Traditional Icelandic food …
You do NOT want to eat this!
What should you eat in Iceland? And what is real Icelandic food? Did Icelanders really stuff their face with fermented shark, sour rams testicles and whole sheep heades?
Well ... yes, pretty much.
The Icelandic cuisine is wonderful. But it is really simple and it of course dramatically affected by our super remote location in the vast Atlantic ocean. Until very recently our local cuisine was mainly about surviving long, cold winters & therefore people would eat almost anything, simply to stay alive.
"Traditional Icelandic food" is a delicacy today, mostly eaten during Þorrablót, a festival in January-February , when Icelanders come together and celebrate our unique cuisine of the past. These foods hold cultural and historical significance since geographically, the nation was limited to what they could hunt, catch, and forage through the land.
The most popular method of preservation over the winter months was fermentation. Us Icelanders also smoked, cured, pickled, and dried to save everything we could to survive the harsh climate year after year. In this quick guide, I’ll share a few local cuisines that today are some of the weirdest and stinkiest delicacies found around Iceland.
In this blog I'll go over some of the most traditional cuisines found in Iceland.
- Fermented Shark
- Black Death
- Dried Fish Jerky
- Sheep Head
- Blood Pudding and liver sausage
- Ram's Testicales
HÁKARL | Fermented Shark
This is most likely the first cuisine you'll hear about when the talks of Icelandic food pops up! If I had just one thing in common with my food idols - Anthony Bourdain and Gordon Ramsay- it’s that rotten shark on any given day is a recipe for disaster.
FUN FACT: The traditional way of fermenting shark is to bury it in the ground and then urinating on it before letting it ferment for months. Sounds yummy, right?
Luckily, we've improved our fermentation process. Today, the shark is buried and then hung to dry for approx. 5 months. Which sounds a lot better then covering it with human urine if you ask me.
The fact that shark smells like ammonia alone doesn’t’ stop a lot of locals from devouring this delicacy of Greenland shark, fermented and hung to dry for almost half a year. Who wants a taste?
WHERE TO FIND FERMENTED SHARK IN REYKJAVIK:
There are two places located in the heart of down town Reykjavik that are known to have a fresh jar of fermented shark ready at all times:
1) Íslenski Barinn / The Icelandic Bar
One of my favorite local hang outs in the city. Known for having a cosy atmosphere, a brilliant beer selection, awesome food ... and shark.
2) Cafe Loki
Located right next to the symbolic Hallgrímskirkja Church. A cute little family run cafe, with traditional Icelandic food (both the good stuff ... and the shark stuff.)
PS. We visit both Íslenski Barinn AND Café Loki in our delicious (& top rated Reykjavik Food Tour).
3) Our Awesome Reykjavik Bar Crawl
We host our brilliant Reykjavik Bar Crawl every Friday & Saturday night where a friendly local legend takes out a fun group of travelers from all over to show them the very best local hang outs in down town Reykjavik to enjoy Icelandic beers, cocktails, schnapps along with some traditional cuisines such as the fermented shark, Black Death and Dried Fish.
Find more info on the Reykjavik Bar Crawl HERE!
Our most traditional spirit, Brennivín | Black Death
This is without a doubt the most traditional spirit found in Iceland and an absolute must try for all guests. It's most commonly thrown back as a shot and not often had after swallowing a cube-sized bite of hákarl (fermented shark.) Brennivín is made from a mix of fermented grain, potato mash, and caraway seeds - so those that have tried Akvavit before, will definitely notice some similarities in flavour.
With our cocktail scene booming in recent years, some of the most talented mixologist in Reykjavik have discovered that Brennivín can actually be used as a key ingredient to make awesome cocktails. This has resulted in a HUGE variety of unique and surprisingly tasty Black Death cocktails that can be found in trendy cocktail lounges all throughout downtown Reykjavik.
Pssst ... this traditional must-try snap is of course part of our super fun Reykjavik Bar Crawl (along with fermented shark for the brave ones)!
Harðfiskur | Dried Fish Jerky
If you’re a fan of the texture of jerky and if you like fish, this is the perfect snack for you!
Harðfiskur (dried fish) is easily purchased at the local supermarkets (and the most affordable), so spread on the delicious Icelandic butter and enjoy. Beware: if not stored in an airtight container/bag, the smell spreads into the entire house. Trust me, this is a common occurrence in my household!
See Also: The Best Day tours in Reykjavik
Svið | Sheep Head
Sheep’s head is another old traditional dish that is rarely found on a normal day today unless you make a special visit to BSÍ bus station cafeteria. Although not the best looking platter- and if you get past the fact it’s an entire fermented sheep head- locals swear the cheeks are the tastiest and some even eat the eyes!
Ps. Traditionally the eyes are eaten first so it doesn't feel like the sheep is looking at your while you eat!
Slátur | Blood Pudding and Liver Sausage
Also known as “slaughter”, these foods are made from sheep’s innards, both similar to a Scottish haggis and British blood sausage (different spices). Slátur is not for those who have a squeamish stomach as it’s boiled and has a smooth texture.
Raise your hand if ready for a sample!
Súrsaðir Hrútspungar | Sour Ram's Testicles
Testicles, balls, whatever you call it, it sure does not sound very appetizing.
But hey, it’s one of the more popular treats on the menu at Þorrablót. The locals seem to love it prepared in many different ways, but the favourite method is fermenting it in whey and gelatin. Yummy!
You made it through my quick guide of crazy things to eat in Iceland. Hopefully you’re still feeling alright and ready for your visit. However, if my list of traditional delicacies doesn’t whet your appetite, perhaps trying a more modern take on Icelandic cuisine will suit you better. In this case, you should consider joining our super delicious Reykjavík Food Walk where a fun local guide will show you around downtown Reykjavík through your eyes and belly!
Icelandic food is amazing … but unique. What are the most traditional cuisines found in Iceland? And when & where do we eat our traditional food?