Iceland's geography has shaped its cuisine. Most traditional Icelandic recipes are based on meat, dairy and fish from their important agricultural and fishing industries, with few greens as the harsh climate and soil mean vegetables aren't easily grown.
Many dishes are based around lamb or cod prepared in a variety of different ways. While some more unique recipes included fermented shark and sheep's head, Icelandic cuisine is these days influenced greatly by wider European food trends. The wide range of restaurants in Iceland are well adapted to the demands of tourism and serve traditional, quality foods.
What to eat in Iceland?
- Cod: Icelandic cod is recognised worldwide for its quality. You'll find dishes made from cod in all restaurants around the country, usually boiled or roasted and served with vegetables.
- Lobster soup: the exact recipe varies on the region, but the intense flavour of lobster stands out in all of them.
- Mussels: cooked in a variety of different ways, mussels are especially typical of the town of Stykkishólmur.
- Skyr: Iceland's most famous dairy product, this yoghurt is popular at any time of day: for breakfast, for dessert, as a snack... try it with blueberries!
- Svið: not a commonly eaten dish these days, boiled sheep's head still deserves a mention as it is part of the Þorramatur, a selection of traditional Icelandic foods served during the winter Þorrablót festivals. The cheeks are said to be the best bit.
- Hákarl: fermented shark meat is a traditional dish often touted to tourists, but also served as part of Þorramatur.
- Harðfiskur: dried fish jerky often eaten as a snack.
- Kjötsúpa: a hearty soup made from meat and vegetables.
- Rúgbraud: Icelandic dark rye bread traditionally cooked with geothermal heat from the country's volcanic areas like Lake Myvatn.
- Plokkfiskur: a delicious traditional stew of fish, onions and potatoes.
- Brennivín: a schnapps-like alcohol drink made from fermented potatoes.
- Icelandic beer: despite being banned from 1908 until 1989, Icelandic beer has become more and more popular and there are a number of different breweries around the country.
The high cost of living in Iceland shows in the price of food. Eating out in Icelandic restaurants will usually cost at least 3,500 kr (US$ 28.20) per person, although this does depend what you order. Starters tend to be pricey, and fish is usually more expensive than meat. On the up side, tap water is free (and excellent) and will normally be brought to your table without you having to ask.
Eating whale in Iceland
In Iceland, like in Norway and Japan, it is permitted to consume whale meat. In some restaurants in Reykjavik and other cities with whaling traditions like Húsavík you'll find dishes made with whale. It is usually eaten on skewers or in stews and is said to have a similar taste and texture to beef.
However, it is not a commonly eaten food - studies claim no more than 2% of the Icelandic population eat whale - and there are a number of organisations fighting against its consumption. Whaling for food is therefore mainly aimed at tourists and could lead to the extinction of the animals in this area of the world. Many companies instead promote activities like whale watching out of respect for whales and their ecosystem.
Eating puffin in Iceland
In addition to whales, it is also legal to eat puffins in Iceland. Likewise, there is increasing controversy over their consumption especially as these friendly birds have been declining in numbers in recent decades. To protect the puffin populations, it's much better to go and see them in the wild instead!