Apparently everyday food in Iceland isn’t as exotic as one might think. Plenty of weird dishes are eaten during Þorri (a month-long celebration that begins in the 13th week of winter), such as rotten shark, dried fish and sheep testicles, while on Christmas Eve, many people eat rotten skates (the more rotten, the better). At other times, however, Icelanders are quite civilised with their food. What might come as a surprise to many is that Iceland is something of a fast food nation. Icelanders have come to love their burgers, sandwiches, hot dogs and, more recently, kebabs. Still, our Reykjavik local Jonas has managed to put together a list of classic Icelandic foods that you probably wouldn’t think of trying, but definitely should!
1. Hot dogs!
Can you believe that the favourite restaurant of many Icelanders is the local hot dog stand? Yes, we know you can get hot dogs just about everywhere and that they’re considered the national food of countless nations. Nevertheless, Icelanders are extremely proud of their pylsa! For an authentic Icelandic hot dog experience, you should order yours with all the added extras: ketchup, sweet mustard, fried onion, raw onion and remoulade. To order like a local, shout “eina með öllu” (one with everything) when it’s your turn.
Photo credit: Tomi Knuutila
2. Boiled salted fish with hamsatólg
Hamsatólg is sheep fat that has been melted, solidified and then melted again. Doesn’t sound very appetising, right? Well, most Icelandic families have this at least once a month, and find it perfectly normal and delicious. Jonas even mentioned that he had never really considered the absurdity of pouring sheep fat over fish until a foreign visitor pointed it out to him. Even though it might seem wrong, it tastes so right. Unfortunately the best place to eat the real thing is at the home of a local. Homemade is definitely the way to go with this one.
Photo credit: siglo.is
3. Sheep’s head
It is what it sounds like – the boiled head of a sheep, usually served with mashed potatoes or beets. The story behind it is simple – in earlier times when food, especially meat, was scarce, people had to use every part of the animal. The eyes of a boiled sheep are considered a true delicacy among some older Icelanders. Here’s the best place in Reykjavik to try it!
Photo credit: Wikimedia
Skyr has been part of Icelandic food culture for centuries. It’s essentially a cultured dairy product similar to yoghurt, only it’s not yoghurt. Technically it’s more of a soft cheese, but definitions don’t really matter because if served right – with milk, sugar and fresh blueberries – it’s heavenly. As for its nutritional value, skyr is considered a superfood, being rich in protein, calcium and various vitamins. You can find it at any local supermarket or food store, and nowadays there are even flavoured versions.
Photo credit: Gudlin Ingvarsdottir
Plokkfiskur literally means “mashed fish”, though it’s more of a stew. It used to be a classic leftover dish in Iceland – on Mondays you had fish, on Tuesdays you had fish stew. It’s traditionally served with potatoes and dark rye bread, and is another one of those dishes that’s best homemade. Most local fish restaurants probably serve it, but no locals actually eat it out and would likely be given funny looks by waiters if they tried ordering it.
Photo credit: Natalie Rose
Opening photo: Homemade skyr with orange marmalade (credit: FelinusNoir)