The 5 best and 5 worst types of Icelandic food


Hangikjöt  (Smoked Lamb)

Hangikjöt is smoked Icelandic lambs. It is reputed to be especially good because of how the sheep are farmed, which is quite old fashioned: they are free to roam around the wilderness of the unspoiled and rather barren highlands all summer long without any supervision at all. The sheep graze not only on grass, but also on plants and herbs which contributes to their rich and complex flavour. In this way, the meat has been marinated the entire life of the animal.

After the slaughter, the farmer smokes the lamb traditionally fueling the fire with birch or dried sheep dung – each of which adds its own distinctive flavour. Smoked lamb is usually served up with potatoes, béchamel sauce, red beets and green peas.


The famous not-actually-a-yoghurt-but-nobody-cares product, skyr, is technically a type of soft cheese, made from gelatinous milk curds. As appetizing as that sounds, mixed with milk and served with sugar or Icelandic blueberries, it’s actually quite wonderful, with a rich, yoghurt-like texture and slightly sour taste.

The real magic, however, is in its nutritional value. This superfood is incredibly high in protein and unbelievably low in everything else, a typical batch sporting something like 12% protein, 3% carbohydrate and 0,5% fat, and also rich in calcium and various vitamins.

Icelandic fish  (All the fish)

In addition to the wide variety unbelievably fresh fish available, there are two types of interesting traditional Icelandic fish worth noting:

  • Saltfiskur (Bacalao): Saltfiskur, literally salt-fish, has been dried and salted. It has a history in scandinavia of more than 500 years, and used to be a major export before refrigeration was a thing. Recently however, it has experienced a revival in some Icelandic restaurants.
  • Harðfiskur (Stockfish): The simplest way to explain harðfiskur is that it is like beef jerky. Only fish. So fish jerky. It is dried out in the cold air, where the cold air bacteria ferment it in a process similar to the fermenting of cheese. So fish-cheese jerky. And it’s awesome. You eat it with butter.

Kjötsúpa  (Meat soup)

Another traditional lamb dish, it was originally a way of preparing tougher pieces of meat but these days is cooked with as high quality meat as any other dish. The meat is cut into small pieces and boiled with bones and all, with rice, potatoes, turnips, carrots, onions and   herbs. It is boiled for several hours before serving, though most Icelanders agree that it gets even better if you let it sit for a day and then re-heat it.

“Ein með öllu” – the iconic Icelandic hot dog

One of the most typically Icelandic foods is the pylsa hot dog. They contain lamb which gives them an unusual flavour, but the magic is in the sauces. A real Icelandic hot dog is served með öllu, with everything on it, which means ketchup, a sweet brown mustard, raw onions, fried onions, and remoulade (a sauce made with mayonnaise and relish).

Svið  (Singed and boiled Sheep Head) 

Svið literally means “singed”, from how the sheep head is singed to remove the hair. It is then brained, boiled and served with mashed turnips, potatoes and rhubarb jelly. Then you eat its face. And eyeballs. Gross as it sounds (and looks), svið is not actually bad food, and you absolutely must try it when you’re here, if only to say that you did it.

Hrútspungar  (Rams testicles)

Because of the historical poverty of the Icelanders, it was essential that nothing, absolutely nothing, went to waste. Hrútspungur is ram’s testicles. In order to preserve this delicacy, it is pressed into blocks and pickled to perfection. Mmmmmm.


Different from the other entries on the list, horse is on the “worst” side more for the moral reprehension most people have towards it. It is actually quite delicious when you try it. Which, considering the news recently, you probably already have, to be fair.

Hákarl  (Shark)

Hákarl is cured shark. Have you ever heard of the delicious shark-fin soup? Yeah this is   nothing like that. Hákarl has a strong taste of ammonia (you know, thecleaning product), and is reminiscent of a very, very ripe cheese.
Because there is so much urea (you know, like the stuff in urine) in the meat, fresh shark would be highly poisonous, but after curing it is only slightly poisonous. Curing is done by burying it under the ground for 6-12 weeks, then hanging it to dry and ferment for four to five months. You absolutely must try it though, because all your friends will ask about it when you get back home, and because it’s an excellent excuse to drink Brennivín, the icelandic schnapps lovingly (and fittingly) nicknamed Black Death.

