Iceland abounds with traditions and customs to celebrate Christmas, so much that the feast often goes on for 4 days, from 23 December, or Þorláksmessa, to 26 December, Annar í Jólum. Are you a food enthusiast or curious traveller ? Let us whet your appetite and present you some of Iceland’s most popular dishes served on Christmas buffets around the country during the month of December. If you are in Iceland during this festive season, we highly recommend you to join one for a real immersion and unique food experience !
Psst… we included a bunch of mouth-watering recipes !
Síld : Herring
Curry Herring - © Reykjavik Food Walk
As a starter, Icelanders commonly serve Síld, marinated or pickled herring, a favourite version being herring with curry dressing and raw onions. A tasty and healthy appetizer to start off the meal, due to its high level of vitamin D!
Rúgbrauð : Rye Bread
Rúgbrauð - © Paz.is
These are often served with some Rúgbrauð, a dark rye bread that enhances the taste. Although many of Iceland’s Christmas food traditions have been borrowed from Denmark, the hearty and sweet rye bread is all Icelandic and here is how to make it :
What you will need: 2 ½ cups dark rye flour, 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour, 1 ½ cup brown sugar, 1 tablespoon baking powder, 1 ½ teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon molasses, 1 cup milk, 2 cups hot boiling water. Instructions: Heat oven to 100°C. Grease 2 loaf pans with butter. Whisk together the flours, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Mix in the brown sugar. Stir in the molasses into lukewarm milk, then slowly stir milk into the dry ingredients to form a smooth dough. Knead the dough and split it in two. Pour dough into loaf pans and cover with aluminium foil. Set on the lower rack of the oven, and bake for 8-9 hours at 100°C. Slow cooking is the secret! Let it cool for 4 more hours or overnight. Unmold. Serve with butter!
Laufabrauð : Leaf Bread
Laufabrauð - © Saveur.com
Another essential component of a Christmas dinner is the Laufabrauð, a thin and crispy flatbread, featuring intricate geometric patterns. The process of making laufabrauð remains deeply rooted in the traditions and many families gather a few days before Christmas and spend the day cutting patterns in the delicate wafers before deep frying them and saving them for Christmas Day when they will be eaten as an accompaniement. There is even an established tool called a leaf bread iron used to cut the patterns ! You can find them ready-made in stores during the whole month of December but making your own will bring you pride.
Graflax : Dill-cured Salmon
Graflax - © Foodelice.com
Chances are high that you will find on the table a selection of Iceland’s finest fish, from dill-cured Salmon, or Graflax, to Smoked Salmon and Arctic Charr, all tantalizingly delicious !
Hrátt hangikjöt : Smoked Lamb Tartare
Almost all menus also include Smoked Lamb, Hangikjöt, sometimes as a starter, when it is then served as a tartare. If not, don’t leave just yet, hangikjöt will most definitely make an appearance as a main course!
Side dishes most often include red pickled cabbage, potatoes in all forms, green beans, coleslaw, Waldorf salad and many others.
Soðið hangikjöt : Boiled Smoked Lamb
Hangikjöt- © Lambakjöt.is
With approximately 800,000 sheep, lambs included, and approximately 338,000 inhabitants (yes, that makes 2,4 sheep for every Icelander!), it comes without surprise that lamb is the meat with the highest consumption in Iceland, and Christmas culinary traditions are no exception. Hangikjöt is one of the most traditional Christmas food in Iceland when it is boiled before being served either hot or cold. It is also enjoyed all year around as cold cuts for sandwiches.
Ketkrókur, one of the 13 Yule Lads who visit children the 13 nights before Christmas, is known to hang around on rooftops on December 22nd, in the hope to steal some meat (preferably hangikjöt) through the chimney with his hook. We are sorry for him as he is probably starving nowadays: do you spot many houses with chimneys?
The alternative lamb dish is a smoked leg of lamb, usually accompanied by boiled potatoes in a bechamel sauce, green beans, and spiced red cabbage.
