An Introduction to Icelandic Cuisine

Iceland is on everybody's bucket-list. We all know it's a whimsical wonderland of volcanic hot springs, rushing waterfalls, glistening glaciers - oh, and the northern lights! But, wait - what's to eat?

Okay, fermented shark and smoked sheep's head may have never been high up on your own personal "must-eat" list, but there is a first time for everything! Iceland is home to some of the most unusual food out there and it's the perfect place to test your palate. As mum always said, "Just try it! If you don't like it, you don't have to eat it again." The land of fire and ice is filled with sugar, spice, and everything... unique.

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Possibly the most beloved of all Icelandic food, this Greek-yogurt-like dairy product is scrumptiously satisfying - and also healthy! Made of pasteurized skimmed milk and a bacteria culture found only in Iceland, Skyr (pronounced SKEE-R) Is every local's favorite breakfast or snack. Throw some berries on top and enjoy!

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Fish Stew - Plokkfiskur

This classic dish is a hearty bowl of Iceland's freshest and most delicious ingredients. Think: white fish (haddock or cod), potatoes, yellow onion, pepper, butter - sometimes even chives, curry, or cheese! Each chef has his or her own way of making this local favorite. Dunk some Icelandic rye bread in there and savor the mouthwatering flavors of Iceland!
Pro-tip: Wondering why food in Iceland is so expensive? Believe it or not, it's a good thing. This country is so strict about its farming and labor rights and regulations (making sure farmers and workers get paid enough) that it bumps up prices a bit. In addition, it's expensive to import food to an island like Iceland! Most local food, like fish, fresh bread, and hot dogs are reasonably-priced. Just don't be surprised if your sit-down dinner bill is a little higher than usual.

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Fermented Shark - Hákarl

Mmm, rotten, decomposed shark carcass - my favorite! Okay, maybe no one's ever said - or even thought - this before, but this unique dish is an Icelandic tradition! Yes, the shark's been dried and treated in ammonia for weeks. At least all that treatment has made it no-longer poisonous. So, if you're brave enough, give Hákarl a try. When else will you get the chance?

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Sheep's Head - SviĂ°

Let us just say this dish is much easier tasted than seen. Smoked sheep's head is a traditional throwback that stems from old Icelandic times, when no part of an animal was allowed to go to waste. Usually served with scoops of mashed potatoes and turnips, locals can't resist a hearty plate of sviĂ° with all the trimmings. It also just happens to make quite the eye-catching Instagram post.

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Dried Fish Jerky - HarĂ°fiskur

Literally translating to "hard fish," harĂ°fiskur is a dried fish snack that has a historic love/hate relationship with locals. To put it bluntly, some people love it, and some people hate it, but how will you know where you stand unless you try it?! Hold your nose (yes, it does give off a less-than-pleasant smell), slather some Icelandic Smjor butter on there, and take a bite! Remember, haddock doesn't smell like roses either, but we eat it, right? Despite it's controversial taste, it's no argument that dried fish is one of the most nutrient- and protein-rich snacks out there. The perfect post-hike go-to!

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Hot Dogs - Pylsur

Really? I'm supposed to fly all the way to another country and eat hot dogs? Yes. Icelanders are serious about their dogs! Not only are they made with the usual pork and beef, they're also made with lamb! Reykjavik's famous Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur has been in business for over 60 years and is known to be Iceland's hot-dog-hot-spot (try saying that three times fast). Order yours with everything: crispy onions, sweet brown mustard, and a creamy remoulade! We know what you're thinking: is this place just a tourist trap? No - it's adored by tourists and locals, alike!
Pro-tip: Order two! You'll be surprised how quickly you gobble up the first one, and - let's face it - who wants to wait in that line again?! Icelandic food is also known to be a bit pricey, so a yummy hot dog makes the perfect cheap-eat.

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Rye Bread - RĂşgbrauĂ°

However you choose to eat it - topped with smoked salmon and cream cheese, blended with ice cream, or simply with some butter slathered on top - this sweet, dense rye bread is an Icelandic staple. If you ask any local, you'll learn that there's only one real way to make it correctly. Traditional Icelandic rye bread is buried in the ground next to a bubbling geyser and cooks from the geothermal heat that the hot springs exude!

Photo by Instagram user @reykjavikfood

Puffin - lundi

But they're so cute! Try not to think about that, as you indulge in tasty smoked puffin. Usually served as an appetizer, this traditional dish once saved destitute Icelanders from starvation and is now considered a delicacy! Indulge in this savory smokey seabird, usually accompanied by a sweet blueberry sauce.

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Despite its nickname "Black Death," this signature spirit of Iceland will certainly lift your own. This liquor is definitely an aqcuired taste - one that many would find reminiscent of anise or liquorice. While it may not be the easiest to drink, locals find it pairs perfectly with much of the Icelandic cuisine, like fermented shark and other seafood dishes. If you're wondering what it mixes well with, the answer is, well, nothing. While very few people order a Brennivin and Coke, most Icelanders just order it chilled, straight up.

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Kleina - Klenät

Yum! Iceland's favorite pastry! Like most Icelandic food, Kleina has been passed down from Scandinavia and other Nordic countries. This vanilla doughnut-like pastry is served at every holiday, at every coffee shop, and at every grandmother's house. The hardest part about eating kleina? Trying to only eat one!