Skata  (skate)

Skate is flat fish that has a long tail. The terrible thing about skata is the smell. It is in some ways similar to shark, only skata is boiled, and traditionally served at a party on the day before christmas eve. The smell is overpowering and causes neighborly disputes, it gets in your fancy clothes you were planning to wear over christmas and it never comes out. However, if you brave the smell, Skata has an acquired taste, and if you get used to it, you will really love it.

5 best coffeehouse experiences of Reykjavik

Icelanders, like most of the worlds population drink coffee, in fact we drink a lot of it!

The appeal of coffeehouses is twofold for most Icelanders, we want good coffee but more importantly, we want a nice place to drink our coffee. Below is a list, in no particular order, of the five best coffeehouses to visit while you are in town, enjoy!


Mokka is historically the most significant coffeehouse in the country. In 1958 Guðmundur Baldvinsson and Guðný Guðjónsdóttir opened their doors, serving the first espressos to a population who until then had only tasted brewed coffee. At the time Icelanders didn’t really understand the concept of a coffeehouse and found it ridiculous and strange to pay so much for one cup of coffee. Soon, however, it became the place to be for artists, writers and philosophers looking for a good cup and a place to ponder and discuss ideas. Going to Mokka is like stepping back in time; today the place looks almost identical to the way it did when it opnened with its simple art deco style. The smell of coffee, chocolate and waffles that greet you when walking in are enough to make your mouth water, sometimes you can even smell it half way up Skólavörðustígur.

Skólavörðustígur 3a

Kaffitár Bankastræti

Another important stepping stone in the evolution of coffee culture in Iceland, Kaffitár, introduced high quality coffee which was ethically sourced and roasted in Iceland. The owner, Aðalheiður Héðinsdóttir was intrumental in kick starting the specialty coffee culture both through her own efforts and thanks to several baristas who were trained in Kaffitár and later on have become influential in the coffee world and opened their own coffeehouses in Reykjavík. The coffee is well made, by Baristas who are friendly and well trained. There are also plenty of sandwhiches, breads, cakes and sweats to eat with your cup. This particular outpost of the Kaffitár chain is colorful and vibrant. This is a particularly popular place with many regulars and can sometimes be difficult to find a table, especially in the morning rush hour. Still though, there is plenty of seating in a comfortable open space that has large windows facing Bankastræti, a great place to people watch and plan your day.

Bankastræti 8

Reykjavík Roasters / Kaffismiðja Íslands

Formerly known as Kaffismiðja Íslands, Reykjavík Roasters offers the highest quality specialty coffee in town. Since it opened in 2008 it has attracted legions of regulars who swear by the superiority of their coffee over others. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly, a combination of raw and cozy permeates this small space filled with old chairs and tables, and the sounds of a record playing and coffee roasting.

The coffee is roasted on location and the coffee itself is bought directly from the farmers, predominantly from Colombia, however recently they have introduced coffee from Nicaragua as well. Don’t be afraid to try any of the alternatives to an espresso-based cup. The hand brewed coffee available is expertly made and you can choose between three different brewing methods, all of which bring out something unique from the coffee.
Kárastígur 1

Litli Bóndabærinn

This adorable take-away-hole-in-the-wall was a welcome change to the coffeehouse flora of the city. The principle of its foundation was based on providing a product that is locally sourced and preferably organic as well. The friendly owner, David is often there baking his own creations from scratch, which include favorites like pasties filled with lamb and sweet potatoe or veggie sausage rolls which are heavenly. The coffee is always organic and always tasty.

Laugavegur 41


The name Stofan literally means the living room. When walking into its warm atmosphere you will in fact find what looks like several living room spaces with plush couches and sitting chairs inviting you to stay and read a book, knit or have a good conversation with your friends and aquaintances. Like many coffeehouses in Iceland they offer Chaqwa which doesn’t qualify as specialty coffee but tastes good none the less. There is a great assortment of teas to choose from, as well as home made cakes and other snacks. One thing that separates Stofan from the others on this list is the possibility of having a beer or any other alcoholic beverage. At night this cozy coffeehouse turns into a cozy bar with killer Irish coffee and a very good selection of local beers.

Aðalstræti 7by Marissa Sigrún Pinal