Trying the local cuisine is such an important, and delicious, part of travel, and one that we fully encourage you to enjoy while in Iceland. Now Iceland may not be famous for its local dishes (even though they are delicious!) but one thing it does well is comfort food. And when you live somewhere that has winter-like weather for a large majority of the year you know that comfort food is going to be delicious. Nothing is more welcoming after a chilly winter day than a warm plate of tasty foods that fed the soul!
Plokkfiskur fish stew - photo from Café Loki
To be sure you get a proper Icelandic comfort food experience we have rounded up some of our favorite dishes for you to add to your Iceland bucket list. These are the dishes that locals are eating in the comfort of their homes, the ones that have family recipes that have been passed down for generations. No crazy fermented shark to be found on this list, only pure carbs and cozy home comfort meals here.
So after a fun-filled day exploring the wonders of Iceland, turn to one of the dishes below for some soul food for that extra bit of comfort on a chilly winter day.
This list has to be started off with the ultimate Icelandic comfort food, the famous Icelandic lamb. Now we may not have any scientific proof to back this up, but it is just a known fact that Icelandic lamb is special. Many say the meat has a unique flavor to lamb from other parts of the world thanks in large part to the farming practices of the Icelandic sheep. The animals are all free-range who enjoy life roaming the Icelandic fields eating as much pesticide-free grass, berries and herbs as they desire. So as you dig into your meal of Icelandic lamb you can enjoy it knowing it was created purely by the Icelandic environment with no growth hormones or antibiotics, just meat from animals living on nutrient-rich landscape.
Delicious Icelandic lamb steak
The number of lamb dishes you can find in Iceland is plentiful, but for a real traditional option we recommend trying a leg of lamb with a side of potatoes, peas, and red cabbage. No matter which way you try it, smoked, roasted, grilled, in a kebab or a hot dog, if you enjoy lamb you have to give the Icelandic lamb a try!
Plokkfiskur - Icelandic Fish Stew
When you have a dish that is a staple in many homes, served up in school cafeterias, at restaurants, and available as to-go meals in the grocery stores, you know it is a meal you will have to try. And plokkfiskur, also known as Icelandic fish stew, is definitely one to try if you are looking for a taste of traditional Icelandic comfort food!
Plokkfiskur is a simple fish stew with all the makings needed for real comfort food. The dish mixes white fish (typically haddock or cod), potatoes, butter, milk and flour with a few simple ingredients to make one hearty meal perfect for a cold winter day. Take this dish to the next level and add cheese or a sauce such as bearnaise sauce as many of the locals like to do. While in Iceland you can find this dish at several restaurants in town such as Café Loki, where you can enjoy this traditional dish with a lovely view of Hallgrímskirkja. If you are dreaming of a taste of Iceland from the comfort of home you can also find several recipes online to make from the comfort of your own kitchen.
Fun fact, the current Icelandic president, Guðni Jóhannesson has been quoted calling plokkfiskur his favorite Icelandic dish! You can even do a virtual cooking class with the president’s mom Margrét and follow along with her video cooking this delicious dish here:
Humarsupa - Lobster Soup
If you are looking for comfort in a bowl of humársupa, lobster soup is what you are after! Made with langoustine, aka lobster’s smaller cousin, that is fished right from the Icelandic waters, this soup has a cream-based broth that is packed full of flavor. Many of the oldest restaurants around the country offer their own spin on this classic dish that is typically served with fresh warm bread and of course lots of butter. Nothing will complete a winter day more than warming up with a bowl of this delicious soup, best enjoyed with a view over the sea if possible.
Creamy lobster soup
Brúnaðar Kartöflur- Caramelized Potatoes
Caramelized potatoes might not sound all that appealing, but hear us out. There is something about the combination of potatoes sauteed in butter and sugar that creates the ultimate sweet and savory combo that you just have to try. If you are looking for a unique dish to try and is real homestyle comfort food, caramelized potatoes is it. This traditional side dish is often found next to a serving of roasted lamb and is a staple on most Icelanders Christmas tables. An insider tip if you plan on making this dish at home, wait to peel the potatoes until after they have boiled, this helps the vegetables soak up more of the tasty caramel sauce and the more of that the better!
