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Icelandic Food: The Ultimate Guide to Iceland Food Culture

Icelandic Food: The Ultimate Guide to Iceland Food Culture

Discover Icelandic food and what to eat in Iceland in our ultimate guide. What are the key characteristics of Icelandic cuisine? Is it any good? What food is Iceland known for? Is it true that Icelanders only eat dried fish and fermented shark? What should travelers eat while visiting Iceland? Read on in our guide to Iceland food culture to learn about the ingredients that make this nation's cuisine special.



In the past, resources in Iceland were few and far between. The lack of sunlight severely limited fishing and hunting options, and its far-flung location in the Arctic Circle makes importing and exporting food and goods difficult. Therefore, Iceland’s food culture is simple and reflects the harsh natural circumstances they struggled to survive for centuries.

Luckily, Iceland is surrounded by the bountiful North Atlantic Ocean, and the country is blessed with fresh water and a clean natural environment. With new technology and renewable geothermal energy, it’s also possible to have freshly-grown, locally-sourced ingredients year-round. But Iceland’s traditional food remains popular with locals and visitors alike.

Vestrahorn mountain in east of Iceland

In today's Iceland, you can find almost anything your culinary heart desires. Restaurants around the country offer a wide variety of foreign and Icelandic dishes inspired by locally-sourced ingredients abundant in the surrounding nature.



What Do They Eat in Iceland?

What do Icelanders eat? The most typical food in Iceland involves fish, lamb, or Icelandic skyr (a type of yogurt). These have been the main elements in the Icelandic diet for over a thousand years.

Icelandic meals are commonly meat-based due to the lack of farmable lands in the past. But geothermally-heated greenhouses make vegetables more accessible, allowing modern chefs to become more imaginative, infusing new ingredients into ancient recipes.

Read on to discover traditional Icelandic food and things to eat in Iceland.

Traditional Icelandic Food

Icelandic Fish and Seafood

A fish dinner being prepared in Iceland.Photo from Golden Circle and Icelandic Food Tour

As an island nation, nothing has been more vital to these people's survival than fish. Fish is an integral part of Icelandic culture and heritage and a staple of traditional Icelandic food.

Fishing not only put food on the table, but exports also helped transform the country from one of the poorest in Europe at the beginning of the 19th century to one of the richest today.



As refrigeration methods improved, fresh fish became more and more noticeable in the nation’s diet. In the 1950s and 1960s, Icelanders still ate fish every day, with some opting for this ubiquitous staple even for breakfast. Today, Icelanders eat fish on average twice a week, and over half of the population consumes fish oil, or "lysi," at least four times a week.

Pictures of fish decorate Icelandic coins, and the country has even fought wars over fishing rights. Fish has been Iceland’s typical food from its founding until today and will likely remain so in the future.

A delicious fish dish.Photo from Von Mathus



Most restaurants in Iceland serve a "fish of the day." The country is dotted with numerous seafood restaurants, mainly serving cod, haddock, salmon, and monkfish. Modern chefs in Iceland are masters at creating excellent dishes, infusing the ocean’s bounty with herbs and spices found in Icelandic nature. You can find many great fish dishes and traditional Icelandic foods in Reykjavik. But aside from a great meal at a restaurant, you should try out the following foods.

Hardfishkur - Stockfish

Hardfiskur or stockfish is available at any grocery store or the Kolaportid Flea Market. They’re eaten as snacks straight out of the bag or with butter spread on them. Although people don’t eat it quite as much today, stockfish remains a staple and popular traditional food in Iceland.

Before the turn of the 19th century, grain was hard to come by in Iceland. It needed to be imported from Denmark, making it too expensive for most Icelanders. Whatever grain or flour they could get was put in gruel to make it last longer, and bread was considered a luxury.

This scarcity meant that instead of eating a piece of bread with a meal, as was customary in neighboring countries, Icelanders ate dried stockfish.

Trout caught in summer.Photo by Þormóður Símonarson 

This protein-rich food is produced using fresh fish, mainly haddock, Atlantic wolffish, or cod that has been caught by angling using live or artificial bait. After cleaning and deboning, the fish is hung up to dry. Traditionally, this was done outside, near the ocean, where winds blow salty air through the product. This method takes about four to six weeks, but thanks to modern technology, the time can be shortened to 36 to 48 hours.

