Icelandic food

Magazine Icelandic food

There’s no doubt about it -- Icelanders love to eat. Though you’ll be able to find a variety of cuisines during your stay in Iceland, there are a few local staples you simply have to try while you’re here.

Fish and lamb make frequent appearances on the Icelandic table, and we’re quite proud of both. Fishing is a vital part of Icelandic culture, and our approach to sheep is very different than what you’ll find elsewhere. In the summer, farmers let their sheep roam wild, free of fences and farmland. If you visit the Icelandic countryside during the summer, there’s no missing the sheep. You’ll see them everywhere -- on roads, up hills, sometimes even wandering into campsites. It’s a funny sight to the untrained eye, but our sheep are a lot happier and healthier for it.

In the old days, Icelanders relied on smoked meats to get through the winter. Nowadays, we happily have refrigerators, but we still continue the tradition of smoking. There are few quick meals more quintessentially Icelandic than smoked lamb or salmon, served with a bit of butter on a piece of rye flatbread. For fancier occasions, we stick to baking or roasting, usually with savory sauce, potatoes, and root vegetables on the side.

One of our most famous foodstuffs is skyr, a yogurt-like dairy product made from whey. Skyr is quite thick, but protein-rich and very low in fat. Like plain yogurt, skyr is somewhat tart, and is typically flavored with fruit or other flavorings. Skyr is usually eaten on its own or with a bit of muesli on top (it makes for a great on-the-go breakfast), but is also used as an ingredient in many desserts.

On the subject of sugar, there’s no denying that Icelanders have a sweet tooth. Cakes, pastries, and confections can be found in abundance at any gathering, with lots of coffee in accompaniment. Bakeries are a ubiquitous sight in Icelandic towns, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find an Icelander who doesn’t have a bit of chocolate or black licorice stashed away somewhere. Tourists are sometimes surprised to see waffles and pancakes on the dessert menu, rather than for breakfast, but we treat these foods a little differently. Our waffles are thinner than Belgian style, our pancakes are more similar to crepes, and we roll them up with sugar or top them both with generous amounts of whipped cream and jam. Yum!

In Reykjavik, you can find everything from traditional Icelandic food to international fare. Vegetarian food is also catching on, with several dedicated eateries available downtown. Whether you’re looking for first-class dining, a kid-friendly restaurant, or something quick to munch while sightseeing, you won’t have to go far. Other towns tend to be a bit more traditional in the foods that are available, but you can count on high-quality meals wherever you go.

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