Hamborgarhryggur : Smoked Pork Rack
Hamborgarhryggur - © Þorkell on mbl.is
Although pork is rarely seen in the traditional national dishes, it has a special place during the Christmas holidays with the Hamborgarhryggur, a large pork rack, salted before being boiled for a while, then oven-roasted for a bit with a sweet and sticky glaze. Each family has its version for the glaze but the meat is often served with caramelized potatoes, spiced red cabbage, and a creamy mushroom sauce.
Brúnaðar Kartöflur : Caramelized Potatoes
Brúnaðar kartöflur - © Eldhússögur
What you will need: 1kg potatoes, 100g sugar, 0,25dl cream, 35g butter. Instructions: Boil the potatoes, cool them right away under cold water and peel them. Place the sugar and butter in a heat pan and boil until the mixture has melted and darkened nicely. Add the potatoes. Add the cream and stir potatoes around in the sugared mixture until all are covered evenly. Enjoy!
Pörusteik: Roasted Pork
Pörusteik - © Nannarognvaldar.com
Another popular pork dish is Pörusteik, a roasted pork piece with a fabulous crisp crackling, often served with brown sauce on the side, red cabbage and… of course potatoes are a must.
Reindeer and Wild Game
Hreindýrapaté, Wild Reindeer paté has been a popular dish over the Christmas celebrations in Iceland.
For many Icelanders, rjúpa, Rock Ptarmigan, is considered another delicacy, belonging to rather gourmet dishes, and often eaten on Christmas Eve. The hunting season has been limited to 12 total days during the Autumn, to preserve the species numbers. Usually served with some sweet jam and creamy sauce.
Although poultry, in general, has never had a central place in the Icelandic cuisine, turkey has been gaining territory and is sometimes offered in the American Thanksgiving tradition.
If you are still hungry at this point, congratulations! You will probably be offered a stacked desserts buffet including chocolate mousse, Vínarterta (layered cake), Jólakaka (Icelandic Yule cake) cheesecakes, and a bunch of Jólasmákökur…
Risalamande: Rice and Almond Pudding
Risalamande - © Nordic Food and Living
Although the word Risalamande comes from the French word Riz à l’amande, literally "rice with almonds", this dessert comes from Denmark. Over the years, it has become an extremely popular dessert in Sweden, Norway and Iceland during the festive season! It can be described as a rice pudding folded into whipped cream, chopped almonds, vanilla and berry sauce. A fun tradition is that the person who makes the dessert leave one full almond into the Risalamande and people must guess who got the almond. Whoever gets it receives a small gift. Worth the full stomach!
Jólasmákökur: Christmas Cookies
Piparkökur - © Paz.is
Mömmukökur - © Guðmundur Sverrisson on Flickr
Hálfmánar - © Ásdís & Baldur on Flickr
Baking Jólasmákökur, or Christmas cookies, is one of the essential part of the Christmas celebrations in Iceland, a kind of collective contagious craze. In the stores, you will find full-packed shelves of cookie dough rolls ready for baking. Can’t get easier! The most classical ones include Piparkökur (Ginger), Mömmukökur (Ginger with white frosting) and Hálfmánar (Rhubarb Jam wrapped in dough), but you can also totally improvise and unleash your creativity, we’ve never heard of a failed Christmas cookie.
What you will need: 500g flour, 500g brown sugar, 250g butter, 2 eggs, 5 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 2 teaspoons ginger, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 ½ teaspoon powdered cloves, 1 ½ teaspoon ground pepper, 1 ¼ teaspoon paprika.Instructions: Mix together the dry ingredients. Add soft butter and eggs and knead the dough until it gets smooth. Cool in the refrigerator overnight. Roll out into sausage shapes and cut off small portions to make little balls out of the dough. Set on a baking paper and flatten each ball. Bake at 200°C until browned. Eat them all!
Verði ykkur að góðu, bon appétit!