If I had to list out all the reasons I love to travel, there is one thing that will always be at the top: food. I’m a firm believer that food is the best way to get in touch with the local culture. And no local is ever friendlier than when they have a pint in their hands.
Being as remote as it is, Iceland really has two options: import really expensive food, or embrace their own natural resources. Therefore, so much of what Iceland has to offer is unique to the country. There are a million different ways to explore Iceland through tastebuds, but these are the 4 things I think wouldn’t pass up!
Okay. What? I’m recommend that you fly all the way out to Iceland and eat a hot-dog? Trust me, I rolled my eyes too. But these are not your average American hot-dogs that have been on a roller in a gas station for upwards of a week. These are lamb-based (with some pork and beef) and for the full experience you have to order them “ein með öllu” (or with everything): white onions, fried onions, ketchup, pylsusinnep (a sweet brown mustard), and remoulade (a sauce made with herbs, mayonnaise, capers, and mustard).
I’m a big fan of the remoulade and was excited to find it used in a whole slew of different ways throughout the city.
It seems a bit silly to list seafood as a must-eat in Iceland because you would have to go pretty far out of your way to avoid it. Seafood is on basically every menu in Iceland and even the darkly lit basement bar offers fresher fare than you’d find in most cities. But, I absolutely would be remiss not to mention it because seafood basically just doesn’t get much fresher than from the docks in Iceland.
Reykjavik Harbour is packed with dozen of different quaint seafood joints and whale watching tour shops, but we can’t recommend Sægreifinn (The Sea Baron Restaurant) enough!
The first thing to greet you as you walk in (besides the line, unless you’re lucky!) is this glorious seafood case. Pick from the kabobs and Sægreifinn cooks your fish to order.
These aren’t the lobsters you might have come to expect either: called langoustine, these little guys look more like a lovechild between shrimp and lobster than the Maine lobster of the US.. but are still pure perfection in the soup!
The restaurant is itty bitty, with petite tables and barrel stools, but the lobster soup is more than worthy of getting cozy with a stranger. Just hope that a cruise ship isn’t docked … one of the positives of visiting off-season!
There are a couple different schools of thought when it comes to the unusual protein items that Iceland offers. While whale is often a taboo menu item thanks to the (indisputably needed) international hunting laws, within Iceland dining on the minkse whale is an important part of Icelandic heritage. While 40% of the consumption comes from tourists, it is ultimately up to you to determine if this is what you feel comfortable with and it is certainly easy to find a list of whale-friendly restaurants online. That said, we determined that it was something we wanted to try and to be perfectly honest, it was SO good.
If whale is not up your alley, another common menu item that is unique to Iceland is puffin. Ten – fifteen million puffins live on the coasts of Iceland, but unfortunately we didn’t spend much time at the coast and didn’t get to see any. The puffin was similar in taste to a very rare steak, and very dark red in color even when cooked thoroughly.
Hákarl and Brennivin
While the hotdog might be the un-official national dish of Iceland, the tried and true national dish (as determined by yours truly) is non eother than Hákarl. If you search for Hákarl on YouTube, there are endless numbers of videos that liken trying Hákarl to stunt to be performed by Johnny Knoxville in the next Jackass movie. After all, Hákarl is rotted shark. The Greenland shark is poisonous when consumed fresh, but the delightful Icelandic folk figured that wasting food simply because it was “poisonous” was for babies. Somehow they determined that burying it in the sand allowing the shark to fully decay, and then once cured the toxins were removed from the flesh, making it edible… technically. How they figured this out remains a mystery to me…
To get the full experience, you are supposed to take the shark alongside a shot of Icelandic’s own Brennavin. Liken it to take your shot of tequila with a lime and salt… except the lime is soaked in ammonia and the salt tastes like rat poison.
Woof. Definitely an experience to appreciate once… and only once 🙂 That said, once you get over the smell, it has a very unique flavor that I can’t say was bad.
To see more from our trip to Iceland, check out our favorite pictures from the trip here!