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A Guide to Food in Iceland

Icelandic food is different from many other places in Europe due to the fact that they don’t have the same resources as other countries. Their diet consists of largely local produce with fish and lamb common in most local restaurants. Find out more in our guide to food in Iceland.

If you are concerned about Icelandic food and wonder whether they just eat fish, then you’ll be pleased to know there is plenty more on offer. Although it is true that resources in Iceland are somewhat limited and they must import a lot, these days you can generally find a restaurant that caters to your needs. There are plenty of Italian restaurants, burger joints and steak houses but these can be expensive due to import costs. We have covered some things you should know in our guide to Icelandic cuisine. Some of the most popular cuisines in Iceland include;

  1. Seafood & Fish
  2. Lamb
  3. Rye Bread
  4. Hot Dogs
  5. Traditional Icelandic Food

Icelandic Seafood & Fish

A huge staple of the Icelandic diet is seafood and fish, with plenty available off the coast of this island nation. Not only does it form part of many people’s diet, but it has also been a huge export for the country and brought great fortune. Traditionally, it was extremely expensive to import into the country so many locals survived on the local produce. You will see "Catch of the Day" on many local menus throughout the country with a wide range of different fish on the menu. If you like seafood then you can generally find this available fairly cheaply in many restaurants around the country.

Lamb & Other Meat

Something that might seem unusual but is a staple throughout Iceland, is the use of lamb in many different recipes. This is because sheep roam freely across Iceland and are easily available. Lamb has formed part of the local diet for many years and can still be found on many menus. The free range lamb is also known to be particularly good due to its free roam in the Icelandic wilderness. The sheep live off grass, berries and seaweed which makes for very tender meat. You will also find smoked lamb in Iceland as you might expect smoked ham elsewhere in Europe.

Other meats are widely available these days with a range of beef, chicken and pork on menus throughout the country. You might also find some more traditional and controversial meat on menus that we discuss in a later section.

Rye Bread and Substitutes

A major difference between Iceland and many other European nations is their lack of grain. Traditionally, it has been near to impossible to grow grain in Iceland and importing has been expensive which makes baking difficult. For this reason, bread, pastries and other European staples are not commonly found in Iceland. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t find bread or pastries anywhere in the country, as there are plenty of bakeries and cafes. Rye bread became a popular staple in the Icelandic diet and you should try some on your visit.

Fun Fact: Traditionally, Icelanders would eat dried stockfish as a substitute for bread with their meal and this still remains popular amongst locals.

Icelandic Hot Dogs

You will often see hot dogs listed online as one of the top things to eat in the country and might be wondering what all the fuss is about. Well, the Icelandic hot dog has been referred to as the world’s best by many including Bill Clinton, and are served with a slight twist on what you might expect. The meat is made from a blend of beef, lamb and pork. The traditional way to eat it is with everything, eina með öllu in Icelandic, which includes a mix of deep fried and raw onions, sweet mustard and a delightful creamy remoulade sauce. Tourists and locals frequent Icelandic hot dog stands alike and Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur in Reykjavik is known as one of the most famous.

Traditional Icelandic Food

You will no doubt have heard of some of the strange and unique traditional dishes that are served in Iceland and wonder if anyone eats them. Well, the short answer is not many locals still eat these traditional cuisines. However, there are some controversial meats that have remained popular with local people. Below is a list of some of the traditional dishes you can still find on offer;

  • Fermented Shark; very few locals still eat this or even recommend it, but you can find it as a snack in many places, often paired with a shot of local schnapps known as "Black Death". It has an extremely strong smell and flavour so it's not for the faint-hearted.
  • Sheep’s Head; This is even more uncommon than shark and there aren’t many places you will find still serving this. It is rarely eaten by locals these days but does sometimes form part of festival banquets.
  • Whale Meat; Whaling began in the 12th century in Iceland and the meat was needed to survive. Whaling is still legal in the country so you will find sustainably sourced whale meat on the menu in many places.
  • Puffin; Something that many people find strange is that it is common to eat the local bird. It was once an essential part of the diet and is still sustainably hunted and enjoyed by many locals in Iceland.