in restaurants in Iceland? Traditional hard food is all very well, but today's Icelandic cuisine has evolved to be both modern and exciting. Many restaurants in Reykjavik use local ingredients, while also drawing influences from many parts of the world. For example, we have had very good dining experiences in the restaurants. Fish Market, Fish Company and Meat.

Vad äter man på Island? Isländsk mat

Further evidence of Icelanders' modern interest in food is provided by the festival Food and Fun Reykjavikwhich is organised every year in February or March. Chefs from all over the world are invited to serve creative menus based on Icelandic ingredients.

Do you have any experience with Icelandic food? Would you like to tell us about something else you eat in Iceland?

What do you eat in ...?

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Food and drink in different countries. Click on the image!

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