Hotdogs: Unlike hotdog stands in New York City or sports arena vendors in the states, these are not beef and/or pork hotdogs (if that really is what’s in them). They are hotdogs with Icelandic lamb, beef, and pork called Pylsurs/Pulsurs. They are cheap and absolutely delicious. The hotdog is all made with free range, grass fed, and hormone free meat, which is the perfect fastfood when you are on the go or the best thing you’ve ever had in your life after the bars close. You want this hotdog with EVERYTHING: ketchup that’s made with apples (you can’t even tell), brown mustard, remoulade, fried and fresh onions. The best place to indulge on this amazingly simple food is at a stand called Bæjarins bestu in Reykjavik.
Ice cream: When in Iceland, you must have ice cream. There really is nothing particular about it besides the fact that its an Icelandic thing to eat during anytime of the year. The stuff is so popular that you have to take a ticket and wait for your number to be called, which can have more than 20 people before you. Take a scoop or two at Valdis, which is a very popular ice cream shop around town.
Cheese & Dairy: I had no idea that Iceland produced such a wide variety of cheeses! Much like the cheeses you can get in the store, Iceland offers cow and goat cheeses, aged for various weeks or year. Again, the benefit of these cheeses in Iceland are that they are from free range, grass fed, and hormone free cows, goats, and sheep. They taste great with pickled onions, local honey, jam or just by itself. Lava at the Blue Lagoon offers a great Icelandic cheese plate.
Meat: In Iceland, the vast majority of the country has free range animals like lamb, horses, and cows, so it’s no wonder Icelandic meat is different from most meats you would get in the states. It’s tender, has more flavor, and isn’t stuffed up with hormones. It’s the real stuff.
Typically, lamb is one of the most sought after meats just for its flavor alone. You can slow roast lamb and serve it up with traditional jam, brown sauce, and potatoes, which makes for a hearty Icelandic meal during the dead of winter. If you want something a little lighter, there is also such thing as lamb bacon, which can rival everyday bacon.
If you want something a bit more interesting, you can try horse. Around Iceland, it is often said that there are more horses than people on the island, so it would make sense for this island country to add horse to their diet, given how expensive it is to import food.
Poultry: Chicken is available around Iceland, as is duck, although it’s not sought after like lamb and seafood. However, there is one bird that stands out: Lundin, otherwise known as Puffin, Iceland’s official bird. It is traditionally smoked with licorice and served similarly to duck breast. The texture is also like duck, however the taste is completely different, as there is a saltiness to this seabird.
Fish & Seafood: Being an island, of course the seafood is going to be amazing. Fresh caught atlantic cod, salmon, ling, lobster, shrimp, scallops, mussels, you just about name it, it’s there. It’s so fresh, you’d be dumb to not at least try a fillet or soup, even if you aren’t a seafood lover. You could even try Harðfiskur, which is dried fish, if you aren’t at least willing to try a lot of seafood.
One of the best soups I ever had was the seafood soup at the Old Icelandic Restaurant on the main drag of Reykjavik. It was filled with delicious bits of cod, ling, blue mussels, and shrimp. The broth is made with mainly lobster shells and coconut milk. They add a little siracha for even more flavor and it’s a soup that will warm you up right to your toes.
If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can have a whale steak. Yes. that’s right, whale or as the Icelandic’s call it Hrefn. Minke whale to be exact. It is on the chewier side and is cooked like any fillet. You can also have whale fin jerky, which is just as tough as your standard jerky with the expection of giving off an overpowering fishy smell when you chew on it. If you’re feeling like sampling some of these delicacies stop by Íslenzkiljstinn for some whale and puffin.
If you’re not feeling like whale is adventurous enough, you can order fermented shark also know as Hákarl. The thing with shark, is the smell if so distinct that you KNOW when a shark is in the room. There have been stories in the past of people attempting to open up fermented sharks on planes for an inflight meal, only to be denied for the sake of everyone else’s benefit on the plane.
Drinks: In Iceand the craft beer breweries are on the rise. This is a big thing for a country who only 30 years ago lifted the ban on beer. Prior to the late 1980s, the only alcohol one could really have was vodka. Now a days, you can walk into just about every bar and order a local pint. If beers aren’t your adult beverage of choice, then there are several different brands of Icelandic vodka you can try either in a cocktail or just as a shot.
A most notable spirit to Iceland is Brennivén. It is a schnapps made from either potato mash or fermented grains and is steeped with caraway, angelica, and cumin. It is super strong and can often be referred to as “the black death”.
In addition to Brennivén, a not so intimidating liquor, is Ópal. It is sweet and comes in several different flavors. The best way to drink it, is when its served as a chilled shot. Don’t forget to cheer with a friend in Icelandic by saying “Skál”.
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