When I mention Icelandic cuisine to my non-Icelandic friends, they immediately frown then start to rant about some rotten shark challenge video they’ve seen on YouTube. ‘And is that true they eat <insert any gross fermented dish>?’
This is when I clear my throat and give a profound speech about my experiences with Icelandic food, that don’t only include sheep’s head, rotten shark, or pickled ram’s testicles. In fact, after spending years in the Land of Ice, I have never seen any Icelanders casually walking up to the fridge for some fermented shark bites. Being a moderately adventurous person, I appreciate delish bites and also like to try new things, be it Doritos flavoured ice cream or an exotic fruit that I haven’t heard of before, but there’s a line that shall not be crossed (and that line for me is somewhere around lyfrapylsa).
So please let me tell you about…
A FOODIE’S EXPERIENCES WITH ICELANDIC FOOD – A LIST UNCOVERING THE TASTY BITES:
1. Skyr – I can’t express my undying love for this dairy product that is something between cheese and yogurt and comes in a variety of flavours – vanilla, banana, baked apples, berries, mango, strawberry, just to mention a few. You can even make your own healthy snack of plain, unflavoured skyr, brown sugar and some berries. Every time I taste skyr, my tastebuds burst into an ode thanking the person who accidentally left milk somewhere for too long. Someone said that cheese was milk’s leap towards immortality, but I think skyr is.
2. Kleina – doughnut a’la Iceland. This fried pastry exists in all the Scandinavian countries, as well as in northern Germany under the names of: klenät, klena, klejne, kleina, kleyna, and fattigmann. It’s not too difficult to make at home, but you can buy them anywhere. In packs. Big packs. Which means you really need to make an effort not to eat them by yourself as “afternoon snack”. Your heart will be very grateful for that.
3. Flatkaka – Icelandic flat bread. You can eat it with any kind of paté or just some salted butter. Doesn’t look very mouthwatering but the taste makes up for it.
4. Sugar-coated potatoes – yes, it is what it is: small potatoes floating in caramel sauce. First you are suspicious about them. Then you smell them – not bad. Then you taste them. And you feel conflicted, because they’re actually quite tasty, especially when served with ham and some sweet corn. Yummy!
5. Grjónagautur – when it’s cold and windy and rainy outside and you need something sweet and warm and comforting, there is one thing you can do: cook rice in milk, and serve it with some more milk and cinnamon-sugar. The adventurous ones can have some lyfrapylsa or slátur with it, but for me these are out of the question.
6. Hardfiskur – dried fish usually eaten in small bites with some butter on top. You might not want to kiss anyone after eating it, and your fridge will smell for weeks, but it’s definitely worth trying.
7. Everything lakkris (or liquorice) – I hated it. I fought against it for so long. But on one occasion, when I bought a bag of nammi for a movie-night I realized too late that everything I had contained lakkris so I had no other choice but eating them. And for my biggest surprise, they weren’t as bad as I thought they would be.
8. Icelandic pancakes – these are just like any European pancakes or crépes. In Iceland, they’re traditionally served with cinnamon-sugar or some jam and an enormous dose of whipped cream. Even just thinking of them makes my mouth water.
9. Kokteilsósa – a.k.a. the “pink sauce”. Mix some ketchup, mayonnaise and sour cream with salt and pepper – voilá. One of the Icelandic culinary claim to fame, so it was exceptionally painful when someone pointed out that the sauce might have already existed before the Icelandic version was made. But it doesn’t change the fact that it is pretty awsome if you eat it with french fires, sandwiches, salads, cakes, dip candy in them or whatever you like.
10. Kjötsúpa – Icelandic meat soup made of sheep, barley, veggies and magic. There is a kjötsúpa wagon in Reykjavik, find it, and buy some soup, you won’t regret it.
+1 Kókómjólk – chocolate milk! Although it’s not technically a food, we decided to put this on the list. Because it’s perfect.