Interested to learn more about Icelandic cuisine? From fermented shark to skyr yogurt, Iceland has its fair share of quirky and unique foods. So, what exactly do Icelanders eat? Let’s take an insider look into Iceland’s culinary landscape to find out what the most popular foods in Iceland are.
Here, you can discover the best food in Iceland to sample during your visit, from Iceland’s national food to famous and delicious delicacies you have to try. Ready? Let’s go!
The traditional Icelandic diet is composed mainly of seafood and meat, with soups and bread being very popular, too. Dairy, including yogurt and ice cream, are also Icelandic favorites.
Due to a lack of farmable land, the Icelandic diet has been primarily meat-based for centuries. Historically, ingredients such as lamb and fish have always played an important role in Icelandic cuisine and continue to do so in modern times.
Here, you can learn all about Iceland’s famous foods, including skyr, hangikjot, kjotsupa, laufabraud and, of course, the ever-popular Icelandic hotdog!
Settlers that first arrived on Iceland were skilled as farmers and, thus, spent their time tending cattle, pigs, chicken, sheep and other animals. During the Middle Ages, these settlers also fished in the river and sometimes grew barley and oats.
While meat and fish remain cornerstones of the country’s cuisine, Iceland’s culture around food has evolved over time, particularly due to the British and American military presence in Reykjavik during World War Two, which introduced a lot of foreign food to the country. Icelanders got their first taste of hamburgers and other fast foods in this time period, quickly incorporating them into their own diet.
Vegetables also started to become a more important element of Icelandic cuisine in the 1970s. Greenhouses were used to increase vegetable production, and various veggies started to appear more and more in popular Icelandic cooking books.
Today, modern Icelandic food is a combination of traditional dishes and foreign influences. Street food has become popular in Iceland over recent years, with trendy, city-center food halls that offer a range of different dishes popping up around Reykjavik, such as Grandi Matholl.
Learn more about traditional Icelandic cuisine with these fascinating facts all about Iceland’s typical foods (and drinks!):
Organic farming is common in Iceland – Iceland’s cold climate means that pesticides are rarely needed when growing fresh fruit and vegetables, creating healthier produce.
Icelandic bread is usually dark – The bread you’ll find in Iceland is usually dark rye bread or flatbread, which is very tasty with some butter or pickled herring.
Sheep roam freely in Iceland – Lamb is a very popular Icelandic food, with many tourists commenting on the high-quality and tenderness of the meat. This is due to the fact that Icelandic sheep freely roam the country's pastures during summer and are not fed any hormones, antibiotics or grains.
Alcohol was banned in Iceland from 1915 to 1989 – Did you know there was an alcohol prohibition in Iceland? On 1st March 1989, the alcohol ban was lifted and this day is now celebrated in Iceland as ‘Beer Day’.
Fermenting is popular in Iceland – The food-preservation method of fermenting is very popular in Iceland due to the harsh weather conditions on the island, meaning it was essential to find ways to make food last longer. Traditionally, food such as fish has been pickled, fermented and dried.
You can drink tap water in Iceland – Coming straight from the country’s glaciers, waterfalls and rivers, Icelandic tap water is some of the purest in the world, making it perfectly safe to drink.
So, what Icelandic foods are the must-tries during your time on the island? Here are our top recommendations for traditional Icelandic foods and dishes to sample:
As the national dish of Iceland, hakarl is a strong-tasting Icelandic delicacy that was once part of the daily cuisine. Although hakarl is not eaten on the daily by Icelanders anymore, it still occupies an important place in Iceland’s culinary landscape as Iceland’s national dish. Served in restaurants and bars across the country, hakarl is also one of the most popular foods in Iceland among tourists.
One of Iceland’s typical foods, skyr is a yogurt-like dairy product that looks a bit like Greek yogurt. Skyr is made from skimmed cow’s milk and has been popular in Iceland for more than a thousand years. Traditionally, skyr is eaten with sugar or blueberries. Delicious and beneficial for your health, skyr is rich in protein, low in fat and full of both vitamins and calcium.
Hangikjot is smoked lamb that is traditionally served during Christmas. This dish is especially delicious due to the quality of meat, as sheep are farmed in an old-fashioned way in Iceland. Many sheep roam the island freely during the summer months, grazing on the grass and herbs across the country. Hangikjot is usually served with boiled potatoes, bechamel sauce and green peas.
Popular among both tourists and locals, Kjotsupa is a meat soup made of lamb, potatoes and vegetables, including carrots and turnips. This must-try food in Iceland takes several hours to prepare, as the meat and veggies reduce down to create a wonderfully tasty dish. Whereas chicken soup is considered the best food to eat when sick in many countries, kjotsupa is the traditional cold remedy cuisine in Iceland.
Laufabraud is a traditional Icelandic bread that is usually served at Christmas. Originally from North Iceland, laufabraud is now popular across the whole of the island. This flatbread is usually decorated with a leaf-like pattern and is briefly fired in hot oil. You can either buy laufabraud in a bakery or make it from scratch, which is a popular holiday tradition among many Icelandic families.
