Have you heard the rumours about strange or weird foods in Iceland? Some are delicious and eatable but others are just very … interesting! For an example, where else will you have the chance of eating the private parts of a lamb? – And this is actually a considered to be a normal dish eaten here in Iceland! In this blog I will do my very best to enlighten you on Iceland´s most strange foods and drinks.
The unique food culture in Iceland
To begin with, when we look at Icelandic history through these strange foods – two things should definitely be mentioned.
Firstly, Icelanders have always had to ferment, cure, smoke, pickle and dry their foods to preserve it long enough. Simply to survive the winters!
Secondly, due to Iceland´s isolated and geographical location in the North Atlantic Ocean, the ability of buying varieties of foods has always been very limited or did not exist at all. Because of this, the Icelanders have a long history of eating mainly lamb and fish. And they made great use of what they had, meaning they used absolutely everything on the animals. Good riddance!
These two cultural and historical factors have led to some of the following top 10 strange foods in Iceland …
Here are the TOP 10 strange foods in Iceland!
#1. Fermented Shark
– Hákarl in Icelandic.
The greenland shark is caught off the coast of Iceland. It is traditionally fermented and then hung to dry for four to five months. Sounds delicious, right? Then also the odor of ammonia, due to the chemical fermentation process makes the shark even harder to resist! BUT with all that being said, people still debate on if it is awesomely delicious … or simply terrible! Eating this bizarre food might require some inner strength, since the odor is really not appealing. After a first bite and with the odor gone, you might even find yourself going for seconds?
This funky Icelandic food is available in most Icelandic supermarkets, all year round and some restaurants and bars.
#2. Dried fish
- Harðfiskur in Icelandic.
Dried fish is a very popular cuisine for locals in Iceland and really often enjoyed as a healthy snack. Dried fish can be made from a big variety of fishes but most commonly cod or haddock. And for a long period of time in the old days, dried fish used to be one of the most commonly eaten Icelandic cuisines.
Dried fish is often enjoyed with butter since the texture is naturally dry and it of course makes the taste even more delicious!
Do you normally drink and eat a lot of protein based foods and drinks? If so, swap out your regular protein bar with a chunk of dried fish … It is very rich in protein – with about 80-85% protein per 100 g!
You can purchase dried fish in almost any Icelandic supermarket, some tourist shops and in restaurants, all year round.
#3. The Black Death
– Brennivín in Icelandic.
This is the most traditional (and popular) Icelandic spirit and has been for centuries. The name on it’s own does maybe not sound very appealing at first … but we think you should definitely give it a shot while in Iceland!
Brennivín is made from fermented grain, potato mash and flavoured with caraway. Today, similar to the fermented shark – People debate if it’s absolutely undrinkable or an amazing shot that everybody should try.
One of my recommendations for a SUPER FUN night in Reykjavik would be the awesome Reykjavik Bar Crawl, where you will be able to both try the above mentioned fermented shark, dried fish and try this traditional Icelandic spirit and many more great and delicious alcoholic beverages!
#4. Sheep’s head
– Svið in Iceland.
Here is another very traditional Icelandic cuisine and a favourite for many locals.
The presentation itself is maybe not too appealing for those seeing this dish for the first time. However it’s considered very delicious by many Icelanders and I for one would definitely recommend you to try it if you’re interested. I promise you will survive!
Most agree that the sheep cheeks are some of the most delicious parts found on the lamb – but those who are more experienced crack the jaw open and enjoy the inner part of the head the most. Mouthwatering right?
Not too many restaurants offer this cuisine on their menu today but the cafeteria at BSÍ (the bus station in Reykjavik) has it as one of their specialties.
#5. Sheep´s head jelly
- Sviðasulta in Icelandic.
As already mentioned, Icelanders have a history of using everything from the animals. In addition to the Sheep´s head, the sheep´s head leftovers has also traditionally been made into a jelly. The jelly is usually served cold with boiled potatoes and turnips or even on top of rye bread!
#6. Blood pudding
– Slátur in Icelandic.
Once again, the name itself is just NOT appealing! As the word maybe implies this is a sausage-like food that is made from sheep´s blood, fat and inwards. I know this does maybe not sound so seducing but trust me it tastes so delicious!
Traditionally served boiled.
Personally, I prefer to fry the slátur on a pan. Normally, frying fat is not necessary, since the blood pudding is fattening enough in itself and provides enough fat to the pan making the sausage pieces crispy and very tasty. To spice the blood pudding dish up a bit, I recommend sprinkling a tad of cinnamon across the fried pieces and serving the dish with a nice apple puree and green seasonal salad. Good and delicious blood-food-appetit!
#7. Ram testicles
- Súrsaðir hrútspungar in Icelandic.
A local delicacy that really proves that Icelanders seriously use every part of the animal.
Today they can be made with multiple different methods. But here the lambs balls have been boiled, fermented in whey and pressed into eatable sizes. Bon appetit?
#8. Lever Paste
Lever paste is as the word implies, a spreadable paste made from the animals insides – livers!
Here comes the strange factor, since this does not on first hand awaken associations to something delicious but trust me this tastes AMAZING! Personally, I prefer the lever paste heated, served on a piece of dark rye bread, with crispy bacon and buttered mushy mushrooms … Mmmm!
– Lakkrís in Icelandic.
Icelanders are HUGE suckers for liquorice!
Liquorice is put in almost any thinkable kind of food here. Specially in chocolate! Also with butter, liquor, caramel, ice cream, almonds, salt … You name it and Iceland got it!
When talking about liquorice, I am naturally referring to the black Icelandic liquorice. The variety is wide and the taste can therefore differ from salty to sweet. Since liquorice and Iceland go perfectly hand in hand, you will stumble upon liquorice in every Icelandic supermarket and in multiple forms in many Icelandic restaurants and bars!
#10. Marinated herring
– Síld in Icelandic.
Pickled or marinated herring is a very typical food in the Nordic countries and it is therefore also served traditionally as an Icelandic food.
Normally the marinated herring is served on rye bread. Additionally it can be served with delicious dressings and complimentary garnish.
Personally, I prefer marinated herring with a curry dressing, garnished with a boiled egg and raw onions! Geez Louise, this is just heaven on earth and it is also extremely healthy due to its natural sources of vitamin D. If adding the egg as garnish, you also get your natural source of protein. Mmmmm… it is just a win-win situation!
Marinated herring is easily purchased in the Icelandic supermarkets. Local tip: Ask for “síld”.
This is the end of my blog and I hope you found it interesting! Please feel free to comment below if you have any questions or comments. Also, I might just add and inform you that you DO NOT NEED to eat some of these strange dished when you are traveling in Iceland. It is however fun to try out new and unique foods and tell friends and family back home about these funky dishes.
The everyday Icelandic food cuisine is very much up to date and offers many delicious dishes for hungry travelers and locals alike. If you want to try out delicious local and “normal” Icelandic food, you should definitely join our FUN and “foodie-licious” Reykjavik Food Walk Tour.
About the author:
Text by: Kristina Daisy Rácz
I am a health nutritionist from Copenhagen and I recently moved from Denmark to Iceland. Even though these two countries have tons of similarities in food and culture, they are so completely different when it comes to the funky traditional foods you can taste here in Iceland. Funky is not necessarily equal to gross food – it is just different and nevertheless very interesting for a foodie, such as myself. I am a worldwide traveler (30+ countries in counting) and food always plays a key role on my trips, since I believe food can tell you much about a country´s history, values, culture, etc.