Kjötsúpa - Icelandic Meat Soup
This soup is basically Iceland cuisine in a bowl. Meat, potatoes, and root vegetables, all the makings for a rib-sticking meal hearty enough to keep the Vikings warm and energized when food was scarce and perfect for enjoying today after a day of exploring. This is the type of traditional recipe where every house has its own version of it, something only the best comfort foods have! You will find a version of kjötsúpa at many of the local restaurants around the country. There is even an annual meat soup festival in Reykjavik held in October where you can sample multiple variations of the dish. Once you taste it you will be dreaming up your own version to make at home! When that need arises check out this recipe for kjötsúpa to get you started on bringing your own authentic taste of Iceland to your kitchen.
Warm and hearty kjötsúpa
Pylsa - Hot Dogs
Okay most of us have had a hot dog before, but this isn’t your usual hot dog, the Icelandic hot dog, it has a flavor all of its own that has made it world famous. Everyone, and we mean everyone, that comes to Iceland and enjoys eating meat needs to try at least one while in the country. Even the Kardashians and previous US presidents have made a stop at one of the famous hot dog stands in downtown Reykjavik, Baejarins Beztu Pylsur, to order one to try!
The famous Icelandic hot dog
What makes the Icelandic hot dogs so special, besides the fact that they are a beloved dish of Icelanders, is the unique flavor they have from the combination of ingredients. Made with lamb, pork and beef and topped with condiments such as sweet mustard and crispy fried onion, we recommend trying “one with everything” on your trip to get the ultimate Icelandic hot dog experience. An added bonus, you can find hot dogs everywhere from gas stations to drive-through stands, and they are a very affordable quick meal option for under $5 USD.
Pönnukökur - Icelandic Pancakes
No comfort food list would be complete without a sweet treat or two, and there is nothing more fitting than the classic Icelandic pancakes to add to your must-try comfort food list. These thin, crepe-like pancakes may not look all that different from other crepes you may have tried, but don’t let looks fool you. When trying these pancakes you are not going to find them with butter and syrup, instead, the most traditional toppings are granulated sugar or jam with whipped cream. With the toppings placed inside the pancakes are then tightly wrapped or folded and can be enjoyed warm or cold.
A fresh stack of pancakes
Icelanders grew up with family gatherings including a plate of the family favorite version of the pancakes. All ages love these and will make you feel like you have stepped back into your grandma’s cozy kitchen as you enjoy a plate of them in Iceland. Or, bring them to your home kitchen and follow along with this recipe.
Kleinur - The Twisted Icelandic Doughnut
One of Iceland’s most popular pastries is Scandinavia’s spin on the doughnut but probably doesn't look like the type of doughnut you are used to seeing at your local bakeries. Kleinur’s dark brown coloring and distinct twisted shape may not look too enticing at first, but trust us the simple flavors of this fried pastry combine together to make a delicious treat, you will have a hard time eating only one! Most of Scandinavia saves these tasty little treats for special occasions such as Christmas. But in Iceland, they have made the wise decision to have them available year-round where you can find them everywhere from the local bakery to grocery stores.
Warm and lovely kleinur
Pick up a bag of kleinur to have as snacks on your road trip, try a freshly baked one with your morning coffee, and definitely try one of the modern takes local restaurants have put on them on their dessert menu!
To make sure you won’t forget any of these soul-warming dishes save the below image to have on hand while you eat our way around Iceland.
Find even more foodie fun over on our blog here. We have posts sharing recipes to try at home, as well as complete food guides to make sure you enjoy only the best of the best spots around while in Iceland. Be sure to tag us in all your foodie shots at #heyiceland!