A Guide to Food and Drink in Iceland
Are you planning a trip to Iceland this winter? Iceland is fast becoming one of the most popular holiday destinations and for good reason. Find out what you can expect to eat and drink while you’re there with my handy guide.
Remember the global financial crisis in 2009? Well it hit Iceland pretty damn hard but perhaps one of the only positive things to come out of such a devastating event was that Iceland’s currency plummeted. As a result, Iceland finally opened up as an almost affordable holiday destination.
Thousands of people now head to Iceland (and more specifically Rekyjavik) every year. It’s still a pricey place to visit but the landscape, people and food are well worth it. If you’re thinking of planning a trip I can’t recommend it enough and would be happy to chat about your plans in the comments or on twitter!
In the meantime here’s my guide to food and drink in Iceland.
A lot of Icelands delicacies are preserved, fermented or cured in some way which is no surprise given the long harsh winters and need to store food. Some of the items on this list will sound familliar and you may have even tried before. But beware, there are a few grusome dishes too! There’s plenty or traditional food for you to try so you may need to visit for longer than a weekend to experiene them all.
- Hot dog or Pylsur (Icelandic hot dogs are made with lamb, pork AND beef. If you buy one make sure its from Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur – which translates to “the best hot dogs in town” – in downtown Rekyjavik opposite the harbour. Order it “eina með öllu” for ALL of the toppings or with “pylsusinnep” which is a sweet brown mustard, ketchup, raw onions, crunchy deep-fried onions or a mildly tangy remoulade).
- Fermented shark or Hákarl (cured with a particular fermentation process, consisting of burying the shark underground and hanging it to dry for four to five months which produces a strong smell of amonia).
- Sour ram’s testicles or Súrir hrútspungar (no longer a common dish but one that was invented by poor farmers out of necessity).
- Rye bread (if you’re familliar with Nordic cuisine you will be familliar with this dark, slightly sweet bread. In Iceland it is traditionally made in a wooden cask buried near a hot spring).
- Skyr (this is one of my favourite Icelandic delicacies which has made it’s way over to the UK. It’s a cultured dairy product a bit like a cream cheese or yogurt and its DELICIOUS. I ate this most mornings on our trip).
- Dried fish or Harðfiskur (this snack is best described as “fish jerky”. Usually cod or haddock is dried out and requires an awful lot of chewing. The locals will eat it smothered with butter which makes it a little softer).
- Sheep’s head or Svið (you’ll find lots of lamb on menus and possibly even a sheep’s head. In fact, you can buy sheep’s head every day at the “Fljótt og Gott” (“Fast and Good”) caféteria at the BSI bus terminal in Reykjavik before or after you head off on your Golden Circle Tour or trip to watch the Northern Lights. You can also buy sviðasulta (sheep head jam) which is simillar to a terrine and eaten on top of rye bread. The sight of a cooked sheep’s head really isn’t one for the faint hearted!
- Moss or Fjallagrös (a starch-rich almost tasteless vegetable that’s dried into black curls and snacked on raw or cooked with milk).
- Blood Pudding or Slátur (if you like black pudding you’ll like Slátur though in Iceland there are two types: blóðmör (blood pudding) or lifrarpylsa (liver sausage)).
- Salted Fish or Saltfiskur (another traditional method used to preserve fish in Iceland is to salt it. The fish in question is completely covered in salt, which dries it out. Before cooking it is soaked in water though it can be bought “lightly salted” to skip this part!)
- Whale meat and whale blubber (both whale meat and blubber (the latter being boiled and cured in lactic acid) used to be traditinal delicacies. Some touristy restaurants still serve whale meat supposedly from the minke whale which is not endangered. Personally I wouldn’t want to risk it.)
- Puffin meat or Lundi (Puffin is prepared either by boiling it in milk sauce or smoked. It’s the local dish of the Westman Islands, where the largest puffin colony in Iceland is. As with whale meat the ethics behind this meat are questionable).
- Meatsoup or Kjötsúpa (This soup is a MUST if you visit during the winter – or any time really! It’s a thin broth with chunks of lamb, potatoes, carrots, onions and swede which is perfect for keeping warm. I enjoyed a big bowl when visiting [name of the Geysir]).
- Liquorice (Icelandic liquorice is the nicest I’ve ever come across. The perfect combination of sweet and salty. You can find it in lots of chocolates too!)
Restaurants in Rekyavik
Rekyavik is definitely experiencing a bit of a rennaisance with creative and talented chefs coming up with exciting new ways to make contemporary Nordic cuisine with Icelandic ingredients. The country produces some truly special ingredients such as Arctic char, blue mussels, lamb, barley and herbs such as sorrel and angelica as well as tomatoes grown in green houses powered by geothermal technology. It really isn’t an exciting time to visit restaurants across Iceland!
You’ll also find some of the delicacies listed earlier in my post at more traditional restaurants.
- Verbud 11 (Lobster & Stuff)
Verbus 11 was one of our favourites. It was the first meal we had in Reykjavik after getting very very lost in a blizzard! The seafood here is outstanding as the restaurant has its own trawler that goes out everyday to bring fresh fish from sea to plate! Good news for vegetarians – the veggie options rock too!
- Icelandic Fish and Chips.
