Iceland has an exciting food scene filled with culinary surprises. Restaurants in Reykjavik, the capital city, have amazing atmosphere and variety, which makes dining in Reykjavik one of the highlights of a great trip to Iceland.
Many people have never tried the traditional Icelandic cuisine, nor have a sense of what it is. If you’re heading to Iceland for vacation, you may be wondering, what is the food like in Iceland? Here are the dishes and specialties you’ll want to try before you leave.
Skyr (pronounced skeer) has started popping up in grocery stores in the UK and US, but “skyr yogurt” is not true Icelandic skyr. As a cultured dairy product, skyr is actually specific to Iceland, because a starter from an existing batch of skyr is required to make it. It’s yogurt-like, but it’s made from cheese and mixed with rennet. It’s been compared to greek yogurt, but definitely has a milder flavor. Icelanders typically eat their skyr for breakfast, along with milk and fruit. You’ll have no problem finding it in food stores anywhere on the island.
Fish and Chips
Fish and chips is a staple for Icelanders, and you’ll find it on virtually every restaurant menu in Reykjavik, which is a coastal city with lots of commercial fishing. You’ll have to try some freshly caught, golden-fried fish before you leave Iceland!
Although generally not a favorite food among locals or tourists, the fermented shark is an interesting part of Icelandic history and heritage. It’s also Iceland’s national dish, making it a must-eat for many visitors. Back before the days of refrigeration and better food availability, Icelanders would ferment shark, which could be stored without perishing easily.
Icelandic lobster soup is a traditional specialty. It’s known for being fresh and delicious, and many excellent restaurants in Reykjavik serve it—fancy and simple places alike.
Kleina is another Icelandic specialty—a sweet, deep-fried, diamond shaped pastry you can find in shops and cafes throughout Iceland. However, the best kleina is said to be made at home by Icelanders themselves.
Lamb has been part of the Icelandic cuisine for centuries, as sheep are native to the land. Lamb dishes are generally considered a fancier meals, like something you’d have on Christmas. Lamb soup, made with lamb and root vegetables, is a traditional Icelandic dish that’s become popular among tourists. Icelanders also smoke their lamb and eat it with potatoes and a creamy sauce. Roast lamb is a popular lamb dish, also typically served with potatoes.
Rye bread is an age-old Icelandic staple, as Icelanders traditionally used the underground heat from hot springs to make it. It’s a sweet bread that goes well with butter, rhubarb jam or cheese. Icelanders tend to pair it with fish. You can find it at the store, and you’ll see different levels of hardness. There’s softer rye bread that has a cake-like consistency—this is slow-cooked underground with the geothermal heat.
Dried fish is a delicacy Icelanders love. The fish air-dry outside until dehydrated. Most Icelanders eat it plain, while others enjoy it with butter.
For more about Icelandic cuisine, check out this Guide to Icelandic Food.