12 local delicacies to try in Iceland
Puffin is most popular in the Westman Islands, the birds biggest colony in Iceland. Photo: Iceland Monitor/Brynjar Gauti
There is a bounty of exciting, delicious local food to try in Iceland. Forget about the fermented shark used to shock tourists – there are plenty more interesting things to be had. Here is a list of the top delicacies that are favourites among locals:
This cute little bird, often used to represent Iceland, is very delicious. The meat is very dark but is different from many other game birds as it lives by the ocean and eats fish. Today it is often consumed smoked and raw or the breast is given a quick sear in the pan and not cooked through, though the old-fashion way is to boil it whole for a long time.
Icelandic people love their sheep so much that their population surpasses the human population on the island by far. The flavour of the meat is distinctly different from lamb in many other countries, the cause is probably that Icelandic sheep are herded up to hills and highlands in spring and there it roams free until autumn. This gives the meat a deeper flavour. Lamb from Iceland is not a far cry from being organic, as most farmers only raise their sheep on hay harvested in summer, the use of hormones is prohibited and antibiotics are strictly regulated.
Icelandic craft beer
There are many small craft breweries in Iceland and a new one seems to pop up every year. There are tours available in many of those, but if you want to compare and taste many types there are four bars in Reykjavik that specialise in craft beers and have local beers on tap: Microbar, Skúli Craft Bar, Bjórgarðurinn and last but not least Bryggjan Brugghús. Bryggjan has it's very own brewery in the back room and on tap you can find both their own brew and beer from other Icelandic breweries, they also offer tours and short seminars on Icelandic brews.
Microbar is one of the bars that offer a great variety of local craft beers. Photo: Iceland Monitor/Björn Jóhann
Local game birds
Duck and goose are both common prey for hunters in Iceland. The meat is dark and has a very distinct game flavour; you can taste the flavour of the Icelandic mountains in the meat. If you happen to be visiting around Christmas, you might get a taste of ptarmigan, a local favourite for Christmas dinner with a strong game flavour.
Dried fish, usually eaten by itself or with butter. It is slightly salty and very chewy, which makes it a great snack. It is popular in Iceland, both in rural societies and amongst hip people on a diet, as it is very lean, nutritious and contains mostly protein.
Horses are another cute animal often used to represent Iceland. They are very popular to ride, but also tasty. The meat is lean, a bit lighter than beef and much tenderer. The flavour is distinct but not very strong. Like the sheep, most of the horses in Iceland roam free in the mountain areas of Iceland over the summer (save those used for riding). They are too close to organic breeding as horses in Iceland are mostly fed hay harvested in summer, and again the use of hormones is prohibited and antibiotics are strictly regulated.
Horse meat is in many ways similar to beef, but is tenderer and has a milder flavour. Photo: Iceland Monitor/Skapti Hallgrímsson
Salmon cured with dill is also known as graflax, a common starter in parties and on buffets, served with a type of honey-mustard dressing flavoured with dill. The same recipe is often used for local trout, which is similar in taste and no less of a crowd pleaser. Both versions are very popular, the fish and the dressing can be bought in just about every supermarket in the country.
The people of Iceland love their lamb, especially hangikjöt, smoked lamb. It is a common meal on Christmas day with cold peas, béchamel, potatoes and pickled red cabbage. Hangikjöt is also a popular topping for local bread and on sandwiches with pea and carrot salad. In recent years, twice-smoked hangikjöt has been gaining popularity, it has a stronger smoke flavour and is often enjoyed raw as a starter.
There is a great variety of smoked lamb for sale around Christmas. Photo: Iceland Monitor/Kristinn Ingvarsson
There are three types of traditional bread that are you can buy in every supermarket: flatbrauð, rúgbrúð and soðbrauð (also known as partar or steikt brauð). Flatbrauð is a type of flatbread that is very dense and often contains Iceland moss. It doesn’t dry out easily so it’s great to pack as a snack while travelling.
Rúgbrauð is made out of rye, but unlike rye bread in other Nordic countries, the Icelandic one is rather sweeter, which makes it great with fatty or smoked toppings.
Soðbrauð is a puffy fried bread, in many ways similar to kleina (a sweet Icelandic pastry) with a hint of sweetness to it which goes well with smoked fish.
Setting aside the argument, to whale or not to whale, minke whale meat is available in Iceland so it would be strange not to mention it at all. The meat is very dark, tender and tastes in many ways like a good steak. Whale is at its best when cooked rare, medium-rare at the most. If it is cooked right through you can taste the sea, and not in a good way.
Mink whale is sometimes enjoyed raw with a dipping sauce. Photo: Iceland Monitor/Golli / Kjartan Þorbjörnsson
This high-protein, low-fat dairy product has been gaining in popularity in Europe and North America. Technically it’s cheese, but the flavour and texture are similar to thick yoghurt. The traditional way to enjoy this is with cream, sugar, and bilberries (Icelandic: bláber, similar to blueberries), today though there is a great variety of flavourings available in every supermarket.
There is a great variety of skyr available in every supermarket. Photo: Iceland Monitor/Golli / Kjartan Þorbjörnsson
Last but not least, fish. Icelanders do a lot of fishing. In fact, it is the second-largest industry in the country, right after tourism (which only surpassed it a few years ago). This means that the fish you get in Iceland is most likely fresh and of a high standard.