This restaurant has been given the title of best fish and chips in Reykjavik and for goood reason. The fish is fresh, sustainably caught, and fried in a wonderful, light batter made of spelt and barley. The fish depends on what has been caught that day which is miles away from the bog standard cod you get in a UK fish and chip shop. The chips are thick cut, and covered in dill. You’ll also find pickled vegetables, fresh salads and various condiments made with skyr (of course!) To wash it all down you will find Icelandic beer on tap!
- LAVA at the Blue Lagoon
If you visit the Blue Lagoon during your stay in Reykjavik you should definitely book a table at LAVA. Sure, it’s more expensive than grabbing something quick at the cafe but this lovely restaurant serves up delicious contemporary Nordic cuisine set into a huge lava rock with views across the lagoon. It’s the perfect way to finish off time spent pampering yourself.
- The Laundromat Cafe
Wondering where the cool kids hangout? Head over to the Laundromat Cafe for great value breakfast, brunch, sandwiches and burgers. There are also plenty of decadent desserts, juices and coffees on offer. You’ll also find a HUGE library so you can sit back and relax with a book when it is snowing outside.
- Pizza with no name
Yep, believe it or not this restaurant doesn’t actually have a name and it’s not all that easy to find! Yet somehow, it’s always busy! The building used to be someones house but has since been converted into the restaurant. Because of this you feel a little bit nervous walking up to the door once you think you’ve worked out you’re in the right place. The menu is SO good we massively overindulged ordering multiple small dishes as starters (including some EPIC fried chicken) and then moved on to pizzas. The pizzas were HUGE and can definitely be shared between two if not more! The cocktails also got a big thumbs up from me.
Dill is easily the best restaurant in Reykjavik (and the prices reflect this!) Chef Gunnar Karl Gislason cooks up contemporary Nordic food with locally sourced ingredients. You can expect high end treatment with top notch wines and a fantastic cocktail list. You must try the now famous Gunnar’s cocktail made with birch liqueur and schnapps
- 3 Frakkar
If you’re looking for some of the more weird and wonderful Icelandic delacies then this is the restaurant for you. This traditional restaurant serves Icelandic dishes like horse, whale, puffin, seal and of course fermented shark. Do book a table if you can as it is always busy!
- Kaloportid Flea Market
Ok so its not strictly a restaurant but you won’t come home hungry after a visit to the market. Here you can shop for traditional Icelandic foods (fermented shark again and pickled lamb testicles). The indoor food market is located next door to Iceland’s biggest flea market just moments from the harbour. The market vendors offer plenty of free samples so do ask to try before you buy!
- Black Death or Brennivín (Brennivín translates to ‘burning wine’ which isn’t the best sales pitch ever… Brennivín is a sort of schnapps made from fermented potatoes and caraway that is very very strong. Need I say more?)
- Reyka Vodka (Reyka is Icelands only distillery that produces a small batch vodka made from a unique still, using geothermal water from a local spring, lava rock for filtration, and geothermal energy for heat – how very Icelandic!)
- Icelandic Beer (beer is the cheapest form of alcohol you will find in Iceland. Don’t just expect boring watered down lager though. You can find pale ales, stouts, wheat beer, red ales, smoked beers and even fruit beers. Try something from one of the following Icelandic breweries: Ölgerðin, Viking, Egils, Skjálfti, Thule, Gull, Kaldi and Gullfoss).
- Appelsin, malt and bland (if you’re after a soft drink why not try applesin which is a fruity soda, malt which is a dark and sweet malt beverage or bland which is a mix of the two!)
- Drykkur (basically just Skyr in drinkable form!)
Bars and coffee houses in Reykjavik
- Reykjavik Roasters
Everyone knows Reykjavik Roasters serves the best coffee in Iceland. The co-owners have won lots of international awards so you can expect nothing less than award winning coffee. One of its owners, moved to Denmark to train how to roast beans at The Coffee Collective in Copenhagen — Denmark’s best coffee shop. (Fun fact: he was the only non-Danish person ever allowed to do so). After going all that way he now serves up top notch coffee to Icelanders and holiday makers like us!
- Mikkeller & Friends
If you’re in to craft beer this bar will need no introduction. Expect a wide range of Mikkeller beers on tap and in bottles. It’s not cheap (but then what is in Iceland). We definitely recommend stopping off at the pizza with no name (see above) for a bite to eat to help soak up all of that beer!
- Kex Hostel
The bar at Kex Hostel has a quirky interior thanks to its history as a biscuit factory! You do’nt have to be staying in the hostel to enjoy a drink here. There often live music too which makes this a fun place to hang out in the evening.
- Micro Bar
After a drink at Mikkeller & Friends you might want to move on to Micro Barwhich has on of the best and widest selections of beer in Reykjavik. You’ll find beer from small Icelandic breweries as well as international beers you’re more familliar with!
- Slippbarrin at the Marina Hotel
Slippbarrin is a restaurant rather than a bar found inside the quirky Marina Hotelnext to the harbour. As well as tasty food it serves the BEST cocktails in Reykjavik designed by some of the nation’s most well respected bartenders. A must have is the T-Bird, featuring angelica-infused gin. I also recommend the Pippi Gonzales is made with dill aquavit.
Find out more
This is just a glimpse into what we discovered while eating and drinking our way around Reykjavik and Iceland. Soon I’ll post some of my tips and things you should know before booking your trip to Iceland! In the meantime here are some helpful books which you might find useful in planning your trip.
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