Puffin, Whale, Foal: Best Icelandic Food In Reykjavik
Do you love eating? Do you want to try local cuisine? Where are the best places to eat traditional Icelandic food?Are you happy to eat anything adventurous? Do you love trying new foods? Are you looking for some local Icelandic treats that you can’t find anywhere else in the world? Where are the best places to eat puffin? The best places to eat whale and shark? The best places to eat foal?
If you are anything like me, then you might consider trying the local cuisine a must for all of your trips. Food is inherently tied with culture. Eating local food is one of the best ways to acquaint yourself with a country’s culture. Food can reveal a nation’s history, tradition and habits to you. It can help you understand the locals and, if you can dine with them, make them your friends!
So, what do Icelandic people eat? Well, they eat pretty much the same things as the rest of the western world. They love international cuisines, their adored pylsa (also known as the humble hot dog), and bragðarefur (a colossal tub of ice cream with candy).
However, they didn’t always have these delicacies. Their traditional food is based on simple dishes, with meat often being the key ingredient. A lot of their traditional food is still eaten today. To understand the traditional Icelandic cuisine, though, we first need to understand its history.
Don’t miss: Best Hiking Trails In And Around Reykjavik
At a glance
- History of Icelandic food
- Top five restaurants to eat traditional Icelandic food
- Get the real Icelandic food experience with our Reykjavik food tour! Eat like an Icelander with a local!
A little bit of history
Not long ago, Iceland ranked among the poorest countries in the world. Their economic boom only began after WWII, leaving their older traditions still alive to this day.
A lot of those traditions are related to food. As a poor nation, Icelandic people had to make do with local products. They also had to make use of every part of said products. Coincidentally, food was not seen as a social event in Iceland. It was not about gathering the family around a table and having a feast, like in many southern countries. Rather, it was for surviving.
The combination of those two elements meant that Icelandic food was easy to make, with straightforward recipes and a lot of animal protein. Sheep and lamb have traditionally been very popular with the Icelandic population. However, Icelandic people are also partial to foal and whale, and they love puffins as a delicacy. You may have heard of another puzzling traditional Icelandic dish; rotten shark. While not the most appetizing of the lot, you can still find rotten shark in Iceland today -remember to chase it with a shot of Brennivín (also known as black death)!
So, where can you find all this adventurous cuisine? Well, I have compiled this guide that will show you the best places around Reykjavik where you can eat like an old-timey local!
1. Íslenski Barinn
Íslenski Barinn (literally The Icelandic Bar) in Ingólfsstræti is one of the best places to visit if you want to try all of Iceland’s traditional cuisine. Their menu lives up to their name, offering you all the Icelandic food you must try during your stay. While a lot of restaurants try to over-modernize traditional dishes, Íslenski Barinn just gets it. No frills, no gimmicks. Just real traditional Icelandic food.
You will find many options in this pub, but the grilled fin whale stake and the horse burger definitely steal the spotlight.For the most adventurous of you, Íslenski Barinn offers fermented shark. Try it out with their Brennivín shot if you are brave enough!
If you think you can’t stomach the stranger flavors of traditional Icelandic cuisine, you should visit Íslenski Barinn anyway. Sit for a local beer, and pair it with smoked lamb on flatbread or a traditional Icelandic meat soup for a more conservative traditional culinary experience.
Try Íslenski Barinn and all the other places for the best Icelandic food in Reykjavik by joining our top-rated Reykjavik food tour!
2. Tapas Barinn
I can almost hear you ask, “Tapas? Really?” Yes, really. I did mention that Icelandic people like international food, but not without putting an Icelandic twist to it!
Tapas Barinn in downtown Reykjavik’s Vesturgata will introduce you to a selection of Icelandic dishes. Traditional ingredients meet modern techniques and recipes in the form of bite-sized portions; and you know that means you can try A LOT!
Opt for the Icelandic Gourmet Feast to grace your taste buds with seven delectable courses. The feast starts with a shot of Brennivín, of course! Then, you will taste smoked puffin with blueberry Brennivín sauce (do you see a pattern here?), lamb, and minke whale. For dessert, you will have a mouth-watering mousse, a modern twist on the traditional Icelandic skyr.
I have found some of the best Icelandic food that Reykjavik has to offer in Tapas Barinn. Their lamb with licorice sauce made even me, a sworn lamb enemy, drool with delight!
3. Þrír Frakkar
Translating to “Three Coats”, the next restaurant on our list keeps it simple and delicious. You can find Þrír Frakkar in Baldursgata. Like Íslenski Barinn, it does not try to dazzle its customers with fancy recipes, because it doesn’t have to. Instead, it relies on its quality ingredients and tried and true traditional Icelandic recipes. They are more than enough to dazzle any diner!
You can start your dinner at Þrír Frakkar with hákarl (fermented shark) if you are curious like me. Once you’ve given your palate a good shock, why not continue with some smoked puffin with mustard sauce or whale sashimi?
As a main course, you can try grilled horse tenderloin or a whale pepper steak! Certainly some courses not for the faint of heart right here, but if you feel like trying them, the incredible tastes of Þrír Frakkar might convert you into an Icelandic cuisine fan!
Next in our list we have a restaurant that can accommodate your less adventurous partner or your dad who only eats “normal food” and asks for his steak to be well done. Hereford is a steakhouse in Laugavegur, right in downtown Reykjavik. With its scrumptious steaks and seemingly endless varieties of meat, Hereford is bound to please even the pickiest carnivores.
You’re not there for the steaks though. Those are for your dad.
You’re there for the grilled puffin breast with malt sauce and for the foal tenderloins. While those are the only two options if you are looking for some culinary adventure, their taste makes up for the small selection. Hereford puts the tender in tenderloins, and the taste of their grilled puffin almost makes you forget how cute they are.
Last but most certainly not least, we have Grillmarkaðurinn in Lækjargata. While I have praised restaurants in this list for keeping their Icelandic dishes true to tradition, if anyone knows how to break tradition, it’s Grillmarkaðurinn.
Favored by Icelandic celebrities, this restaurant takes traditional ingredients seriously, which is reflected by their close work with local farmers. While on the pricier side, if you decide to visit Grillmarkaðurinn, you will find traditional Icelandic food mixed with new techniques and ingredients.
As an appetizer, their whale, puffin and langoustine mini burgers are an excellent choice. However, so is their succulent grilled whale steak, as well as the grilled puffin with pickled bilberries and birch.
Then, as a main course, you can try their horse tenderloins or even the grilled reindeer! Both perfectly savory with a hint of sweetness, the stakes melt in your mouth and the scent of grilled meat complements their impeccable taste perfectly.
Wherever you decide to have your Icelandic culinary adventure, eating authentic traditional Icelandic food is truly an experience. Perhaps what you are trying is someone’s favorite childhood food. Or perhaps they hated it when they were kids. But there is history there, there is tradition, and there is the establishment of a connection with the locals that you can rarely get otherwise.
And if you want to connect with some locals and get to ask them what their favorite food was as a kid or if they absolutely hate the same dish as you do, why not join our Reykjavik food tour? We’ll show you the best Icelandic food restaurants in Reykjavik, you will get to try all the best Icelandic food while walking around the beautiful city of Reykjavik, and hang out with some real vikings (or, well, the closest we have to them)!