6 Foods Worth Splurging on in Iceland
When in Iceland, you can't not try the country's delicious Scandinavian-style cuisine. Hearty flavors are all over the spectrum here, from thick meat soup that lingers in your mouth long after you're finished to some of the freshest fish and butter you'll ever taste. It may be a tad bit pricey to sample this place's incredible offerings, but we promise, these dishes are worth the splurge.
Not sure where to start? No problem! Here are our recommendations for six delicious eats to try in Iceland and where to go in Reykjavik to obtain them. No apologies if you get addicted!
Iceland is known for its hearty meat soup (called Kjötsúpa), a flagship dish filled with a muddling of potatoes, carrots, onions, leeks, spices, barley, a thick, salty broth, and meat. Traditionally, meat soup is made with lamb, which is said to give Icelanders enough energy to make it through the winter. However, it can also made with other meats (such as beef), though we'd recommend trying it the original way unless you hate lamb (and honestly, you'll probably have a hard time finding it without lamb, as the Icelandic are proud of their conventional cuisine).
This is a soup that's sure to warm you up on those cold, winter days in Iceland, especially if you visit between October and March. When we went in November, we enjoyed several bowls of this magical stew—it fueled our spirits and put an extra step in our stride.
Best places to try meat soup:
- Cafe Loki — Located right across from Hallgrimskirkja
- Old Iceland Restaurant — Off Laugavegur and Vitastigur, downtown Reykjavik
Icelandic Hot Dogs
Even if you haven't been to Iceland yet, you've probably heard of the Icelandic hot dog. Considered Iceland's "national dish" (I question this one, but hey), it became popular to order when former president Bill Clinton visited Reykjavik in 2004 and snacked on a few at a local hot dog stand. Since then, travelers have flocked from all over to try these delicious treats.
Icelandic hot dogs are made of lamb, pork, and beef. The real stuff, not a substance of questionable similarity. You can tell when biting into them; this meat snaps, and it's darn good. As for toppings? Onions, both fresh and fried, are piled atop a line of ketchup, sweet mustard, and a sauce made with capers, herbs, and other ingredients.
The sauces can feel like a little too much, and the sweetness of the mustard lingers on your teeth for a while, but it's worth trying. Best of all? Icelandic hot dogs are probably the cheapest eats you can get on your trip, costing 300-400 ISK (or $3-4 USD). Get one or two, and they'll fill you right up.
Best places to try Icelandic hot dogs:
- Baejarins Beztu Pylsur — Where Bill Clinton ate; located downtown Reykjavik
- Pylsuhusid Hot Dog House — Located in Ingolfstorg Square, also downtown Reykjavik
- Pylsuvagninn Laugardal — Next to Reykjavik City Hostel; right outside a public pool (score!)
Rye Bread & Butter
If you haven't tried freshly baked rye bread, you're missing out. Move aside wheat and white bread, rye is here for its shot at prime time. This incredible staple is heavy (if you've ever had a sandwich where the bread fell apart, you might appreciate rye), cut into more-than-generous slices, and slathered with anything from creamy butter and mixed-berry jam to thin servings of fish and spices.
Rye bread has a sweet, malty note, like a decadent glass of stout if you're into that sort of thing. We're seriously addicted to this stuff. If only they baked something similar in the United States... I mean, you can find rye bread in grocery stores, but Icelandic rye bread is truly a staple to behold.
Go ahead! Try it for yourself, customize it with an assortment of garnishes, heck, even go for rye bread ice cream (a dessert most people rave about). If it ruins your taste for the usual bread offerings, well, we'd say we're sorry, but that'd be a lie. Rye bread is just too good.
Best places to try rye bread:
Rye bread is incredibly popular in Iceland, so it's likely you'll be offered it at the places you eat (as most restaurants offer a sampling of loaves still warm from the oven). However, here are two specific places that are known for their rye bread.
- Cafe Loki — Yes, again. They serve rye bread ice cream and regular rye bread
- Laugarvatn Fontana — A stop off the Golden Circle; they bake their bread in the ground! Walk-ins allowed
Flaky. Nutty. Bright. Tangy. These are just a few of the ways we could describe Icelandic fish. Soft, melt-in-your-mouth delicacies, the seafood you get in Iceland is caught the same day you eat it and ten times better than fish you have at home, guaranteed.
