The food of Iceland: Dishes, drinks, bars and restaurants

This is an article about the food of Iceland. We also will describe its drink, bars and restaurants. You will find here what kind of meals and what kind of places to choose during your visit on the island. 

bars and restaurants on Iceland
Fish stew (Plokkfiskur) on mashed potatoes and fish soup at Fish & More Restaurant in Reykjavík

Lately, tourism has boomed in Iceland, and visitors from all over the world go to explore the awesome nature, admiring the northern lights and to enjoy by the uncountable waterfalls. Fortunately, besides the unbelievable natural spots on Iceland, we can also find a very particular culture and a specific cuisine we may enjoy on our visit on the island.

How is the Icelandic gastronomy

The base of the Icelandic food is the fish and the seafood, as well as the lamb and the potatoes. We have to think about the natural environment and the historic background to understand that out of those and some bread and butter the locals could create a nacional gastronomy. 

Fish has been a part of Icelandic cuisine since the first Viking settlers. Ocean fishes, lobster and salmon from the rivers have always been quite accessible on Iceland. In addition, lamb and horses have long been easier to raise than other animals, less resistant to the cold and more demanding to feed up. Moreover, Potatoes have always been very resistant to the extreme climate since they came from the high Andes. 

Because of the common tradition, Icelandic cuisine does have many similarities with Norwegian and Scandinavian cuisine. With few ingredients they do a lot. Furthermore, international food is available in most restaurants in Iceland. Especially in Reykjavik, fusion cooks are very trendy and some of them very expensive. 

As we said, Iceland is expensive and to eat in proper restaurants is indeed pricey. Depending on where you are coming from and the currency you have you could get very shocked. Check the menus before sitting or consider the option of going from time to time to a fast food place (there are plenty of them or to cook yourself. 

If you can afford it, the food of Iceland is good. Just relax and enjoy it!

Some dishes from the food of Iceland

Icelandic Fish

Iceland is a country of fish and fisheries, fish bars, fish restaurants and the standards are sky high, with great-quality ingredients. Langoustine, cod or haddock is some of the most common to see on the menus and are sure bets. Catfish, capelin, dealfish, Greenland shark, halibut, lumpfish, lycodes, mackerel, monkfish are some more types you can easily find in restaurants and fish stores. Best enjoyed with mashed potatoes and the classic Icelandic rye bread with butter.

Dried Fish

Dried Fish Jerky called Harðfiskur is a common snack that is best eaten with some butter and rye bread. It’s basically dried fish, and although it has a strong particular smell. You have to get use to it if you are coming from a culture that doesn’t eat such a thing. After the second try you will enjoy it like a local.

Shark

locals call it hákarl and it comes from sleeper sharks of Greenland shark. it’s available all year long and across the whole country. It has a strong flavor and very particular taste. You can buy hákarl in supermarkets, and some restaurants will also serve it. 

Lobster 

Lobster is an Icelandic pride. It is very popular with tourists, who find it cheap. Since everything is so expensive in Iceland you can take the occasion of having a proper lobster dish at the same price of a meat fillet. You will spot many offers and many products out of it. We have even tasted a lobster pasta dish.  

Plokkfiskur

Plokkfiskur is the name that you should look for on the menu, and it is basically a simple fish stew. It’s made with only a few ingredients: White fish (such as haddock or cod), potatoes, yellow onion, wheat flour, milk, butter, salt and pepper. Some recipes may additionally include ingredients such as bay leaves, chives, curry, chicken stock, bearnaise sauce and cheese.

Like any classic dish a few variations may exist. It is one of foods Icelanders grow up with. Kids love it. It‘s served in preschools and for lunch at schools, and foreign visitors can order fancy versions at most better Reykjavík fish restaurants. Every family has its own recipe, and there is no one correct way to prepare this dish: “Icelandic mothers and grandmothers have thrown these ingredients together to feed their families without precisely measuring the different ingredients, adjusting the recipe based on how much fish or potatoes there are in the fridge that day”.

