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When driving around the ring road of Iceland you are going to have to eat at some point. Luckily the land of fire and ice has a lot to offer and we had some pretty great food. Icelandic people had to struggle in the past to survive which you can see in their traditional cuisine. Now that they are a much more prosperous country you can see that their cuisine is starting to change as they are able to afford a wider range of ingredients from outside their country as well as get creative in using their own resources to shape their food. When you travel around the ring road you can see how inhospitable this land can be and it would take a tough culture to survive in. Though beautiful and dramatic, the land is as barren looking as if you had made it to the ends of the earth. Taking all of this into account, you can see how it has influenced their cuisine. Even though the world has grown smaller and outside ingredients have taken their own influence, it is still their land that has had a direct influence on what they eat.
Ash and I spent ten days in Iceland and for five of those we were driving around Iceland so we had a fair mix of food. After only ten days there I am by no means an expert but I felt like I got a good variety of the new and the old. So here are our top 5 Icelandic eats that I think one must try.
Icelandic Hot Dog
I am sure there are a few of our readers asking themselves why I am starting out with a hot dog. The origin of the hot dog is German and the United States has adopted as one of favorite things to enjoy anytime we can make an excuse for it. Not something you think of when you go to Iceland but Iceland has jumped on board the hot dog train and have been whipping up their own version of the hot dog. I have to say it is a pretty darn good dog. I am sure there is some New Yorker reading this and doubting my words but I am telling the truth! It is definitely a different take but I have a pretty open mind when it comes to food. The Icelanders take pride in their hotdog and it is a very popular snack with the locals. It seemed as every local I asked had their favorite stand. Even when we were in what seem to be the most remote of areas you could find someone serving a hotdog. When you order an Icelandic hotdog you should order it with the works. If you don’t know what “the works” means, it just slang for all the condiments on top of your dog. What comes with the works? First the basics, you get a dog made of local lamb in a simple bun. Then you put ketchup, mayo (not my favorite), their version of mustard (not sure if it is mustard) and top it of with raw and fried onions. The results is one tasty snack.
The first hot dog I had I put the works on it like a good open minded traveler would even though I am not a fan of mayo. I ate the whole thing in like three bites. Then the 10 or so more hotdogs I ate after that I skipped the mayo. It is a great dog and I rank it as one of my favorite next to the “Dirty Water Dog” and a grilled “Dodger Dog.” The actual lamb hot dog is amazing and the skins snaps when you take your bites which is delightful plus you can’t beat the flavour of good lamb. The most famous chain found in Reykjavik is Bæjarins Beztu and the original one is still open since 1937. So this is not as recent of a snack as some might think. Bæjarins Beztu is also famous for having people such as former U.S. President Clinton and Anthony Bourdain chow down at them. So make sure you enjoy an Icelandic hot dog when you go.
One of my favorite red meats in the world is lamb. The flavour is outstanding and the meat is tender and sweet when cooked right. I am sure there are a few who cringe at the thought of eating Mary’s little lamb but let me you in on a secret, Mary is at the table across from me enjoy her little friend. It is the truth and I have no shame when it comes to eating lamb. Around the world different areas are known for their lamb and Iceland is one of those areas. Lamb is a big staple in their diet and you will notice to the amount of sheep and (depending on the time of year) lambs as you are driving around the country. They are everywhere grazing freely and looking as tasty as can be. Lamb can be found prepared in many different ways but one of the traditional dishes is Kjötsúpa which is a lamb soup. You can find it all over and it is a hearty dish that is great for the cooler months of the year. It is prepared with various amounts of spices and diced onions but the tender lamb meat is what brings it all home. I highly suggest as you are traveling around Iceland to take some time and enjoy some lamb. The small town of Laugarvatn is very well known for it’s lamb and we stopped here to enjoy a meal and of course get the lamb. It was some of the best lamb that I had in all of Iceland.
