Eating in Iceland: pleasures and tortures of the palate

A trip to Iceland turns into a somewhat varied gastronomic journey.

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During a few days in the country, the reality confirms these stereotypes, which, if they don’t surprise us, do so only because of high expectations. However, Iceland brings out the most capricious part of our attention, which takes its own course and selects something that the demands of the itinerary relegated to the background: Icelandic gastronomy.

Like the sea between fjords and islands, Icelandic cuisine slips seamlessly into every meal, revealing at any time and place – restaurant, café or roadside bar – a strange ingredient or unexpected preparation. But it is the exoticism of its tradition that makes every dish an opportunity to surprise.

First of all, Iceland lives up to its status as a quasi-Arctic island with typical Scandinavian or northern Russian delicacies, such as salted and dried fish (cod, hard discus being one of the most typical), many varieties of potatoes and plenty of black bread or rugbraud. 

Soups are also a popular solution to the cold at our first dinner, in their most traditional and delicious form: a hot cream of lobster soup with olive tapenade and homemade bread.

Once acclimatised, the waiter at Forrétta Barinn advises us to continue with the hot smoked salmon. Those who are used to this type of smoked fish, which is usually served cold, will be surprised by the contrast between its flavour and its tender texture, which is bathed in a citrus and herb yoghurt sauce. The alternative also comes from the ocean, with sea trout loins now available, although they are not always as well prepared. In this case, they are accompanied by cod croquettes and a barley and red pepper cream.


That’s urban food. It’s all good and understandable. But the important thing to understand is that Icelandic cuisine is not politically correct. The first hesitant glance comes with the second course, grilled horse steak over mashed potatoes drenched in Béarnaise sauce, garnished with caramelised onions and bacon. Horse, although rare, is low in fibre and has a mild flavour. Other popular meats include buffalo and lamb, whose head is even served with a detailed eyeball. The dish is known as svid. This first dinner gives an overview of the most typical dishes. But not the most daring ones.

The next day we drive along the Snaefellsnes peninsula. Along the coast we discover seals, dive into a cave of the famous volcano Snæfellsjökull, which took Jules Verne to the centre of the earth, and make one of the few detours to the shark museum in Bjarnarhöfn.

There the owner Gudjon awaits us to explain the history of his family and one of the delicacies of Icelandic gastronomy with a tradition of more than four centuries. In a wood-panelled hangar, among shark pines and next to the boat his father and grandfather used to fish with, he explains with humour and a provocative touch what his job is all about. He makes no secret of the fact that Arctic shark meat is highly toxic, so it has to ferment in wooden containers for six to nine weeks. “The detoxification process and the preservation process, in this case through fermentation, take place simultaneously, which is unique in the world,” he explains.


Despite these distinctive features, Iceland’s food lives up to its position between Eurasia and America, with more and more fusion restaurants bringing out the best of each house…. Or, at least, the most typical. Indeed, among the back streets of Reykjavík, long queues mark what is said to be the best hot dog stand in the world. Without eccentricity or pretension, we’ll cut to the chase with traditional hot dogs.

And you can’t end a trip without trying dessert. In this case, the icing on the cake, as it were, is a cake made with skyr, Icelandic protein and low-fat yoghurt, which not only forms the basis of any breakfast, but complements other desserts and represents the country’s long dairy tradition. One last sweet tip for those with a nostalgic sweet tooth: in Iceland there is also a kind of substitute for our churros: it’s called kleinur. There are plenty to choose from, you just have to stay away from ammonia (if you dare).

Posted in Europe, Iceland.