Icelandic cuisine in general is based on fish and lamb, and owes much to Scandinavian and European influences. As New Nordic cuisine has risen in prominence in recent years, so too has the profile of Iceland’s food: London restaurant Texture gained Icelandic chef Agnar Sverrisson the country’s first Michelin star, reflecting the sophistication of some Icelandic menus.
Eating out can be sublime, expensive or just plain weird, for a number of reasons. One is that traditional Icelandic food can be rather strange. It is not eaten on a daily basis by its inhabitants, rather saved for special celebratory events, and can include putrefied rotten shark, boiled sheep’s head, dried fish slathered in butter and pickled rams’ testicles. It’s all worth a try, if only for the brag factor, and should be taken with a shot of Brennivin, the nation’s vodka-like firewater.
Other traditional delicacies include seabirds’ eggs and smoked puffin, which may be eaten at any time of the year.
But at the sublime end of the spectrum, you can find restaurants in the main cities serving luxurious lobster to guests sat around starched white tablecloths, quirky desserts that emit plumes of steam like a volcano in uber-designed experimental restaurants and sometimes in the middle of nowhere, the most creamy and delicious cod soup, served with views of glaciers and ancient volcanoes.
Fresh fish can be had all year round - Icelanders eat mostly haddock, cod, plaice, halibut, herring and shrimp, but Icelandic salmon, lobster and Arctic char are also very good. The lamb, which is reared locally, is free range, organic and extremely tasty. Make sure you try it at least once during your stay in Iceland.
Vegetarians are catered for but be aware that much of the greenery is imported into the country – it doesn’t grow well here. Home-grown vegetables are typically reared in greenhouses heated by the natural steam from geysers. It’s another reason why food can be more expensive than you would expect.
Bars have table and counter service, and will serve coffee (which is very popular) as well as alcohol. Alcohol is subject to state taxes and can be expensive. The best advice is to buy local rather than international brands, which will have been shipped in, therefore adding to the cost.
In terms of street food, Iceland’s pylsur (hot dogs) have to be tried. Stalls on the street sell them with optional accompaniments of onions, mustard and tomato ketchup. Fish and chips, British-style, have recently made an appearance on the streets too, and you will see children snacking on hardfiskur, dried fish, as if they were crisps, in addition to the more mundane liquorice.
• Skyr (a smooth and creamy kind of yoghurt).
• Hangikjot (smoked lamb).
• Harðfiskur (dried fish).
• A delicacy not for the squeamish is hákarl (putrefied shark), usually washed down with a shot of Brennivin.
• Pylsur (hot dog) is every Icelanders' favourite fast food.
Things to know:
Apart from most hotels, restaurants and bars, alcohol is sold in state liquor stores throughout Iceland and is not available in supermarkets.
Service charges are included in most bills and extra tips are not expected.
Brennivin (a potent variation of aquavit made from potatoes).
Taka a look at this fun video including James May from Top Gear, and the famous chef Gordon Ramsay eating rotten shark and drinking Brennivin