Plokkfiskur - Fish Stew

"Plokkfiskur" is an Icelandic fish stew that is a simple mix of white fish, potatoes, onions, flour, milk, and seasoning. But recently, some recipes also include chives, curry, bearnaise sauce, or cheese. 

Humar - Icelandic Lobster

A dinner of Icelandic lobster or langoustine Photo from Midnight Wonders | Super-Jeep Tour with Dinner & Caving

"Humar" refers to Icelandic lobster or langoustine. They’re usually caught in the south coast waters, and these langoustines are known for their tasty, tender meat. You can find it grilled, baked, fried, or even as a pizza topping.

Icelandic Bread

The settlers in Iceland were stubborn folks, which was perhaps necessary when living in a land of fire and ice. For centuries, the people tried living their lives as they would back in Scandinavia, as a pastoral society, raising cattle and sheep, and growing grain to harvest for bread and fodder.

Bread was considered a luxury in Iceland until the 20th CenturyPhoto from Private 3 Hour Traditional Icelandic Food Tour of Reykjavik with an Expert Guide

The farming methods of Vikings significantly impacted the Icelandic landscapes as wide-scale erosion began along with deforestation, which left much of the country barren. Therefore, little could grow in Iceland except for a few hearty vegetables like potatoes, turnips, carrots, cauliflower, cabbage, and kale — but almost no grain.

Iceland was never a self-sufficient grain-producing country again. In some places, barley could be grown, but the yield was often meager due to the weather.

Icelandic bread is freshly baked.Photo from Von Mathus

After a period known as the "Little Ice Age," almost all grain cultivation in Iceland disappeared. It wasn’t until the 20th century that grain farming began again, with barley making up most of the grain harvest. But today, you can also find a few oat farmers around. As virtually no grain grew in Iceland, it had to be imported, making it very expensive.

Ovens were almost unknown due to a lack of firewood. So, the only people who could afford bread were very wealthy. In fact, the country didn’t have a professional baker until the early 19th century. Despite the lack of grain, ovens, and bakers, Icelanders still have a few signature bread varieties they made whenever they could.

Laufabraud - Leaf Bread

Many families make "laufabraud," or leaf bread, before Christmas. It’s a very thin, round flatbread decorated with leaf-like geometric patterns. Families spend time creating beautiful patterns in the bread before quickly frying it in a pan. They then serve "laufabraud" with butter during Christmas dinner. Due to its close association with the holiday, it’s also known as Icelandic Christmas bread.



Traditional Icelandic Flat Bread (Flatkaka).Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Jonathunder. No edits made.

Flatkaka - Rye Flatbread

Another traditional bread is "flatkaka," a thin, round, rye flatbread with a distinct pattern. The tradition of baking "flatkaka" is believed to go back to settlement-times when it was baked on hot stones or straight on the fire’s embers.

This method helped create the bread’s signature spotted pattern. However, later, small but heavy cast iron frying pans were used instead.

Rugbraud - Icelandic Rye Bread

If you visit the country, don't forget to try Icelandic rye bread or "rugbraud," a dark, sweet-tasting bread with a thick consistency and no crust. Tradition dictates it’s baked in a pot placed on the embers of a dying fire, then covered in turf and left to stand overnight.

Another way to make "rugbraud" is to bury the pot near a hot spring and let the geothermal heat bake the bread. When this method is used, the bread is usually called "hverabraud" or hot-spring bread.

Rugbraud is perhaps best paired with fish (and an essential side with the aforementioned "plokkfiskur" fish stew), but you can also eat it on its own. Both "rugbraud" and "flatkaka" are delicious topped with mutton pate, butter, cheese, pickled herring, or smoked lamb.

Icelandic Sweet Bread

Icelanders have a lot of donuts.Photo from Golden Circle and Icelandic Food Tour

In the 19th century, sugar was introduced to the Icelandic diet, and for years, it was considered necessary nutrition. At that time, ovens were more common, and even a few bakers were around.

When visiting Iceland, the traditional "flatkaka" and "rugbraud" bread are must try's, but you should also go to a bakery or a cafe to try the following modern(-ish) sweetbreads.

Snudur - Sweet Bread

"Snudur" is a cinnamon-filled bread covered in chocolate, caramel, or sugar glaze.