You might be surprised to learn that one of the most popular foods in Iceland is the humble hotdog. But Icelandic hotdogs are unlike your average hotdog, as they’re made from lamb meat, giving the hotdog a unique flavor. The toppings and sauce, known as med ollu, also differ from traditional hotdogs; ketchup, remoulade, brown mustard and onions all belong on an Icelandic hotdog – yum!
As an island nation, fish has long been an important element of the Icelandic diet. Plokkfiskur, which is a fish stew often made from boiled cod or haddock, is one such fish dish. Usually served with potatoes and onions, plokkfiskur is a popular food in Iceland to eat during the cold winter season.
Fancy trying some bread baked by the heat of the Earth itself? You can do just that when tasting rugbraud, which is bread cooked by geothermal hot springs. In traditional Icelandic fashion, the bread is buried in a pot near a hot spring and baked to perfection. There are no crusts on rugbraud, as the bread cooks evenly throughout.
Another food to eat in Iceland is humar, which is Icelandic lobster and can be eaten fried, grilled or baked. Humar is a smaller version of the American lobster that can be found in the Mediterranean Sea and North Atlantic Ocean. In fact, only the tail is large enough to eat.
Served in many restaurants around the country, humar is one of the most expensive Icelandic foods on this list. You’ll also find humar in many supermarkets in Iceland, which can be cheaper than eating out. If you prefer to dine in a restaurant, the town of Hofn in Eastern Iceland is famous for its delicious lobster cuisine. Did you know that you can even find lobster pizza in some Icelandic restaurants?
And for dessert, we have another traditional Icelandic food: kleina. These fried donuts were traditionally eaten only during winter and Christmastime, but have since grown in popularity and are now eaten all year. These tasty fried pastries are common across Nordic countries, with each country having their own version. In Iceland, kleina are usually very large and cut in half for two people to enjoy.
For the more adventurous foodies out there, a truly unique food to try in Iceland is svid, which is sheep’s head. Although svid isn’t commonly found on Icelandic restaurant menus anymore, it’s still an important dish in midwinter feasts. Svid consists of a whole sheep head that’s often boiled, sometimes smoked, cured or preserved in jelly. This unusual dish arose during a time that Icelanders couldn’t afford to let any part of the animal go to waste.
Hardfishkur is a staple of Icelandic cuisine and, as such, can be found in most supermarkets in Iceland. This popular snack is basically fish jerky, made by drying fish on large wooden racks. Icelanders often enjoy this wind-dried cod and haddock with salted butter. Full of protein and nutrients, hardfishkur makes a healthy snack to enjoy at any time of day.
One of the best foods in Iceland for those with a sweet tooth is, without a doubt, lakkris. This Icelandic liquorice can be found in many different varieties, including lakkris with chocolate, raspberry and sea salt. You can enjoy a handful of lakkris after some hearty Icelandic food to finish your meal with a delicious sweet treat.
Another fantastic sweet Icelandic food is rugbraudsis, which is vanilla ice cream flavored with cinnamon and sweet rye bread. If you’re keen to try rugbraudsis, you’ll be able to find this novel ice cream flavor in ice cream shops and cafés in the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik.
Flatkaka med hangikjoti, i.e. flatbread served with smoked lamb, is another Icelandic staple. This one is easy to make at home, as you simply need to mix rye bread flour with warm water, shape it into a flatbread and heat it up in a pan. You can enjoy this flatbread with smoked lamb to sample a true Icelandic delicacy – yum!
Another of the unique and unusual traditional Icelandic dishes, hrutspungar is a dish made of ram testicles preserved in whey or gelatin. They are pressed in blocks and cured to create this traditional Icelandic delicacy. Although hrutspungar is no longer eaten as part of the daily Icelandic cuisine, this special dish does still make an appearance at traditional Icelandic celebrations.
Pancakes are a popular Icelandic food, often enjoyed with fruit, jam or skyr. Packed full of protein from the eggs, ponnukokur makes a healthy breakfast. These crepe-like pancakes are thin, crispy and super easy to make at home. You can also enjoy ponnukokur in a café if you fancy spending some time exploring Iceland’s culinary scene.
A controversial Icelandic food, puffin meat, can be found on restaurant menus across Iceland. As the only country in the world where it’s still legal to hunt puffins, Iceland is home to many unusual and interesting dishes, including smoked puffin. A popular Icelandic food among tourists, puffin is said to taste similar to game and is quite a fatty meat.
Would you believe us if we told you that mix-in ice cream is very popular here in Iceland? Well, it’s true! Bragdarefur consists of soft-serve vanilla ice cream with a range of candy toppings – think McFlurry style, but with homemade, high-quality ice cream. You can try a different mixture each time, making bragdarefur a tasty and fun dessert to try in Iceland.
With some of the purest fish stocks in the world, the island nation of Iceland is the perfect place to try delicious seafood dishes. Enjoyed in a variety of meals and cooked in many different ways, the mild-flavored Atlantic cod is the most popular and iconic fish species in Iceland. Whether you choose to taste a fish stew or simply enjoy a grilled Atlantic cod, this is a must-try food while in Iceland.
