Iceland is best known for its dramatic natural beauty, what with its cascading waterfalls gushing down jagged cliffs, fragmented glaciers surrounded by rugged lava rocks and black sand beaches, hot water springs, vibrant and moving auroras illuminating the skies. While the beauty of the place puts Iceland on the travel map of many a curious explorer, most visitors do not have the slightest of a clue about what’s in store for them as far as Icelandic food is concerned. Given the uniqueness of the native dishes of Iceland, this is hardly a surprise.
The food from this region has hardly travelled beyond its borders and that’s because Icelandic dishes are inspired entirely by the ingredients found and grown locally. As long as you can find it in you to accept the seeming peculiarity of the native dishes of Iceland, you’ll be blown away by the freshness and purity of the food. So, we bring you a rundown of the most delectable native dishes of Iceland you must try when visiting this Nordic island nation:
If there is one Icelandic food that is gaining immense popularity in different parts of the world, it is Skyr – the native version of yoghurt. Skyr, a cultured dairy product, has been an integral part of the native food of Iceland for over a thousand years now. The dish is very similar to Greek yoghurt in its appearance and consistency, but what sets it apart is the mildness of its flavours. Skyr is most commonly eaten with berries or fruit, but it is not unusual to use it as a base from ice-creams, smoothies and skyrkaka – a lighter cheesecake variety popular in the country. Even though food connoisseurs categorise Skyr as a variety of soft cheese, it is widely regarded and used as a yoghurt in the country.
Ein með öllu – Icelandic Hot Dogs
Ein með öllu is often referred to as the national dish of Iceland. To be in Iceland and not eat the Icelandic Hot Dogs would be near sacrilegious. On the outside, it seems like your regular hot dog but you have to take a bite to believe that this Icelandic dish is in a league of its own. Since it is one of the most popular native dishes of Iceland, there is no dearth of places selling the Icelandic hot dogs and everyone will offer you an opinion on where to taste to best hot god in Iceland. Be that as it may, almost everyone in Iceland swears by Reykjavik’s Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, a family-run stall that has been serving some of the country’s best hot dogs for over 60 years now. The serpentine queues seen outside this stall speak for the place’s quality and popularity. If you are looking for the experience of biting into the quintessential Icelandic hot dog, ask for ‘Ein með öllu’ or ‘one with everything’ at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. Made from a blend of pork, beef and lamb, this is as rich as a hot dog gets. Down it with a side of chilled Kókómjólk chocolate milk to make the flavours truly stand out.
Jarðhitabrauð – Hot Spring Rye Bread
This humble bread is a manifestation of the resourcefulness of the people of Iceland and how they have learned to make the best of the country’s natural resources. The traditional hot spring rye bread is prepared by tapping into the abundant geothermal energy of Iceland. The bread is baked in special wooden casks that are buried near a hot spring. The resulting dark brown, crustless bread has a dense texture and a unique sweet taste. It also has a long shelf life, making it the perfect survival food for the long, harsh winter experienced in the country. Icelanders eat their hot spring bread with a generous dollop of butter, pickled herring, smoked salmon mutton pâté, plokkfiskur or hangikjöt (smoked lamb). While you can find the rye hot spring bread in almost every grocery store in Iceland, the Fontana geothermal bakery is most popular for serving freshly made Jarðhitabrauð, taken out straight from the ground twice a day.
Hákarl – Fermented Shark
Hákarl is a traditional Icelandic dish that came about back in the day when Icelanders did not have refrigeration and had to make do with limited food options available at their disposal. This native dish of Iceland is prepared by curing shark meat with a specific fermenting process and then hanging it out to dry for almost five months. The ferment shark is then cubed and served on cocktail sticks. Naturally, the long fermentation and drying process adds a peculiar fishy taste and a very strong ammonia smell to the preparation, which means Hákarl is not the most appetising of the Icelandic dishes you can try. In fact, even the locals don’t particularly prefer eating Hákarl anymore. It may not be the tastiest of Icelandic food, but it certainly is the most unique. If you are looking to try the traditional delicacies of the land, you quest isn’t complete unless you have mouthed some Hákarl.
Svið – Sheep Head
Ever thought sheep’s head could be a delicacy? Well, apparently, in Iceland it is. Svið or sheep head is another popular traditional Icelandic dish that enjoyed the status of an exotic delicacy in the past. Today, the dish isn’t prepared on normal days and only savoured to mark special festivities. However, there are restaurants and cafeterias around Iceland – the BSI bus station cafeteria, for instance – that feature Svið on their menu. Having an entire sheep head served on a platter may not be exactly appealing to the eyes but the locals swear by the deliciousness of the meat, especially the flesh around the cheeks and the eyes. Yes, you are supposed to eat the sheep’s eyes. In fact, traditionally the eyes are eaten first to avoid that creepy feeling of the sheep is looking at as you eat it.
Icelanders certainly do love their share of meat and that too with unusual twists. Which one of these dishes are you putting on your list? Share your thoughts in the comments section.