Fish and Chips
When you have a country that is surrounded by the North Atlantic you should expect that there are going to be some tasty fish about. Fish prepared in all forms is a common thing in Iceland but one of my favorites is their fish and chips. I know we could have just hopped on over to the U.K. to enjoy this fried deliciousness but I am telling the quality of fish that is in Iceland is unreal and they can fry up some fish with the best of them. Also you can locate fish and chips all over the capital so it is easy meal to enjoy. A lot of places are just called Icelandic Fish and Chips so I would do some research with the locals when you are there. They are more than willing to give you some tips. My favorite place was a small red shack down by the harbor that has the union jack flying and a says on the front, “British tradition with Icelandic quality.”
It is hands down some of the best fish and chips I have had in my life and I grew up next to a beach with plenty of great fish. It is a local joint so you will be surrounded with plenty of Icelandic locals. It was recommended to us by the people we were staying with through AirBnB. One of the first things I will do when I get back is to go and get those delicious fish and chips. Ashley’s favorite spot was Icelandic Fish and Chips. This restaurant is a modern fish and chips place where you get a choice of whatever fresh fish was caught that day and they are fried so lightly in a spelt batter and served with unbelievable fried potatoes.
Harðfiskur (dried cod)
I was told on this trip that Harðfiskur was Icelandic version of beef jerky and that this is a very popular snack in Iceland. I had to then try it when I saw it on the menu at Cafe Loki. All the menu said was dried fish with butter and I truly thought wow that sounds good. I will have to admit it was my least favorite thing I had tried the entire trip. I was completely shocked because the flavour was really good but the texture and how it turns into fish mush in the mouth completely threw me off. I ate about four pieces before I had to stop and call it quits. I really tried to like but I just could not stomach when it finally turned to mush in my mouth. The flavour was fine but the texture killed me at the end. The next time I go back I will try to eat some more and give it another chance but it is going to be an uphill battle for me. I do believe that everybody who goes to Iceland should try it. Just because it was not for me does not mean you won’t like it. It is a classic and traditional snack. It used to be a replacement for bread since imported grain was so expensive and should be tried.
The dried fish in the ramekin is the Harðfiskur. It can be ordered as a side to the Icelandic plates available at Cafe Loki.
aka THE DREADED FERMENTED SHARK
This might be the most infamous dish in Iceland. It is something that everyone seems to know about. Now it is a very traditional dish but is not a dish that is as widely eaten as it once was. It is still present and I do not think the tradition is going anywhere. Like many of us, I first heard about this snack when Anthony Bourdain tried it and called it the worst thing he has ever eaten. Of course it was top on my list to try. You can find it in the capital at the local markets but I had the fortunate chance to go to the famous shark man in the north west. I am not going to tell you how to get to him. I like that one still has to search for him. It is not really a secret anymore and it is a tourist attraction but you get some great info before you try it.
I have to say it is actually not that bad. The flavour is strong and I think most people will probably disagree with me including Ashley about liking it. It has a high ammonia smell and taste but the fishiness is not that bad and I can see how eating this with some Brennivin it could be a great snack. It is a must try and if you are hesitant just know that a couple of 10 year old kids dove right in to try it while we were there.
also known as absurdly cute Puffins
Puffins might be one of the coolest looking birds in the world. I had a blast when I was able to see them in the wild. Just ask Ashley. I think they are Ashley’s favourite animal. So I saw these cute little birds on the menu and decided to try them. The puffin came smoked and I have to say it was quite delicious. I might not make a habit out of eating the adorable little birds but I would eat it again. The hardest thing to get over was the fact that the meat was black. That threw me off but once I got over that I enjoyed it immensely. I think it is worth a try for the adventurous eater.
Iceland has a lot of food and these are only six of the things that I think people should try. When you go to Iceland make sure you are adventurous in your eating. It is worth it. If you want to try some of more of the classic foods that they ate back in the day I suggest to going to Cafe Loki in Reykjavik. You will be able to try sheepshead jelly and a some fish mash. Also make sure you try their tomato soup because Iceland is famous for growing tomatoes in their greenhouses. If you are not as adventurous as me do not worry there is plenty of food to be consumed in Iceland. They have done a great job creating a cuisine using their own resources. They have high class restaurants that you can get some more of this creative cuisine. Iceland is an amazing land with amazing people so of course the food is going to be good.
I hope you enjoyed my article, please comment if you have any knowledge on Icelandic food or have any questions. Thank you again for following and reading. Remember go out, travel and change the world.
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