Icelandic Cuisine in Depth: 8 Must-Try Traditonal Dishes


Time, tradition and nature have shaped Iceland's culinary landscape, making it one of the most unique foodie destinations on Earth.

Icelandic cuisine could be described as distinctive, and locals would be hard-pressed to disagree. Fermented fish, dense breads and an obsession with sugar; the country’s culinary repertoire may raise an eyebrow or two, but there’s no denying the flavour, tradition and passion which goes into each of Iceland’s unique dishes.

To help you get to grips with Icelandic cuisine ahead of your visit on board Scenic Eclipse, we’re taking a look at some of the country’s signature plates and culinary styles – from its beloved seafood to its world-famous ice cream and yogurt.

Iceland Fish Dishes

Seafood has been a mainstay of Icelandic cuisine for thousands of years, with the fishing industry shaping communities around the country. Before the 19th century, Iceland had little access to things like grain to make bread and feed livestock, so fish was relied upon as a nutritious and readily-available source of food.

Today, Iceland’s love affair with seafood continues, with many of the country’s acclaimed dishes sourced from the plentiful larder of the Atlantic. It’s believed most households in Iceland consume fish at least four times a week – making it one of the most seafood-reliant nations on Earth.

Here, we take a look at two of the country’s must-try fish dishes.

Hardfiskur

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Hardfiskur, or stockfish, is a traditional seafood plate which has been an important facet of Icelandic cuisine for centuries. It involves drying fresh fish, mainly cod, haddock or wolffish, in the open air, where salt from the sea cures it and enhances its flavour. Though its popularity has waned since the 1960s, hardfiskur is still considered a local delicacy in Iceland, and you’ll see packets of it sold at markets and food stores. Eat it straight out of the bag or warmed with a plentiful spread of butter.

Plokkfiskur

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Plokkfiskur is an Icelandic fish stew, whose recipe is an example of classic fishermen peasant cookery. Using a mix of fresh fish, onions, potatoes, milk and seasoning, the stew is similar to a fish pie, yet is thinner and traditionally served with a side of Icelandic rye bread. While some recipes stick to tradition, you will find examples of plokkfiskur which encompass other ingredients, such as cheese, chives, curry and bearnaise sauce. Whether you stay true to tradition or get inventive, a hearty and satisfying winter warmer is guaranteed.

Icelandic Meat Dishes

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It isn’t just seafood which has helped nourish Icelanders through the centuries. Since the arrival of the Vikings, sheep have proved a vital lifeblood for the nation, providing both a source of food and a means of crafting warm clothing. Even today, they’re a pillar of Icelandic gastronomy, and easily the most regularly consumed meat in the country. As well as providing the wool for Iceland’s famous ‘lopapeysa’ sweaters, sheep and their lamb are known as the ‘settlement breed’ for having helped to feed the local population through the centuries. Icelandic sheep graze on pastures rich in nutrients and minerals, which contributes to meat that’s tender and rich in flavour.

Kjötsúpa

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On a cold winter’s day, there are few things more guaranteed to oust the chill of Iceland than a warming bowl of kjötsúpa. This traditional soup is made from cuts of lamb, vegetables and Icelandic herbs and spices, including things like juniper berries, which help impart a distinct, aromatic flavour. Tougher pieces of lamb are traditionally set aside for creating kjötsúpa, with the hot broth helping to tenderize and soften the meat. With a chunk of Icelandic bread, few dishes capture the taste of traditional rural Icelandic cuisine quite like kjötsúpa.

Pylsa

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One dish you simply have to try, and will struggle to miss, is pylsa. In all the major cities and towns in Iceland, you’ll encounter at least a handful of street food vendors and cafés serving up this beloved local delicacy. Comprising of a long sausage, wedged in an open bread roll and loaded with onions, mustard, remoulade and ketchup, pylsa is very similar to a classic hot dog, with one key difference: the sausage is made from a blend of lamb, beef and pork, which, for many meat lovers, makes it extra special and well worth seeking out during your visit.

Icelandic Bread Dishes

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Icelandic bread may be revered around the world today for its distinct flavour and hearty texture, but bread doesn’t have as ancient an association with Iceland as you might expect. Until the 19th century, the country had no professional bakeries, with grain being too difficult to cultivate. In fact, bread was considered a luxury for the rich until around the turn of the 20th century.

Now, however, things have changed, and bread is considered the cornerstone of many a meal in Iceland. From dense rye bread to deliciously-charred flatbreads, Iceland has quickly established itself as one of the world’s foremost destinations for bread fans.

Hverabraud

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Hverabraud is perhaps the most distinctive and beloved of all Icelandic bread. Made from rye flour, these slightly sweet, crust-free loaves have a thick consistency, being similar in texture to Irish soda bread. What gives hverabraud its unique texture and taste is the method used to bake and store the bread; tradition dictates that each loaf is baked in a pot on the embers of a dying fire, which is then covered over with earth and turf. Some loaves are also baked close to a hot spring, which helps give a lighter, airier consistency.

Flatkaka

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Flatkaka is an unusual yet apt name for a signature Icelandic bread, the flatbread. These spherical discs of bread are made using rye flour, which, when baked in a skillet or directly on hot stones, contributes to the bread’s distinctive pattern. Flatkaka are enjoyed as part of many dishes in Iceland, whether torn up and dunked in soup, or used as the bread part of the beloved hangikjöt sandwich, which incorporates thin slices of lamb, beef and pork.

Icelandic Sweets and Desserts

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Iceland began importing sugar in 1880, and in the decades to follow, locals fell in love with this coveted ingredient. As with bread, Icelanders quickly found new ways to make sugar their own – using it in everything from ice cream and liquorice to candied dates and patisserie.

Of all its sugary treats, ice cream and frozen yogurt are the key sweet vices of Iceland. In almost every town, you’ll find an award-winning ice cream parlour, with locals tucking into classics such as bragdarefur – even in the depths of winter.

But ice cream isn’t the only sweet treat on offer in Iceland; here are two other options to seek out.

Snúdur

snudur icelandic pastry
Borrowed, perhaps, from its Danish forebears; snúdur is a cinnamon bun which has been a popular bakery snack since sugar and bread arrived in Iceland in the late 19th century. The patisserie favourite comprises of a sweet cinnamon bread roll, wrapped in a loose knot shape, and topped with caramel and chocolate. Not for the faint of heart, these baked delicacies

Skyr

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No visit to Iceland would be complete without trying the island’s signature yogurt, skyr. According to the National Museum of Iceland, this traditional dairy product has been made in Iceland for over a thousand years, its origins stemming from the ancient Norse. Technically a type of cheese, skyr is made by separating milk from cream before adding live cultures from previous batches. The result is a thick, natural yogurt that’s often flavoured with vanilla, berries and liquorice, or else transformed into Iceland’s famous frozen yogurt.

 

For your chance to sample the wonderful cuisine of Iceland and even enjoy a Scenic Freechoice culinary tour of Akureyri, take a look at our collection of luxury ocean cruises which include a visit to this enchanting country.