Iceland’s long winters and cold climate naturally limit the Icelandic cuisine. Fish, dairy, lamb and cereals used to be the mainstay of locals before more vegetables began to be introduced in the 1980s. Traditional Icelandic cuisines involve a lot of smoking, curing, drying or pickling in fermented brine or whey. Today you can eat many of these local classics at restaurants or in Icelandic homes at special times of the year.
1. Har ifiskur or Wind-dried Haddock
The tastes of local Icelanders is changing to become more European, so there’s less of fish in the diet than there used to be. But there are some classics that you can still find all over the country. Wind-dried haddock is a popular snack all over Iceland. It’s like beef jerky, only it’s made of stockfish. The fish is dried out in the cold air and the bacteria in the cold air ferment it in a similar way as cheese is fermented. It’s delicious eaten with butter.
2. Hangikjöt or Smoked Lamb
If you think smoked lamb is ordinary, you’ll find Icelandic smoked lamb is better than that. The sheep are allowed to roam all summer unsupervised on the highlands. The sheep graze on grass as well as herbs and plants that give the Hangikjöt a complex flavor. A popular item on the Christmas spread, smoked sheep is prepared traditionally by fueling the fire with dried sheep dung or birch to give it a distinct flavor. Hangikjöt is eaten with potatoes, peas, red beets and bechamel sauce.
3. Skyr Cheese
Skyr is the king of Icelandic soft cheeses that is often mistaken for yogurt because of its wonderful rich texture similar to yogurt and slight sourness. But it is a soft cheese made from gelatinous milk curds, and served with blueberries or sugar. Skyr is also good for you; with as much as 12% protein and only 3% carbs and less than 1% fat, plus vitamins and calcium.
4. Rúgbrau or Rye Bread
This delicious dark and dense, sweet bread made of rye is served with fish and meat at traditional meals. You’ll find it commonly served with Hangikjöt. It is either steamed in wooden casks buried near a hot spring or baked in a pot. You’ll find the hot-spring steamed variety hverabrau (hot-spring bread) in M vatn at the northeastern part of the country. The bread is a wonderful addition to any Icelandic meal.
5. Kjötsúpa or Meat Soup
Meat soup is another traditional way of eating the ubiquitous lamb. It used to be made with tougher pieces of meat but modern Icelandic chefs stress on freshness and quality. So today you’ll find high quality meats being used in the Kjötsúpa at restaurants. To prepare it, the meat is cut into small pieces and boiled on the bone with potatoes, rice, turnips, onions, carrots and herbs. The result after several hours is a delicious soup that improves in flavor when consumed the next day.
6. Ein me öllu or Icelandic Hot Dog
The pylsa hot dog is a very typical Icelandic food – also containing lamb. The lamb gives the hot dogs their unique flavors when combined with the fantastic sauces. This includes remoulade (a sauce of relish and mayonnaise), sweet mustard, and ketchup, fried and raw onions. Look for these delicacies on your visit to Iceland and you’ll agree that Icelandic cuisine is underrated!