05 December 2016

Christmas in Iceland: Our traditional foods

Are you planning on traveling to Iceland during the Christmas season? This blog will highlight FUN Icelandic Christmas traditions, local cuisines, Icelandic lamb and the traditional Icelandic foods and drinks that are consumed during the Christmas season in Iceland.

If you do not know it already – the Icelanders love food! It is therefore no exception that Iceland in the Christmas season centers its festivities around food and especially MEAT! Historically speaking it was considered more fancy for the Icelanders to eat fresh meat at Christmas. Since the common wealth of the Icelanders did not live up to these expectations of freshness, the meat was smoked, such as the traditional smoked lamb. Today smoked meat is considered a nation´s favorite and is still an essential part on the Christmas table.

Eating lamb or sheep is very typical Icelandic – especially during Christmas in Iceland. This is NOT so strange since the country has approximately 800.000 sheep and lambs and approximately 330.000 citizens. This means there are 2,5 sheep for every human being in Iceland!

Top 10 Icelandic Christmas foods & drinks

#1. Ham, smoked lamb and ptarmigan – these 3 main meat dishes are by far the most common and popular Christmas cuisines that every Icelander will eat on Christmas Eve.  The meat dishes are typically served with side dishes such as peas, corn, cabbage, beans, gravy, jam, etc. and also including potatoes prepared in many different ways. Many restaurants and cafés will serve traditional Christmas dishes throughout the Christmas season in Iceland. If money is tight on your trip to Iceland, I recommend going to IKEA, were they will serve you a typical Icelandic Christmas dish for a very reasonable price.

#2. Leaf Bread (laufabrauð) – this bread is so pretty and tasty! It is a thin, crispy and beautiful decorated flatbread that can be served both plain or with powdered sugar. In the old days in Iceland it was hard to purchase the ingredients for making this kind of bread. It is a very cozy Icelandic Christmas tradition and speciality since families nowadays gather together taking great pride in decorating and making these tasty leaf breads as pretty as possible. If you want to try these delicious breads, you can find them in almost any supermarket in Iceland during the Christmas season.

#3. Fermented skate – okay so this is one of the weird Christmas dishes! It is as the word implies – skate (a fish sort) that is “rotten”. The Icelanders will not in general stand by this dish being a traditional eating during Christmas season. It really all depends on the generation – as the elder generation most likely will enjoy this dish, whereas the younger generation more commonly will consider it as a fun tradition – particuarly enjoyed with friends in the company of Icelandic liqueur. This dish is typically eaten on the 23rd of December, also known as St. Thorlákurs day, since Thorlákur was an Icelandic saint who died on this date in the 12th century.

#4. Brennivín aka “The Black Death” – just the name itself, of this very traditional and popular distilled beverage in Iceland, does not sound that appealing! The spirit is made from fermented grain or potato mash and flavored with caraway. I for one, am not a fan of the taste, but I do however drink this from time to time, as it is considered to be Icelandic´s signature distilled spirit with a guaranteed FUN night following ahead.

Would you like to have a FUN night in Reykjavik? Well, then I highly recommend the awesome Reykjavik Bar Crawl, where you will be able to try this traditional Icelandic spirit and many more great alcoholic beverages.

#5. Maltöl and orange soda – good Icelandic Christmas eating deserves good drinking!

This is definitely one of Iceland´s most traditional Christmas drinks and every Icelandic will have a strong opinion on the perfect mixture of these two drinks. You can also just by a readymade mixtured drink from the brand “Egils”.

#6. Clementines – Icelandic Christmas rimes with Clementines! Aaaah, you simply know it is Christmas Season when the odor of clementines spread their wonderful fragrance in the everyday life in Iceland.

#7. Christmas cookies – baking Christmas cookies, or as we say in Icelandic “jólasmákökur”, plays a very essential part in celebrating and eating our way through the Icelandic holiday. Many households gather their families and bake different types of Christmas cookies during the jolly Christmas season. There are so many different Christmas Cookies, the most classical ones are called “Piparkökur” (Ginger Snaps), “mömmukökur” (Ginger snap styled cookies with white frosting) and “Hálfmánar” (jam preserves wrapped in cookie dough).

#8. Marinated Herring – pickled or marinated herring is a very typical food in the Nordic countries and it is therefore also served traditionally as an Icelandic Christmas dish. Normally this Icelandic Christmas food will be arranged on a slice of rye bread or pumpernickel bread. Additionally the marinated herring can be served with delicious sauces and complimentary garnish. Personally, I prefer marinated herring with a curry dressing and raw onions! It taste AMAZING and is extremely healthy due to its natural sources of vitamin D. Marinated herring is easily purchased in the Icelandic supermarkets. Local tip: Ask for “síld”.

Photo by @heartfullyhanna

#9. Liquorice tops – (lakkrís toppar) – Icelanders are BIG suckers for liquorice, so when it comes to baking typical Icelandic Christmas cakes, the Icelanders naturally make good use of liquorice in their delicious Christmas cakes. Would you like to bake these too? Click on this recipe to bake your own batch of delicious Licorice tops!

#10. Ricepudding (möndlu grautur) – this delicious Icelandic Christmas food is made of rice porridge, whipped cream and chopped almonds. The Icelanders have different traditions when it comes to eating this mouthwatering food – some eat it as a Christmas breakfast food, whereas some eat it as a dessert and some even make a fun food game while eating it. For instance some Icelanders put a whole almond in the big portion and when the portion then is served in smaller portions, everyone guesses who has the almond.

Whoever gets the almond receives a Christmas gift!!!

Have a MERRY Christmas or as we say in Icelandic “gleðileg jól”!

About the Author



Hello friend! My name is Dan. I'm an Icelandic local foodie and I'm here to ensure that you experience Iceland in the most fun way possible.
In 2014, I created the Reykjavik Food Walk - a 3hr foodie walking tour that takes place in downtown Reykjavik everyday!
Now let's face it ... No one likes doing touristy things when they travel - they want authentic local experiences and that's what our food tour is all about. On our delicious foodie adventure, you'll explore Reykjavik and learn about the fascinating Icelandic culture (perfect first day activity) while visiting some of the best local restaurants and hidden gems to enjoy delicious Icelandic food.
I hope to see you on our tour here in Reykjavik!