Ponnukokur - Icelandic Pancake

Also known as Icelandic pancakes, "ponnukokur" is thin, crepe-like pancakes usually served rolled up with a good amount of sugar or carefully folded with jam and whipped cream.

Rugbraudsis - Rye Bread Ice Cream

"Rugbraudsis" is rye bread ice cream and can be found at the Kaffi Loki cafe in Reykjavik. It’s also one of the unique Reykjavik foods to try and available year-round.

Icelandic Lamb

Icelandic lamb is generally described as a gourmet meatPhoto from Guided 3 Hour Reykjavik Food Lovers Walking Tour

Along with the fish, sheep have been the lifeblood of this nation since the Vikings’ arrival. Its wool has kept the people warm, and its meat has helped keep Icelanders alive through severe climate conditions.

The original settlers imported these animals, which have since been raised and bred in total isolation, unaffected by other breeds. Therefore, Icelandic sheep are sometimes called the "settlement breed."

Though famous for its wool used in "lopapeysa" wooly sweaters, the Icelandic sheep are mainly farmed for their meat. Each spring, the sheep are let out of their pen to roam freely around the countryside, spending the whole summer grazing in the pesticide-free wilderness. 

Since the climate prevents grain growth, the sheep live on grass, angelica, berries, and seaweed. The meat thus requires little seasoning; it’s tender and has a mild flavor. Smoked, grilled, broiled, slow-cooked, in a kebab or a stir fry, you can find numerous Icelandic lamb variations throughout the country.

And as with the seafood, whatever you choose will surely be delicious.

Hangikjot - Smoked Lamb

Smoked lamb is very popular.Photo by Björn Árnason at Grillmarkaðurinn

Though you can find fresh meat in grocery stores and on restaurant menus, a popular Icelandic food to taste is smoked Icelandic lamb or "hangikjot." Before refrigeration, smoking was a standard method used to preserve food. It not only allowed the meat to last, but it also added flavors.

Hangikjot, or "hung-meat," is named after the old tradition of smoking the meat by hanging it from a smoking shed’s rafters. There are two main smoking methods in Iceland, "birkireykt" and "tadreykt."

The material used in "birkireykt" is birch wood, while dried sheep dung is mixed with hay for "tadreykt." It’s not just "hangikjot" that is smoked this way. You can also find "tadreykt"-smoked salmon, sausages, and even beer.

"Hangikjot" is usually boiled and served either hot or cold in slices. It’s a traditional dish served at Christmas, usually accompanied by potatoes in bechamel sauce, green peas, red cabbage, and "laufabraud."

According to a recent study, around 90 percent of Icelanders eat this dish at least once during the holiday season.

Lamb goes into Icelandic hot dogs.Photo from Small Group 3 Hour Funky Reykjavik Food & Beer Walk with Tastings at 5 Foodie Stops

A great Icelandic lunch choice is the "hangikjot" sandwich. The smoked lamb is thinly sliced and used as lunch meat served on sandwiches or traditional "flatkaka" bread.

Kjotsupa - Meat Soup

"Kjotsupa" is made of tougher bits of lamb, hearty vegetables, and various Icelandic herbs. Great on a cold winter’s day and a quick lunch option in cafes and restaurants.

Pylsa - Hot Dog

Also spelled "pulsa" and often listed as the top thing to eat in Iceland, it’s made from a lamb, beef, and pork blend. Try "ein med ollu" (with the works), and you’ll get the hot dog topped with crunchy deep-fried onions, raw onions, ketchup, sweet mustard, and creamy remoulade sauce.

Icelandic Skyr

Icelandic Skyr is a national dish gaining popularity abroad.

At the National Museum of Iceland, you can see three jars filled with what appears to be gray rocks. They’re a leftover meal of "skyr" from over a thousand years ago. "Skyr" is a traditional dairy product that resembles yogurt but is technically classified as cheese. When Vikings settled here, they brought with them the culinary traditions of their homeland.

These Norse dishes have evolved differently in each country, with each nation having its own variation. But "skyr" seems to have vanished entirely in Scandinavia while flourishing in Iceland. Today, you can even find it on shelves of foreign grocery stores.

