Icelandic Food: Fun Facts You Never Knew

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Are you ready to learn some interesting facts about Icelandic cuisine? Iceland may be known for its stunning landscapes and unique culture, but its food scene is just as impressive! Icelandic food is a delightful blend of flavors and traditions, heavily influenced by neighboring cultures yet maintaining its own distinctive native touch.

If you think Icelandic cuisine is only about fish, you’re in for a pleasant surprise! In this post, we’ll uncover some interesting facts about Icelandic food you didn’t see coming!

husband and wife in iceland

Icelandic Food: Fun Facts You Never Knew

Quick History of Icelandic Cusine

Icelandic food may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of culinary delights, but the history behind it is definitely worth exploring. It all started with the Vikings, who brought along their traditional diets of fish, lamb, and dairy products to the land of ice and fire. As Iceland was an isolated island, they had to rely on these local resources to survive.

This led to the development of some unique preservation techniques, such as salting and drying fish, that are still used today.

In recent years, Icelandic cuisine has gained more recognition thanks to its use of fresh, natural ingredients and focus on sustainability. From savory soups made with lamb meat to deliciously sweet kleinur pastries, Icelandic food has come a long way since its Viking roots.

iceland table of food with bread and wine

Iceland Comfort Food: Meat Stew

One of Iceland’s most popular comfort foods is a delightful meat stew called “Kjötsúpa.” This cozy dish includes lamb, potatoes, carrots, and other root vegetables. Iceland’s grocery stores often carry ready-made Kjötsúpa you can take home and heat up – perfect after a long day exploring the Arctic Circle.

Unusual Icelandic Foods: Shark and Whale Meat

Tasting the Deep Sea: Shark Meat

Who would have thought that the notorious Greenland shark could be an Icelandic delicacy? This shark meat, known as “Hákarl,” has a unique preparation process involving a lengthy fermentation period to make it safe and digestible. It is prepared by burying the shark in sand and gravel for several months before it is hung outdoors to dry for four to five months.

The end product has a strong ammonia smell, but it’s a must-try for adventurous eaters. While Hakarl can be found in most grocery stores in Iceland, it is mainly consumed by locals during the midwinter celebration of the Þorrablót festival.

dried fish in iceland

Icelandic Whale Meat: Minke Whale

In recent years, Iceland has reintroduced the consumption of Minke whale meat, despite some controversies.

The meat is often served in fine-dining restaurants and can be found in Icelandic fish stews. While not a staple food for the Icelandic people, it’s an interesting part of their culinary landscape. However, some tourists opt to avoid consumption due to conservation concerns.

Not Very Popular: Horse Meat

Horse meat has been part of Iceland’s traditional cuisine since the medieval era. Although it’s no longer seen as a staple food, horse meat is still available at some restaurants and butcher shops.

It can be hard to find horse meat in Iceland for consumption, especially during seasons when horses are not normally slaughtered, such as in the spring and summer.

Horse meat sausages and foal meat are the most commonly available options in Iceland grocery stores. The Icelandic horses that are reserved for riding and as pets are not the same horses that are bred for slaughter.

A Culinary Tradition: Puffin Meat

Although it’s not eaten by the majority of Icelanders, puffin meat can be found in some traditional Icelandic dishes such as rösti (grated potatoes) or smoked puffin. The meat is quite gamey and not to everyone’s taste; those with a more adventurous palate might want to try this unique traditional Icelandic food.

Icelandic Fish: Arctic Char and More

As an island nation, Iceland boasts an impressive range of species of saltwater fish. Fresh fish has always been a significant part of the traditional Icelandic diet, with Atlantic Cod and Haddock often making an appearance at dinner tables.

One of the best-loved fish in Iceland is the Arctic Char, a cold-water fish closely related to salmon and trout. Rich in flavor and healthy Omega-3 fatty acids, Arctic Char is versatile and can be found in many traditional dishes like fish stew (Plokkfiskur).

sheep in iceland field

Popular Foods: Icelandic Hot Dogs and Skyr

Gas Station Gourmet: Icelandic Hot Dogs

Believe it or not, Icelandic hot dogs are in a league of their own and are popular among the majority of Icelanders and tourists! Made with a mix of lamb, pork, and beef, they’re unlike any other hot dog you’ve tasted.