An Iceland main dish can be enjoyed with a range of classic beverages, including the following popular Icelandic drinks:
Iceland’s signature liquor, Brennivin, is also known as ‘Black Death’. The beverage has a distinctive black label, which was originally designed to put people off drinking too much of it. However, it had quite the opposite effect! Brennivin is a very popular drink to enjoy with some traditional Icelandic cuisine, whether during the day or while soaking in the Reykjavik nightlife.
Directly translating as ‘burnt wine’, Brennivin is actually distilled over an open flame, meaning its production process is very different from wine and beer. If you’d like to try Iceland’s national liquor for yourself, you can enjoy a creative Brennivin cocktail at one of the many classy bars in the Icelandic capital.
Did you know that there are many breweries in Iceland that produce a whole range of amazing craft beers? Here are some of our favorite Icelandic craft beers to taste during your vacation:
If you’re planning to visit the magical island of Iceland during Christmas, you can look forward to a delicious Icelandic Christmas meal! But what exactly do Icelanders eat during the holidays? Here are a few traditional Christmas Icelandic foods:
Smoked lamb with white sauce (hangikjot with uppstufur) – This popular Icelandic food is a must on the dinner table at Christmas. Often served with a bechamel sauce, various vegetables and flatbread, smoked lamb is usually eaten cold.
Ptarmigan (rjupa) – This type of grouse is boiled and fried, then served alongside red cabbage, caramelized potatoes and, of course, gravy. As the ptarmigan is a protected bird, you can only find this dish in select restaurants.
Fermented skate (kæst skata) – It wouldn’t be Iceland if fish didn’t make an appearance in the traditional Christmas cuisine. Closely related to rays, skates have a strong taste when fermented and, so, are usually enjoyed with a strong liquor. This fermented fish is most popular with older generations of Icelanders.
Pickled herring (sild) – Marinated or pickled herring is a popular Christmas dish across many Nordic nations. The Icelandic version of this dish is usually served with rye bread, butter and sometimes a range of other sauces.
Rice pudding (mondlu grautur) – A traditional Icelandic Christmas dessert is a simple rice pudding sprinkled with cinnamon sugar – perfect for warming up during those cold winter days!
Icelandic Christmas cake (jolakaka) – Icelanders also have their very own Christmas cake made of dried fruit, raisins and cardamom, which gives it a distinct, rich flavor.
Ginger cookies (piparkokur) – These ginger cookies have a secret ingredient that helps to bring out the flavor of the ginger, cloves and cinnamon. Can you guess what it is? Pepper! Yes, Icelanders add pepper into their ginger cookies to give them a little extra spice.
Icelandic celebration cake (vinarterta) – There’s another type of special cake that’s traditionally enjoyed during Christmastime in Iceland called vinarterta. This layered cake is another fruity one with a dried prune filling.
Now we know all about Iceland’s most popular and famous foods, but what are some traditional Icelandic meals? Here’s a guide to Icelandic breakfast, lunch and dinner, so you can get a flavor of what a typical food day looks like in Iceland.
To start the day, it’s common for Icelanders to enjoy some skyr yogurt with fresh berries or jam. Bread and butter is another classic Icelandic breakfast, which can also be eaten with some meats, such as sausage, bacon and lamb.
Hafragrautur is another popular breakfast food in Iceland, which is a thick oatmeal – perfect for those cold winter mornings! In hotels across Iceland, you’ll be able to find a mixture of Icelandic foods and international breakfast favorites, including cereal and croissants.
A typical Icelandic lunch in winter would be a fish stew or meat soup. These warming meals keep Icelanders going even in the bitterest cold!
Hangikjot sandwiches are another popular lunch food in Iceland. Perfect for a quick bite to eat in a city-center café, this satisfying meal consists of smoked lamb between two slices of Icelandic flatbread, along with butter and whatever condiments you choose to add.
Meat and fish are, of course, the base of most popular Icelandic dinner recipes. From lamb soup to grilled lobster, dinners in Iceland usually consist of a hearty main dish, often served with potatoes. There is actually an old adage in Iceland that a meal is not a meal if it doesn’t come with potatoes!
A side of vegetables is usually added to an Icelandic dinner, or vegetables are sometimes incorporated into the dish if it’s a stew or soup.
Hardfish, or fish jerky, is a popular and nutritious snack in Iceland, as well as the sweet treats we’ve mentioned above, including kleina and liquorice. We can’t forget a good old-fashioned ice cream, too. In fact, ice cream is loved so much by Icelanders that the locals eat it all-year-round, despite the freezing weather!
Inspired to try some of these tasty Icelandic foods for yourself? You can sample all the best foods to eat in Iceland during your very own vacation in this fascinating, beautiful and dynamic country.
Why not rent a car in Reykjavik and plan the perfect road trip adventure around Iceland? That way, you’ll be able to explore all the incredible and otherworldly landscapes that Iceland has to offer, while tasting the delicious Icelandic delicacies available across the country – yum!