The product is made by separating skim milk from the cream. The milk is then pasteurized, and live cultures from previous batches of "skyr" are added. When the product thickens, it’s filtered, and various flavors are added, like vanilla or berries and, more recently, mango, coconut, and even licorice.

It’s a traditional Icelandic breakfast choice but can be enjoyed as a meal at any time of the day and has done so for years. However, it has also served as a symbol of protest in recent years when people have hurled it at the Parliament building in anti-government demonstrations.

Controversial Icelandic Meats

A puffin calls out in Iceland.

Besides lamb, you can also find traditional meats in grocery stores and restaurants like pork, beef, and chicken. But don't be surprised if you see horse meat or even reindeer on restaurant menus.

You’ll likely come across some more items that might raise a few eyebrows on your travels around the country. These aren’t exactly a staple of Icelandic cuisine, but their novelty makes them popular foods in Iceland for visitors.

Puffin Meat

Puffin in on the menu of many Icelandic restaurants, but is controversial.

The puffin is Iceland’s most iconic bird and one which both tourists and locals love to see in the wild. So, many would find it strange that you can also find it on restaurant menus. In the past, struggling coastal communities like Iceland had to use all of their natural resources to survive. This survival included eating these adorable little birds.

While the Atlantic Puffin is now protected by legislation in other countries, Iceland and the Faroe Islands still allow puffin hunting. Thus, puffin has been a part of both nations’ diets for centuries and is considered a delicacy today.

Iceland is home to around 10 million puffins during the summer, with the Westman Islands archipelago hosting the largest breeding colonies. Just 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) south of the mainland, the islands hold around 20 percent of the world’s Atlantic Puffin population, making it the world’s largest puffin colony.



However, in recent years, the puffin colonies have started to decline. The decline is not believed to be because of habitat destruction or overhunting but because of several failed breeding seasons. Due to the dwindling numbers of birds, temporary restrictions on hunting have been made to protect the species. Puffin colonies are highly monitored, so you don’t have to worry if you see puffins on a menu. It’s still okay to hunt a few.

The meat from the bird is usually broiled or smoked, and some say it tastes like pastrami.

Whale Meat

Humpback Whales are not hunted in Iceland, though other species are.

Whale meat is arguably on the top of Iceland’s famous food list and also the most controversial. Whaling began in Iceland in the 12th century with spear-drift whaling. Spear-drift remained the primary method of hunting whales until foreign companies introduced the country to commercial whaling in the late 19th century, bringing new tools and technology.

The International Whaling Commission adopted a moratorium on commercial whaling that came into force worldwide in 1986. Unlike Norway, Iceland did not officially object to the ban and stopped commercial whaling that year. However, whaling for "research" continued until it was stopped in 1989, after much pressure from abroad.

Both commercial and research whaling began again in 2006. The Icelandic Directorate of Fisheries now regulates it and grants a whaling quota of 200 whales, though that number has never been reached. In 2017, just 17 whales were caught.

Guide to Iceland wants Icelandic seas to be a safe space for whales.

The Directorate allows whaling of both minke and fin whales. Minke whale meat is sold to local restaurants and grocery stores, but fin whales are sold to Japan. In the last couple of summers, no fin whales have been caught, and there were no plans to do so in future years.

In 2018, however, an endangered blue whale was caught by the private whale-hunting company Hvalur. Guide to Iceland has taken a stand against whaling in Iceland and urges others to do the same to end this practice.

Whale meat is not an everyday food in Iceland, but it’s a popular food to eat in Iceland. Sixty-five percent of whale meat is sold to restaurants in Iceland, primarily marketed toward tourists, despite international opposition to the practice of whaling. 

Though flavorful, recent research has shown that the meat of larger cetaceans contains large amounts of mercury, which, if ingested over a long period, can cause genetic mutations in fetuses. In Guide to Iceland's opinion, going on whale-watching tours, where you can see these fantastic creatures in the wild, is preferable to eating them.

Controversial Traditional Food in Iceland

Traditional Icelandic food can be a bit scaryPhoto from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by the blanz

You might be thinking, "What kind of food do they eat in Iceland?" after reading that puffin and whale meat are a part of Icelanders’ diet. And the list of controversial traditional food in Iceland is a little longer.

