This is the second installment of a four-part post series about my trip to Iceland. Check out my first post on the Golden Circle here and my post on things to do around Reykjavík here. If you like reading about food, don’t miss my post on a dining experience at one of Reykjavík’s most special restaurants!
When in a new country or city, it’s best to try some of their local delicacies and common foods. If you’re very particular and like to stick to certain foods, there are restaurants with burgers, pizza, Vietnamese, and Thai cuisines in Reykjavík. Personally, I think that takes away from the fun of traveling somewhere, though I understand that some people may have dietary restrictions or concerns and need to stick to certain foods. I thought most of the things I ate in Iceland were quite delicious, and in this post, I’m highlight the foods you must try if you visit!
Kjötsúpa, Icelandic lamb soup, and plokkfiskur, Icelandic fish stew, are staples at many restaurants. Kjötsúpa is often labeled as “meat soup” in English on menus, and it’s a simple soup with lamb or mutton, potatoes, carrots, and hearty broth. It’s often referred to as Iceland’s national dish and is frequently consumed by locals. My partner especially loved the one we had at 101 Reykjavík Street Food, a small cafe that’s ideal for getting a quick bite of Icelandic fare. If you’re curious and want to make kjötsúpa at home, you can check out this recipe by the Icelandic Food Centre!
Plokkfiskur is a fish stew made with white fish such as cod or haddock. I really loved this stew; it’s rich and creamy, and usually quite thick. I had this dish at 101 Street Food, but I liked the preparation at Íslenski Barinn the most as it came in a hot cast iron pot and with extra cheese. Plokkfiskur is also served with rye bread, and I think the sweetness of the rye bread compliments the stew well. Both the kjötsúpa and plokkfiskur are Icelandic staples and must-try foods, especially in colder months!
Something else I got to try at Íslenski Barinn—but can be found in many other Icelandic restaurants—was hákarl, which is fermented shark! It is served cut into small cubes and eaten with a side of dried fish and butter. Hákarl has a strong fish and ammonia-like taste, and I would say it’s comparable to 홍어, which is Korean fermented skate. The texture in my opinion is quite fun, as it is springy and chewy. The dried fish and butter help mellow out the flavor of the hákarl, and while the dish is considered to be an acquired taste, I’d recommend trying it once!
Many Icelandic meals are served with rúgbrauð, or rye bread, and I actually caught a live demonstration of how they make this bread on a Golden Circle tour. Rúgbrauð is dense, earthy, and a bit chewy, but the texture and taste vary heavily based on the restaurant or household making it. Some of the restaurants I ate at had very sweet rúgbrauð, some had slightly sweet rúgbrauð, and one place I went to for breakfast had no sweetness to their recipe. Rúgbrauð isn’t something you’ll have to seek out in Reykjavík or anywhere else in Iceland because it is so common; rúgbrauð will seek you.
Another thing Reykjavík is well-known for, which was actually a bit surprising to me at first, is freshly baked pastries and breads! After reading Scandinavia Standard’s bakery guide, I checked out two bakeries: Brauð & Co and Brikk. I found these bakeries through this great blog post from Scandinavia Standard! I only went to Brauð & Co once, however I thought their pretzel croissant was wonderfully buttery and crisp, and it definitely had the distinct pretzel flavor I was looking for. Their cinnamon bun, which I didn’t get to try, is one of their big hit items that the people in front of me in line all asked for. The outside of the store was also really beautiful and definitely worth passing by even if you don’t want bread!
Now Brikk, I can say a whole lot about. By some work of fate, Brikk was directly across the street from the hotel I was staying at, meaning that I ate there almost every day of my trip. They make the most amazing flakey pastries that come in all different flavors. My favorites were the sweet pastries that were topped with nutella and salted caramel, but the pizza flavored one was great as well. Brikk also offers other baked goods like skúffukaka, a traditional Icelandic dessert, and great self-poured coffee. I’m so glad that we accidentally ended up staying right by this bakery because it was such a delight!
If you’re in the mood for a snack, here are a couple of hotdog or pylsur stands around Reykjavík. These are not like hotdogs you may have had in the US or elsewhere—they’re made with lamb versus beef or pork, and if you get “one with everything,” they come with remoulade, mustard, two types of onions, and Icelandic ketchup! There are a few spots to get these hotdogs, however Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur is by far the most popular (and supposedly the best). Don’t miss out on these hotdogs as they are quite delicious, especially after a night of drinking.
Last, but definitely not least, when in Reykjavík and in Iceland in general, you have to eat all of the fresh fish available! So many restaurants serve high quality salmon, arctic char, and trout in all different forms whether it’s raw, cured, smoked, or grilled. I tried all three fish in casual restaurants and cafes, in a fine dining setting, and also at the rúgbrauð baking demo when they offered us some trout caught and smoked by a local family.
I ate a ton of salmon on my trip, and I loved the cured salmon dish with rye bread crumbs and horseradish cream from Skál! in the Hlemmur Mathöll food hall. It’s perfect with a cold glass of Snorri beer, one of Iceland’s most popular brews. (Definitely stop by Skál! because not only is the food delicious, they have the friendliest staff ever!) I also really enjoyed the smoked salmon breakfast plate at Kaffivagninn, a small breakfast and lunch cafe (and Iceland’s oldest restaurant) by the water that’s popular with locals and visitors alike. The smoked salmon is thickly sliced and they give you a very generous portion, and it makes for a perfect breakfast piled on top of toast or with scrambled egg. And the best part is, I actually started seeking out and eating sushi with raw fish for the when I returned home! I definitely think this is because I tried such fresh, high quality raw fish while in Iceland.
Iceland has many delicious traditional foods and places emphasis on using local ingredients. Reykjavík is an incredible food city, and it’s a wonderful experience to eat and dine in the city’s establishments. I loved the food so much more than I thought I would, and I promise you will too! If you’re visiting, make sure to check out the restaurants in this post, but also leave some time to pop in to cafes and bars that you just come across while exploring. Wherever you go in Reykjavík, chances are, the hospitality and the offerings will be stellar!