Iceland, a land of surreal landscapes and vibrant culture, offers a culinary journey as unique as its geography. From the bustling streets of Reykjavik to the serene fjords, Icelandic lunches are a delightful blend of tradition and innovation. This guide will take you through the 10 most famous and delicious lunches that are a must-try for any food enthusiast visiting Iceland. Each dish, rooted in history and crafted with locally sourced ingredients, tells a story of the Icelandic way of life.
1- Hangikjöt – Smoked Lamb
Hangikjöt, a traditional Icelandic delicacy, is a testament to the country’s love for lamb. This smoked lamb dish, often served during festive occasions, is savored for its tender texture and rich, smoky flavor. The smoking process, using Icelandic birch or dried sheep dung, imparts a unique taste, distinguishing it from other smoked meats. Commonly served with boiled potatoes and béchamel sauce, Hangikjöt is a hearty meal that encapsulates the essence of Icelandic cuisine.
2- Plokkfiskur – Fish Stew
Plokkfiskur, a beloved Icelandic comfort food, showcases the country’s abundant seafood. This fish stew, made with boiled fish (often cod or haddock), potatoes, onions, and béchamel sauce, is both nourishing and flavorful. The ingredients are typically mashed together, creating a creamy and hearty dish. Plokkfiskur is often accompanied by rye bread, a staple in Icelandic households. This stew not only warms the body on cold Icelandic days but also offers a glimpse into the nation’s fishing heritage.
3- Hákarl – Fermented Shark
Hákarl is arguably Iceland’s most notorious dish, known for its strong aroma and acquired taste. Made from Greenland shark, which is toxic when fresh, Hákarl is cured through a fermentation process and then air-dried for several months. The result is a pungent, ammonia-rich delicacy that challenges even the most adventurous eaters. Often served in small cubes, Hákarl is typically consumed as a snack with a shot of Brennivín, Iceland’s signature spirit. This dish is a testament to the Icelandic spirit of resilience and ingenuity in using available resources.
4- Icelandic Lamb Soup – Kjötsúpa
Kjötsúpa, a traditional Icelandic lamb soup, is a staple in local cuisine. Made with tender lamb, root vegetables, and herbs, this soup is a celebration of Iceland’s pristine natural produce. The lamb, reared in the wild, grazing on berries and herbs, imparts a distinctive flavor to the broth. Each family has its own recipe, often passed down through generations, making Kjötsúpa a personal and comforting dish. It’s not just a meal; it’s a bowl of Icelandic heritage.
5- Skyr – Icelandic Yogurt
Skyr, a creamy dairy product similar to yogurt, is a versatile component of Icelandic lunches. Rich in protein and low in fat, Skyr has been a part of Icelandic diet for centuries. Traditionally made from skimmed milk, it’s enjoyed either sweet, with berries and sugar, or savory, as a side with bread. Its tangy flavor and thick texture make it a favored ingredient in various Icelandic dishes. Skyr is more than just a food item; it’s a symbol of Icelandic endurance, having sustained generations.
6- Rye Bread Ice Cream – Rúgbrauðsís
Rúgbrauðsís, a unique fusion of traditional rye bread and ice cream, is a modern Icelandic delicacy. This dessert combines the earthy, sweet taste of rye bread, traditionally baked in geothermal ground, with the creamy texture of ice cream. The result is an intriguing blend of flavors and textures, reflecting Iceland’s innovative culinary spirit. Rúgbrauðsís is not just a dessert; it’s an experience, merging Iceland’s past and present.
7- Icelandic Hot Dog – Pylsur
Pylsur, the Icelandic hot dog, is a must-try street food in Reykjavik. Unlike typical hot dogs, Pylsur is made primarily from Icelandic lamb, along with pork and beef, giving it a unique and rich flavor. Served in a warm bun, it’s typically topped with raw and fried onions, ketchup, sweet mustard, and remoulade, a mayonnaise-based sauce with herbs and capers. This combination of toppings complements the savory meat, creating a burst of flavors in every bite. Pylsur is not just a quick lunch option; it’s a beloved part of Iceland’s culinary identity.
8- Icelandic Fish and Chips
Icelandic Fish and Chips take a classic British dish and elevate it with the freshest local catch. Cod, haddock, or Arctic char are commonly used, battered, and fried to perfection. Served with crispy potatoes and a unique Icelandic twist on tartar sauce, often infused with local herbs and spices, this dish is a celebration of Iceland’s pristine waters. It’s a simple yet delicious meal that connects diners directly to the bountiful Atlantic Ocean surrounding this island nation.
9- Lamb Shank
Lamb Shank in Iceland is a hearty and comforting dish, often slow-cooked to tender perfection. Icelandic lamb, known for its quality and distinctive taste due to the free-range grazing on mountain herbs, is the star of this dish. It’s usually braised with root vegetables and rich gravy, absorbing the flavors of local herbs and spices. This dish not only offers a taste of Iceland’s pastoral beauty but also reflects the nation’s appreciation for sustainable, locally-sourced food.
10- Seafood Soup – Sjávarréttasúpa
Sjávarréttasúpa, a luxurious seafood soup, is a testament to Iceland’s rich maritime culture. This soup usually features a variety of seafood such as lobster, shrimp, and mussels, swimming in a flavorful broth enriched with cream and white wine. Often seasoned with fresh herbs and served with crusty bread, this soup is both refined and comforting. Each spoonful offers a taste of the North Atlantic’s bounty, making it a must-try for seafood lovers.
Exploring Iceland’s culinary landscape through these ten lunches offers more than just a meal; it’s a journey through the heart of Icelandic culture and tradition. Each dish, with its unique flavors and history, invites you to experience the essence of this remarkable island nation.