Although you can find a whole range of culinary delights in Iceland, the nation has not forgotten the old ways of preparing food. Today, you can find traditionally cured meat in grocery stores and restaurants. Once a year, a midwinter festival associated with a selection of historical food is held throughout the country.

People often think of the traditional style of curing meat when they hear "Icelandic food." And it does sound scary. Fermented shark, pickled ram's testicles, and boiled sheep heads sound more like something out of a horror movie rather than things you put on a dinner plate. But these methods of preparing food were done out of pure necessity rather than for shock value.

Fresh food from Iceland was rare during the winter months, so to survive in this desolate and severe environment, the people had to preserve their food. Before refrigeration, methods like salting were used worldwide to preserve food. To produce salt from the ocean, you need to let the water evaporate.

Evaporation can be achieved by letting the water sit out in the sunlight or placing it over a fire. However, Iceland has precious little sunlight and even fewer trees to burn. The lack of vegetation also meant that animal products dominated Icelandic cuisine, and poverty prevented any part of the animal from being thrown away.

The meat and offal were preserved through the winter by using methods like pickling in fermented whey or brine, drying, and smoking, which gave the traditional country food its distinct flavor.

Winter in Iceland is the time to eat traditionally cured meats

Thankfully, modern technology has replaced these old methods of storing food. However, many holidays are still centered around consuming these traditional foods in Iceland. Although some might look (and smell) scary, not all traditional Icelandic food tastes bad.

At "Thorrablot" gatherings, you’ll always find "hardfiskur" stockfish, "hangigjot" smoked lamb and "skyr," and "rugbraud" and "flatkaka." If you're feeling adventurous, you should definitely try some of these Icelandic foods.

Thorlaksmessa - Fermented Skate

"Thorlaksmessa" is both a food and a celebration held the day before Christmas Eve. It’s fermented skate (a type of ray), and some Icelanders insist that Christmas doesn’t start until the dish is eaten.

They don’t even mind the strong ammonia-infused odor that accompanies it; others (understandably) avoid it like the plague. The taste, however, isn’t as strong as the smell, reminding some of the salted cod. However, getting past the smell is quite a challenge.



Slatur - Icelandic Haggis

Another festival that involves traditionally cured Icelandic food is "Thorrablot." It’s a mid-winter festival originally held to honor the Norse god, Thor. 

Icelanders gather, hold speeches, recite poems, sing, dance, and eat traditional Icelandic food from mid-January to mid-February. These dishes include, among others, boiled lamb heads, fermented shark, ram testicles, and "slatur," the Icelandic version of haggis.

Hakarl is a revolting national delicacy.Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Chris73. No edits made.

It’s not uncommon for modern Icelandic families to get together and make their own "slatur" before a "Thorrablot." They make it from sheep’s blood or liver and kidneys, minced fat, oatmeal, rye, and spices.

"Slatur" is usually served with boiled potatoes and mashed turnips, and the leftovers are great with rice pudding topped with cinnamon. There are a few restaurants and cafes in Reykjavik that offer a taste of traditional Icelandic food.

If you can, you should try and visit during the times of the "Thorrablot" festival, where you’ll find even more establishments offering these unusual treats.

Icelandic dishes are often unusual and controversial.Photo by Björn Árnason at Grillmarkaðurinn

Hakarl - Fermented Shark

"Hakarl" is a fermented shark, usually made from Greenland sharks. These are poisonous when fresh, but they are safe to eat after being buried in a hole to ferment for six weeks (and up to 12 weeks).

It’s then hung to dry for four to five months and then served in cubes. It’s customary to drink a shot of Brennivin (Iceland's national spirit) after eating Icelandic fermented shark to help get rid of the flavor.

Svid - Boiled Sheep Head

"Svid" is boiled sheep heads, usually cut in half with the brains removed and hair singed off. It doesn’t taste as bad as it looks (or sounds?) and is usually found in buffets served during the mid-winter festival.

However, Icelanders always eat the eyes and tongue as well. The ears aren’t eaten because it’s associated with theft. It was born out of not wasting any part of an animal when food is scarce. Nowadays, it only makes an appearance during traditional holidays.

Hrutspungar - Pickled Ram Testicles

"Hrutspungar" is pickled ram's testicles - boiled and cured in whey. There’s also a pate version that is easier to stomach.

