All About Icelandic Food

“What exactly is Icelandic food?” this was the most popular question I was asked after returning from a week in Iceland. (The second place goes to: “Did everyone look like Björk?”) To answer the first thing: the basic food has not changed too much since the Viking Age, although chefs have naturally become more imaginative in the preparations over the years. The mainstays are: lamb, Skyr, potatoes, fish and other seafood. A Lot Of Seafood. And how could they not be surrounded by lush Arctic waters with cod, haddock, burbot, herring, rays, lobster and salmon.

Minke cetacean are also buzzing up there, but eating cetacean is a little more complicated for many visitors. You will see dwarfs on the menus – skewered like a Kebab, in the form of a steak or seared like Ahi tuna. And the Icelanders will let you know that the minke whale is not an endangered species, but for some visitors it is still a whale and this is an absolute no-no, while others use the rationalization “I will only try once”.

I’d rather not get into the ethics of whaling here. An Icelandic chef handed us a bite and said, “here, try this,” so we did. The flavor is somewhere between tuna and bulk, but it really depends on who makes it. It can be grilled, soft and fluffy with a nice oily fish flavor. Or if it is hardened and then lightly seared, like the concoction we tried at the Fiskmarkaðurinn (“fish market”) in Reykjavik, it has a much more delicate flavor with a silky, reddish-purple and rare center.

So, this is the whale. Let’s move on to something less arguable: skyr. Heavens! The third most popular question from people was: “Did you eat Skyr every day?”And the answer would be a big Yes. In fact, there is no fat in Skyr. Made from pasteurized skim milk and a yogurt-like bacterial culture (hint: it’s technically not yogurt, but a soft cheese), Skyr is rich and thick, but very healthy and doesn’t feel heavy. It has a wonderfully creamy and smooth texture and tastes somewhere between tart Greek yogurt, fresh cream and soft ice cream.

Icelanders eat Skyr every day and at any time: for breakfast, as a snack, in the form of a drink (called “Drykkur”), as a dip (“skyr-nnaise”) or with sweet toppings for dessert. They are also known for throwing it at demonstrations in Parliament and action in Skyr nightclubs. Is there something skyr can’t do?

Another iconic Icelandic food: the Hot Dog or “Pylsur.”So why is everyone passion with Icelandic hot dogs? Aren’t they just hot dogs? Well, they are made with lamb in addition to the usual parts of pork and bulk. The presence of lamb deepens its flavor, and even under a deluge of spices, you end up tasting the Lamby Funk. It was also by far the most biting Hot dog I’ve ever eaten. You can hear the nap of the shell while you bite.

The most famous Pylsur kiosk is located in the city center of Reykjavik, opposite the port. It’s called Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, which translates as “the best Hot dogs in town”.”Order it”eina með öllu”(one with everything) for the works: a milder brown mustard (“pylsusinnep”), Ketchup, raw onions, crispy fried onions (see”Cronions” in the slideshow) and a slightly spicy remoulade. You can also order the “Clinton” style with just mustard, as the former US president did when he visited in 2004, but then they mocked him in newspaper cartoons for such a simple order. (How could you say no to fried onions?)

Lamb, that special ingredient that stimulates the flavor of your Hot dogs, is one of the greatest points of culinary pride in the country.

Icelanders will tell you that their lamb is better than any other lamb in the world, and it’s really, really good. Probably because they let their sheep roam too much on the grass and grasses in the highlands and valleys before being locked up in winter. The result of such a luxurious life is a very tender meat with a slightly wild taste. We ate lamb one evening with a Moroccan who said that his mother’s Lamb was the best, until that night in Reykjavik (Moroccan mom, you never read that).

There is a lot of meat in Iceland that we have not tried: horse, reindeer steak, sheep’s head and fermented shark. (Have you ever seen the unreserved episode in Iceland where Anthony Bourdain calls the fermented shark the worst thing he’s ever eaten?) The “try it once” rule didn’t apply here for us.

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