The fish served in restaurants is generally a toss up between haddock or cod (with plenty of other types too if you're a seafood fan), with some sour Scandinavian herring thrown in for good measure. Hands up if you like pickled herring! ...just me? That's OK, I'll eat it all then.
If sustainability is on your mind, never fear. Fish is procured responsibly, which means Iceland practices sustainable fishing and only harvests what it needs from the species that can handle it (for more details, see the Fishland Seafood website or the Iceland Responsible Fisheries website). It also means the fish you eat is local, organic, and cooked with ingredients you can trust, which is always a win in our book!
The best part about ordering fish in Iceland? It's served in so many ways, you'll never get tired of eating it. Raw, cooked, spiced and salted, fried in batter, smothered in sauce... Mmm.
Best places to try Icelandic fish:
- Fish and Chips Vagninn — Delicious street food by the harbor; not open during winter months
- Lobster & Stuff — Offers several varieties of fish (char, cod, and plaice), though better known for their lobster soup. Located by the harbor
- Saegreifinn (The Sea Baron) — Similar to Lobster & Stuff, but a little more affordable with close-quartered sitting room and more fish variety on the menu
- Fiskmarkadurinn (Fish Market) — Offers seafood, sushi, soups, and tasting menus; in downtown Reykjavik. Reservation suggested
- Lindin Restaurant — Off the Golden Circle next to Laugarvatn Fontana. Try the arctic char (it's delicious)
This one's a little weird, right? Belgian waffles in Iceland? But before you continue scrolling, let me tell you—they're freaking awesome. These classic little waffles are sold in many of the coffee shops and cafes around Reykjavik. Covered in chocolate and caramel or served with a whipped cream that isn't rot-your-gums sweet, they're just enough to satisfy your sugar cravings without breaking the budget (caloric or otherwise)!
Iceland puts their own twist on waffles. Occasionally called "the new Belgian waffles," Icelandic waffles are flat, crispy, and served with jam and butter. Yum! You could be excused for polishing a few of these off at a time. What's better is, you don't need to visit a cafe to get them! These bad boys can be found at the occasional food truck throughout Reykjavik, ready to be served on a disposable plate and devoured between the occasional photo op and map consultation.
Best places to try Belgian/Icelandic waffles:
- Voffluvagninn (The Waffle Wagon) — A food truck located next to Hallgrimskirkja
- Mokka Kaffi — Off Laugavegur, Reykjavik's main shopping street. Close walk from Hallgrimskirkja
Wild Mushrooms & Herbs
What's more Icelandic than wild mushrooms and herbs? If you think of anything, definitely let us know, because during our trip to Iceland all we heard about was mushrooms and herbs, herbs and mushrooms ... and rightly so! Many areas around Reykjavik (and surely all across Iceland) grow edible types of mushrooms that complement any dinner dish. Which makes sense, considering Iceland's landscape, full of fertile soil and rain, is perfect for these earthy little guys.
Icelandic cuisine is, for the most part, made of ingredients that are fresh, local to the island, and easily picked. In fact, Icelanders are considered master foragers, so you'll see a lot of mushrooms and herbs (especially thyme, salt, moss, angelica, birch leaves, and juniper) in your food—either by themselves, accented by a thin mushroom broth, or in bigger, bolder dishes.
Best places to try mushrooms and herbs:
You can find a side of mushrooms and herbs at almost any restaurant in Reykjavik, either in the form of soup, tossed in with pasta, or cooked in plain ol' butter. Just keep an eye out when looking at the menus!
Bonus! Rotten Shark
Rotten shark, also known as hakarl, is not a dish for the faint of heart. Rumor has it it's only popular for tourists—Icelanders (reportedly) won't touch the stuff. However it's seen, hakarl is an interesting bit of cuisine; if you don't have qualms with eating shark, it's well worth trying, even if just for the experience and a horrible story to impress others with later. When in Rome, right?
But really, be prepared for ammonia—and the bile of regret—to creep up your throat all day. Even a shot of Brennevin couldn't help Mr. Nerd when he ate some (though he did eat all five pieces. You could go for a brave ONE). After the deed is done, there's nothing to do with the taste but wait ... and maybe question your life choices. ;)