Icelandic Sweets and Confectionery

Icelandic sweets, most are chocolate covered liquourice Photo by Omnom

What do people in Iceland eat for dessert? Did you know that sugar was not available in Iceland until the late 19th century? From 1880, shortly after sugar importation began, and up until 1950, sugar consumption in Iceland increased by over 710 percent. It appeared to be love at first sight (taste).

Though now known to be (really) bad for you, Icelanders still have a hard time giving up sugar, and the country’s sugar habits can be described as extreme. As bad as sugar is for you, it can be damn delicious. Plus, it’s a popular food in Iceland that can be brought home as a souvenir.

Icelandic Ice Cream

It doesn’t matter if it’s the dead of winter with freezing wind blowing and snow falling from the sky - Icelanders will still eat ice cream. You can find an ice cream parlor in almost every town in Iceland, with many located near a geothermal swimming pool, where it’s a popular treat after a swim.

Soft serve ice cream is the most popular kind. But don't just get plain ice cream. Dip it in a hard-shell dip, usually made of chocolate, and then cover it in small-sized candy. This approach is known as "is med dyfu og kurli."

If you want to go extreme, order a "bragdarefur." This is when soft ice cream, usually vanilla, is put in a large container, though some places offer other varieties. You’ll then choose three types of candy and or fruits on display at the parlor’s counter, or add even more toppings for an additional fee if you feel like treating yourself. The whole thing is then put in a large mixer, more candy is added on top, and voila! You’ll have the ultimate Icelandic ice cream treat.

Lakkis - Icelandic Liquorice

Liquorice is often concealed in Icelandic chocolate.Photo by Omnom

Browsing the candy aisle in supermarkets, you’ll notice that most Icelandic sweets contain salty licorice or "lakkris." The most popular kind is chocolate-covered licorice, but you can also find strange combinations like licorice-powdered raisins, dates, and almonds.

Of course, there’s licorice ice cream, which you can then have dunked in hard-shell licorice dip and covered with the licorice powder (although most would agree that’s a bit overkill). This salty black treat has even made its way from the candy aisle into regular food. There’s licorice salt, licorice sauce for lamb, and even licorice cheese.

The obsession began a few centuries ago when licorice was introduced to Iceland by Scandinavians. Icelanders had no honey and no sugar, so this root was used to satisfy the country's sweet cravings. The root was also believed to help with colds, so it was used by Icelandic pharmacists who added it to cough syrups and lozenges to combat various ailments. 

In the early 20th century, wars and import restrictions deprived the country of foreign sweets. Candy from abroad took another hit in 1971 when a now-debunked study claimed that Red Dye No. 2 (a common ingredient in candy) posed a carcinogenic risk. And so Iceland now manufactures its own sweets, often using (you guessed it) licorice.

Iceland's desserts are delicious.Photo from Private 3 Hour Traditional Icelandic Food Tour of Reykjavik with an Expert Guide

You can get foreign sweets in Iceland, but the Icelanders still prefer their salty candy. Love for licorice has reached similar heights as the world’s love of bacon. So, when visiting the country, "lakkris" is something you should try.

Here are some of the nation’s favorites:

  • Draumur and Thristur - chocolate-covered licorice bars.
  • Opal - licorice lozenges that have been around since 1945.
  • Appolo Stjornurulla - a liquorice and marzipan roll.
  • Lakkrisror - a licorice straw used to drink soft drinks, usually Appelsin orange soda or Coca-Cola. 
  • Gammeldags Lakrids - pure, salty liquorice.

Icelandic Alcohol

Cocktails are increasingly popular in Iceland.Photo from Guided Reykjavik Cocktail Tour with 3 Complimentary Drinks & Reserved Tables at 3 Bars

The settlers drank mead and ale, and for centuries, it was the most popular alcoholic drink in the country. When grain production in Iceland was dying down in the Middle Ages, imported beer became popular.

However, after importation restrictions from Denmark (who ruled Iceland at the time), it became cheaper to import schnapps and potato vodka, which became the drinks of choice for Icelanders. At the turn of the century (1900), attitudes toward alcohol shifted, and a prohibition on all alcohol took place in 1915. The ban was partially lifted in 1921, thanks to Spain.