Found in gas stations and local hot dog stands, these flavorful treats are topped with raw and fried onions, ketchup, mustard, and remoulade – a sauce made from mayonnaise, capers, and herbs.

Caleb and I LOVE Icelandic hotdogs, and we always are sure to bring home some of the Icelandic remoulade so we can recreate our own version at home.

woman smiling with icelandic hot dog

Iceland’s Dairy Delights

Icelandic dairy products play an essential role in Iceland’s culinary heritage. Thanks to the small population and plenty of geothermal energy to keep cows warm, Icelandic dairy is some of the best in the world.

Examples of dairy products you can find in Iceland include Mysa (a sour whey drink), butter, ice cream, and Ísbúi cheese.

Rye Bread Ice Cream

Icelandic rye bread ice cream is a popular dish made with rye bread, cream, and brown sugar. It’s similar to a traditional ice cream sundae but with an Icelandic twist.

Skyr: Iceland’s Creamier Cream Cheese

Skyr is a type of Icelandic dairy product similar to Greek yogurt. Creamier than cream cheese, it is high in protein and low in fat. Skyr is a popular breakfast or snack option, typically served with fresh fruit or used as an ingredient in smoothies and desserts.

woman smiling at iceland restaurant

Iceland’s Distinctive Spirit

Brennivin, better known as “Black Death,” is the Icelandic’s distinctive spirit. This clear schnapps has a strong aroma and flavor of caraway, making it an acquired taste.

The stark black label bearing an outline of Iceland was initially intended to turn customers away (alcohol sales in Iceland are tightly controlled through state-operated Vínbúð stores), but it instead became the Icelandic signature spirit!

The exact translation for Brennivin is “Burnt Wine.” Don’t let the nickname “Black Death” scare you, and it is actually quite delicious!

We always bring a bottle or two back to the United States with us so we can share it with our friends.

iceland beach

Conclusion

Iceland is full of daring options such as fermented shark, but you can also indulge in delicious seafood, including fresh lobster and cod, and sweets like kleinur (a type of twisted fried dough) and skyr (a thick cultured dairy product). So if you’re looking to expand your culinary horizons, Iceland may just be the destination for you! What Icelandic foods have you tried?

FAQS

What are some fun Icelandic facts?

•The Arctic fox is the only land animal native to Iceland.

• Iceland is home to the world’s largest glaciers. According to the GLIMS data set, the three largest glaciers in the world are Vatnajokull Glacier in Iceland, Flade Isblink Ice Cap in Greenland, and Seller Glacier in Antarctica.

• The Northern Lights are visible in Iceland from September through April.

• Icelandic horses have five gaits instead of the usual three found in horses elsewhere.

• Iceland has no army and relies solely on its own police force and coast guard.

• Over 10% of Iceland’s population believes in elves and trolls!

• 90% of Iceland’s energy comes from renewable sources such as geothermal and hydropower.

• The Icelandic Phallological Museum in Reykjavik houses the world’s largest display of penises, from mammals both alive and extinct.

• Iceland is one of the most gender-equal societies in the world, with women making up nearly 50% of its parliament.

What is the most traditional Icelandic food?

The most traditional and popular dish in Iceland is the Icelandic lamb soup, known as Kjötsúpa. This hearty stew includes vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, leeks, and onions, as well as chunks of tender lamb. It is often served with rye bread or flatbread.

Finally, Skyr, a thick yogurt-like cheese, is popular in Iceland and consumed in both sweet and savory dishes.

What is the traditional Icelandic condiment?

The traditional Icelandic condiment is remoulade. It is a mayonnaise-based sauce usually flavored with mustard, pickles, and capers. It is commonly served alongside fish dishes such as in the Icelandic Language, “plokkfiskur” with means fish stew or steamed cod. You can also find it served on top of hot dogs and hamburgers.

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