Five Christmas foods to try in Iceland

Children decorating piparkökur, or ginger biscuits.

Children decorating piparkökur, or ginger biscuits. Golli / Kjartan Þorbjörnsson

1. Hangikjöt with uppstúfur

This was traditionally served on Christmas Eve and still is, in many homes. It's basically smoked lamb, sometimes smoked using sheep dung, which is boled like ham and eaten cold. It's traditionally served with a hot béchamel style sauce with peas and potatoes. Another way to enjoy it is simply with butter on the Icelandic flatkökur (flatcake) bread available in all supermarkets. 

Hangikjöt, smoked Icelandic lamb.

Hangikjöt, smoked Icelandic lamb. Eyþór Árnason

2. Laufabrauð

Laufabrauð is a thin flour based bread which consists of round, very thin flat cakes with a diameter of about 15 to 20 cm (6 to 8 inches), decorated with leaf-like, geometric patterns and fried briefly in hot fat or oil. It's traditionally served as an accompaniment to Christmas meals or with butter as a festive breakfast accompanied by a cup of hot chocolate. 


Laufabrauð. Árni Sæberg


3. Ptarmigan

Ptarmigan (Icelandic: rjúpa)  a type of grouse that that changes it's brown colour to white in winter, used to be a Christmas Eve meal for poorer people in Iceland. In the last fifty years or so it became a very traditional meal for many people, usually boiled and then fried and served with red cabbage, caramelized potatoes and gravy. Nowadays ptarmigan is a protected bird and numbers that can be hunted per year are minimal. If you find it in a restaurant, enjoy, it's a very gam-ey and very special flavour. 

An Icelandic ptarmigan in its winter plumage.

An Icelandic ptarmigan in its winter plumage. Sigurður Ægisson

4. Malt og Appelsín

The Icelandic non-alcoholic Christmas drink. It's a mixture of two classic Icelandic soft drinks, Malt, a malty sweet soda and Appelsín, which is orangeade. You can also buy the mixture already prepared, known as Jólabland, or Christmas mix which comes in big plastic jugs.  According to Ölgerðin, who make the famous Christmas brew, it has been made for 61 years. The drink is non-alcoholic, or well, Malt actually contains 1 percent alcohol and the mixture is drunk by adults and children over the holidays to accompany the festive foods on offer. 

Appelsín on the left, and Malt on the right. The ...

Appelsín on the left, and Malt on the right. The two are mixed together for a traditional Christmas drink. Kristinn Ingvarsson

5. Piparkökur (ginger biscuits)

Typical Icelandic Christmas biscuits baked using cloves and ginger. A tradition derived from Scandinavia, they are truly a taste of Christmas. Families enjoy getting together to bake and decorate the biscuits in December.  Children usually decorate the biscuits with icing in a variety of colours to make up little stars, yule lads, trees or whatever else takes their fancy. 

Ginger biscuits - piparkökur- don't actually contain any pepper.

Ginger biscuits - piparkökur- don't actually contain any pepper. Þorkell Þorkelsson


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