At the time, Iceland’s biggest export was salted cod, and Spain threatened to stop importing the product unless Iceland imported Spanish wine. So the ban was amended, allowing red wine and rosé from Spain and Portugal. 

However, it didn't take long for people to undermine prohibition. People smuggled alcohol in the country, and they passed around a popular home-brewed drink known as "landi." Doctors would prescribe patients alcohol in huge quantities, with wine for the nerves and cognac for the heart.

In 1935, spirits and all wine were allowed but no beer, which was believed to increase teenage drinking. Another reason for the beer ban was that beer was mostly imported from Denmark before the prohibition, thus associating it with the country. Icelanders were fighting to gain independence from Denmark, so drinking beer was considered unpatriotic.

With the rise of city break holidays abroad in the 1970s, interest in beer started to grow as people would visit pubs and bars on their travels. Then finally, on March 1, 1989, after a push from the public, beer was allowed in Iceland again. The date is known as Beer Day and is celebrated each year by opening up a beer or two.



Brennivin

Iceland's signature distilled beverage is BrennivínPhoto from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Hjortur Hjartarson. No edits made.

In 1935, the government of Iceland produced Brennivin, a clear, unsweetened akvavit schnapps flavored with caraway to celebrate the end of the prohibition. The bottle contained a white skull on a black label to warn people of the high alcohol content, which earned the product the nickname "Svarti Daudi" or "Black Death."

Eventually, a picture of Iceland replaced the skull, but the black label became one of the nation’s most recognized brands. The drink is considered Iceland's signature distilled beverage and is produced by the Egill Skallagrimsson Brewery today, which still uses the same old recipe and the trademark black label.

A handful of other companies make the drink, improving the recipe and infusing the caraway flavor with ingredients like angelica and dulse.



A cocktail maker serves a drink in Iceland.Beers from Borg Brewery. Photo by James Brooks at Flickr

Icelandic Liquor

Many distilleries in the country produce schnapps, vodka, or gin inspired by what they find in Icelandic nature. Go to any cocktail bar in Reykjavik and get a cocktail with a liqueur made with ingredients such as birch, rhubarb, or crowberries.

But when visiting Iceland, you should check out these items (just remember to drink responsibly):

  • Opal flavored vodka shots - this is licorice alcohol. This drink is based on the popular licorice lozenges. You can also get one called Topas, which is equally tasty.
  • Floki Whiskey - Icelandic whiskey made only from Icelandic ingredients (including home-grown barley). You can even get it smoked "tadreykt" (in sheep dung). 

Icelandic Craft Beer

In recent years, craft beers have swept the nation. You can find high-quality Icelandic craft beers at the ATVR alcohol store and numerous bars around the country. You should try at least one of them.

There’s a great selection of local Icelandic beers to try and plenty of bars to explore as well, allowing you to take in both the taste and the culture at the same time.



Modern Day Icelandic Food

A platter of Icelandic treats.Photo from Small Group 3 Hour Funky Reykjavik Food & Beer Walk with Tastings at 5 Foodie Stops

What do people eat in Iceland now? With new times come new technologies and knowledge. Icelanders have learned to utilize the natural surroundings, especially geothermal energy, which can heat buildings. The town of Hveragerdi boasts of a few greenhouses that, using geothermal energy, can grow vegetables and even fruit all year round.

Traveling abroad brought all kinds of ideas that, combined with traditional ingredients, created some incredible flavors in modern Iceland gastronomy. In Reykjavik, you’ll find many multicultural restaurants and a prominent local food scene in the style of the New Nordic Cuisine movement. The emphasis is on purity, simplicity, and freshness.

Fine dining restaurants, gastropubs, brasseries, bistros, and burger joints are aplenty in Reykjavik, and vegan and vegetarian restaurants are rising. The old bus station Hlemmur has recently been transformed into a food hall where you can sample some of the best food Iceland offers.



However, if you travel outside the city, you’ll find more traditional restaurants serving mostly fish and lamb. But those who are picky eaters should always be able to find a pizzeria or a fast food joint (not McDonald's, though).

So, if you plan to travel to Iceland, you don’t have to worry about eating sharks or ram testicles. You’ll have plenty of food to choose from, and you're sure to find something to your liking. 

What are the Icelandic dishes you’d most like to try most? Or, if you have already visited, what did you think of Icelandic food? What was your favorite? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.