Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Traditional Foods in Iceland: From Black Death and Icelandic Hot Dogs to Skyr

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The Icelandic climate and the harsh land didn’t give farmers the option to grow a large variety of fruits and vegetables. Fishing, sheep and potatoes were the main food for Icelanders for generations and fish and lamb dishes remain the most common main courses even today.

Traditional foods in Iceland remains simple but offers some unique delicacies, which most people will never forget.

Here are some famous Icelandic cuisines to try out while you’re there.

Traditional foods in Iceland - Smoked Puffin
Traditional foods in Iceland – Smoked Puffin

Traditional foods in Iceland to try

The traditional foods in Iceland are a mix of unusual and super tasty.

Tapas Barinn

We particularly enjoyed Tapas Barinn in Reykjavik. It’s a restaurant with Spanish flare offering an extensive menu of over 70 tapas ranging from traditional Spanish tapas to the best of Icelandic cuisine. If you’re up for a taste adventure and want to try a bit of Iceland’s local and traditional fare, opt for the Icelandic Gourmet menu.

You’ll start with a traditional shot of Iceland’s infamous spirit, Brennívín, also called the “Black Death”. Legend has it that Brennívín achieved its ominous nickname during the Icelandic prohibition. During prohibition, from 1915 to 1922, the Icelandic government placed a skull and crossbones logo on all liquor bottles. Soon, drinkers grew accustomed to requesting “Black Death” at the counter of their local liquor store.

Pinch your nose and toss it back!

Traditional foods in Iceland at Tapas Barinn
Tapas Barinn in Reykjavik, Iceland

Smoked Puffin

We started with smoked puffin with blueberry Brennívín sauce. Puffin can be found on the cliffs of western Iceland and the Westmann Islands….and on many menus around the country. The portion size is perfect for sampling this delicacy, which is a bit gamey but complimented perfectly by the blueberry sauce.

Iceland sea-trout and minke whale

The Icelandic sea-trout with peppers-salsa, lobster tails baked in garlic, and pan-fried monkfish with lobster sauce were all equally as tasty!

Whaling has a long history in the coastal waters around Iceland and the continued practice is as controversial in Iceland as it is anywhere. Yet you’ll find minke whale on just about any menu. What you can expect is a tender red meat that looks much like a sirloin steak with a slightly salty taste. At Tapas Barinn, it’s served with a cranberry sauce.

Icelandic lamb

Icelandic lamb is a wonderfully flavorful, exceptionally lean meat from animals raised with no antibiotics, ever, and no added hormones. Pesticides and herbicides are seldom used in Iceland where the climate naturally protects the land. Tapas Barinn prepares it simply: grilled with spices.

Chocolate cake

You’ll finish off the meal with chocolate cake with berry compoté and whipped cream.

At just around $50 for enough food to share for two people, Tapas Barinn was not only our favorite meal in Iceland, it was a great value too!

Traditional Icelandic Hot Dogs

Downtown Reykjavik near the harbor and open since 1937, Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, translates to the “best hot dog stand in town”. Most Icelanders have eaten here and it has even been visited by Bill Clinton. Made of lamb and topped with a mix of fresh and fried onions, remoulade and brown mustard, they’re unlike any hot dogs in the world. At just 250 ISK (around $2 each), be sure to get two!

Icelandic hot dogs
Icelandic hot dogs


While skyr is technically a very soft cheese, it looks, tastes, and feels like a yogurt. It’s virtually fat free, all natural, and high in protein and is eaten alone (like yogurt) or flavored with berries, used in dips, and mixed in desserts.You’ll see skyr on the dessert menu of most restaurants and you can buy it in the local supermarkets for a quick and filling breakfast. My favorite was the blueberry skyr!

Explore more of Iceland, check out these posts:

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