You should definitely taste it while there or try to prepare it at home, there are many recipes available if you google it. But don’t forget to serve it with dark sweet Icelandic rye bread and butter 😉

Sheep’s head

Svið or sheep’s head in English has been a traditional dish for centuries and it is still served in restaurants. It’s typically smoked and served whole on the plate with mashed potato.

Male sheep testicles

The name for this is Hrutspungar and it is a classic dish in Icelandic cuisine. It’s kind of a local favorite but we admit you need to be brave or Icelandic to order it. Don’t be like us and consider the chance of tasting something so unusually unique.

Whale

That is a controversial dish. It’s a practice that has been on-going since the 12th century. Current whaling regulations allow only fin and minke hunting. In Icelandic restaurants, you will find mainly minke. The biggest demand for whale meat in Iceland comes from tourists. 

Puffin

Unbelievable but true. Puffin in Iceland is typically served smoked in local restaurants. Icelanders don’t typically eat puffin at home, they have only eaten in historic lack of food periods. 

Rye Bread

It is maid out of rye grain and some other cereals. This a very traditional bread in Iceland as well as in the Nordic European countries. In Iceland it is often eaten with some butter spread on it. You will see it in restaurants and on hotels’ breakfasts.

Skyr yogurt

The Icelandic Skyr yogurt. All over Iceland. For sure you have heard of it, it might be available in your local bigger supermarkets too. But anyhow, on Iceland you can find it in every store, even in Bonus and Netto, dozens of variants, numerous different flavors! Even though some classify Skyr as cheese but it is more commonly recognized as a thick yogurt.

Brennivin

Brennivin iis the national spirit of Iceland. Locals call it “The Black Death” and it’s a very strong liquor. It is quite similar to Akvavit from Denmark, Norway or Sweden. You can order a glass of brennivin at most restaurants or you can buy it at Vinbudin, the national liquor store chain in Iceland. This stores have the alcohol monopoly in the country. Check here more things you should know before going to Iceland on our complete review!

Fish & More Restaurant is located on Skólavörðustígur street under number 23 in Reykjavík, close to the city center. We have found it randomly, no one recommended to us, I was just in a deep desire of eating something local and warm and ideally with fish. Of course I read upfront and knew that at least the Icelandic fish soup is a must to taste once we are there. So we were just walking to the center direction when suddenly we have spotted the place.

We knew we needed to enter, and it was just perfect. Warm inside with great smell coming from the kitchen and super friendly stuff, cool design with map wallpaper, perfect spot for travelers. We checked on the daily menu options and we couldn’t be happier as they had fish soup and fish stew as well on the menu.

There are 5–6 great restaurants in Höfn, not more and all of them focused on seafood and proudly serving their fresh langoustines, the only worry was that they close around 9 pm in the evening, so Z Bistro became our favorite quickly as they stayed open longer, till 11:00 pm 🙂 but the food was indeed super delicious, and comes with a very friendly crew, highly recommended.

We have discovered the coolest local bars in Akureyri. Akureyri is Iceland’s second largest city, located on the north of the island. It’s super cute and tiny and basically you can visit it all on a longer afternoon. We found two local bars with tasty local craft beers, and amazing atmosphere, friendly people. The first was R5 bar, where I took this picture too. We have tasted high-quality hand crafted dark beers here with a hint of chocolate and coffee flavors, and blondes with fruity aroma.

bars and restaurants on Iceland
R5 bar in Akureyri

The second one is Akureyri Backpackers. Even if you are not a backpacker, you are more than welcome 🙂 It’s a casual bar with bistro menu and they are open for travelers and locals as well, worth to stop by at least for a beer.

Readers’ contributions

Do you have any favorite place in Iceland? That you would recommend to add to my list? Please don’t hesitate to share with all of us in the comment section and later on I will update this article with your recommendations with adding your names as well to it. Thank you for your cooperation 🙂

Read more about our routes on Iceland.

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One Reply to “The food of Iceland: Dishes, drinks, bars and restaurants”

  1. Do you have any favorite place in Iceland? That you would recommend to add to my list? Please don’t hesitate to share with all of us in the comment section and later on I will update this article with your recommendations with adding your names as well to it. Thank you for your cooperation 🙂

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