When I researched Icelandic food before my trip, I was a bit surprised by what I found. Rotten shark, sheep’s head, whale meat… It didn’t sound exactly appetizing, and it certainly wasn’t inspiring to my inner foodie. But fear not, most of the Icelandic food is delicious, and you’ll always find something scrumptious on the menu as long as you like seafood and lamb. Below, I’ve listed the Icelandic food I tried and I ranked them top to bottom from my favorite to least favorite.
If you haven’t already, check out our other Iceland blog posts.
Without further ado, let’s get started with the Icelandic Food.
Hands down, the lobster soup was the best meal I ate in Iceland. It has a rich creamy base and contains large chunks of Icelandic lobster. It was similar to the American lobster bisque but so much better. The soup was very balanced with the saltiness of the broth and the sweetness of the lobster, and the creamy richness was balanced with a subtle curry flavor.
Fishing is such an important industry in Iceland that they fought Britain in the Cod Wars over their fishing territory. After that, how could you go to Iceland and not eat cod? It was light, flaky, and delicate. I ordered up a plate of this lovely fish served on a bed of mashed potatoes, smothered in a light hollandaise sauce, and surrounded by caramelized onions and carrots. Simply scrumptious.
I love bread. I could even be considered a bread snob. I typically make my own bread at home, and on those lazy days where I buy bread, I go to the bakery instead of the bread aisle. So, believe me when I tell you that bread in Iceland is fantastic! Almost every restaurant serves it for free with your entree. Sometimes it was served with a creamy rich butter, but other times it was served with lovely herb spreads. I could have eaten only bread and spreads while in Iceland and would have been perfectly happy.
The Icelandic lamb soup was out-of-this-world delicious. I now understand why Icelanders claim that Icelandic lambs marinate themselves by eating all the berries and herbs in the mountains. It was very tender and oh-so-flavorful, and it is the perfect comfort food after walking around in the cold and drizzly city all day.
The menu at KEX Hostel included several very Icelandic dishes, but it also had a large vegetarian section which was very refreshing to see since I hadn’t exactly been eating my daily servings of fruits and veggies on this trip. So, I ordered one of the most hipster-ish dish of roasted cauliflower on a bed of wilted kale and topped with Isbui cheese and a poached egg. It was scrumptious and made me feel like I was at some trendy bar in Chicago. (It can be a bit hard to find food like this where I live in Florida).
The cafe at the top of Gullfoss had an assortment of sandwiches, bagels, and soups. I choose the salmon bagel since our tour guide had been talking about salmon so much, and it was delicious! This meal wasn’t anything unique as I often get Salmon Bagels in the USA, but there were a couple slight differences that I liked. The salmon seemed a little less fishy, the schmear was thinner, and the bagel was more rustic. It was the perfect light lunch.
Instead of buying the typical yogurt for breakfast, I got Skyr. People will correct you when you say Skyr is yogurt because it is soft cheese and not yogurt at all. But, basically, it is yogurt. I had a couple different flavors over the course of my trip, and my favorite was berry. It was very rich and smooth, and the berries added a hint of sweetness. What I liked most about it was it wasn’t overly sweet as some American yogurt varieties.
Icelandic food is very expensive, but there is an exception. Pylsurs (hot dogs) are only a few bucks, and they are really popular among the locals, so we decided to try one. There is a famous stand near the water called Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, but there was another random stand much closer to our hostel, so we went with that one instead. The hot dogs taste very similar to an American hot dog, but supposedly here they are lamb-based with pork and beef. They are served in a bun with ketchup, sweet brown mustard, remoulade (mayo + mustard + other stuff), fried onions, and raw onions. I thought it tasted good, but it was too saucy for me. The hot dog kept sliding out of the bun and sauce was oozing all over. Super messy! Next time I would only order it with one of the sauces.
On our first night in Iceland, we weren’t feeling very adventurous and wanted some normal comfort food. So, we grabbed a seat at the Laundromat Cafe and both order a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with fries. The portions were large, the food was hot, and everything definitely hit the spot. It wasn’t greasy like a diner grilled cheese,and the bread was thicker, but it was nice to find something so normal in a land that was so foreign.
For lunch in Reykjavik, we headed to the highly recommend Noodle Station only a few blocks away from Hallgrímskirkja. It is a no frills type of place with the menu painted on the wall, a small counter to order at, and a handful of tables. The menu is limited but exactly what we expected. We had the choice between chicken, beef, or veggie noodle bowls. I ordered the veggie bowl and it was hot, cheap, and filled my belly. Be sure to order it spicy or it might be a bit bland. It is a true bargain in Reykjavik.
Puffin are an adorable little birds with bright orange beaks and feet, black backs, and white bellies. Nevermind their cuteness though, and judge me if you want, I ate it. It was smoked and served in a pile of cold chunks with a blueberry and brennivin sauce. I thought tasted like a very gamey chicken that had been heavily marinated in berries and then chilled. I think I would have enjoyed it if there had only been a few pieces, but I had to eat an entire pile of the stuff (minus the tiny piece that Mel tried).
Since we were trying to stick to a reasonable food budget, we tried the falafel sandwich at the Kebab House. The portions were huge! It wasn’t really a pita wrap like I’m used to, but instead it was a gigantic pita type bun sandwich. It was good, fresh, and hot, but I wouldn’t say it was great. The falafels were standard, and it had typical iceberg lettuce shreds, but it also had a weird tomato ketchup sauce that I just wasn’t a huge fan of. Nevertheless, it did a good job of filling me up for a reasonable price, so I was happy.
We didn’t have much choice in eating at Vikurskali, a cafeteria catering to all the tourists, because this is where our tour bus stopped. It didn’t seem like the type of place to try any seafood or fish dishes, so I stuck to something I thought they couldn’t mess up. A cheeseburger and fries. I wasn’t wowed. Actually, I barely enjoyed it. Maybe they put lamb or pork in their burgers because it tastes a little off. It also had way too much sauce, and even though I tried to wipe most of it off with a limp french fry, it still ended up as an gooey tasteless mess.
After eating puffin, I was looking forward to the other super Icelandic food, Minke Whale. It was seared on the outside and pink in the middle. It looked like a tiny steak in a pool of something orange. I never could figure out what it was resting on. The menu described it as “cranberry and malt sauce”, but that isn’t what it looked like or tasted like to me. But anyways, the whale itself not only looked like steak, but it kind of tasted like steak too. A very rich and gamey steak and not fishy at all. I’m not a huge steak person, and I’m even less of a fan of the gamey taste. So needless to say, I had a hard time choking it down. But I finished all of it, because I wasn’t about to let an $18 tiny piece of whale go to waste.