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Food and Drink

Iceland - Food and Drink

Food and drink in Iceland can still be found to be made and prepared using traditional age old techniques. Much like the language, little has changed in the preparing of traditional meals, but some tastes have changed over the years which means some of the more extreme dishes such as ram’s testicles (Súrir hrútspungar) are less common to find. Infamously sour, the dish stems back from when farmers were required to get resourceful with food due to their poor status. The national dish of Iceland is the seasonal meal of preserved shark meat (Hákarl) which has been buried for 4 or 5 months until it is fermented and is usually partnered traditionally with a local alcoholic schnapps (Brennivín) itself made from caraway and fermented potatoes. Those with adventurous palates can sample other traditional Icelandic delicacies such as dried fish (Harðfiskur) which is popular with natives and non-native alike. It has been compared to beef jerky in terms of its consistency. Those from the UK may be familiar with the Icelandic variant of black pudding/haggis, with their version called Blóðmör. It is a form of ‘slátur’ which refers to the slaughter of sheep and the use of their innards for such dishes in the autumn time.

It is certainly worth noting the Icelandic hotdogs (pylsa/pylsur) available in Iceland have been voted the best in the world. The hotdogs come with a mayonnaise style sauce (remolaði), fresh and dried onion plus ketchup and a sweet style mustard. Famously, Iceland has a common accompaniment to soups and cured fish with some people just enjoying it simply with butter. It is the hot spring rye bread (rúgbrauð). It can be cooked using a barrel buried in the ground near a hot spring which heats the dough and causes it to rise and bake. It is popular with all who try it for its sweet and deep grainy taste not to mention the novel way in which it is made. Icelandics like their food salty with plenty of sauce and are wary of a meal without seasoning. Modern Icelandic cuisine displays a modern takes on traditional dishes, local produce and inevitable cafe food trends.

Typical savoury Icelandic recipes can revolve around fish or fermented meat and cooked lamb. Here is the recipe for a simple and commonly enjoyed dish by locals. It can be found easily in many restaurants in various forms and at many family’s tables at dinner time. It is a creamy, warm and somewhat dairy-laden main meal with cod.

Another recipe which is traditional and typical is a popular lunch or dinner time favourite for locals and has existed in many styles from simple to contemporary for hundreds of years. The dish is called kjötsúpa and is full of winter vegetables, off cuts of lamb on the bone. It is a soup with a nutritious quality and an aroma of herbs.

Icelandic desserts usually involve some form of chocolate and or dairy products. They are sweet, creamy and delicious. Locals commonly eat pancakes, curds, almond sponge cakes, cream filled chocolate buns and various types of ice cream. See below for how to make the comforting and hot Cocoa Soup (Kakósúpa) which can be eaten as a dessert or as a main meal.

Another dessert which is typically eaten in Iceland is German made but Icelandic styled Skyr. It is now broadly available internationally and is growing in popularity. For this dish the Skyr is used to create crème brulée.

Coupled with the crème brulée dessert above is the fruity and fragrant recipe for Blueberry Schnapps. The beauty of this drink is that it is sweet and punchy and a perfect accompaniment to a rich dessert.

Eating times for Icelandic citizens are similar to UK with breakfast usually being from 7am onwards. Whilst it is hard to find anywhere to eat breakfast open at weekends before 10am, during weekdays there are a plethora of independent, contemporary and more traditional cafes open early in the city centre to catch the hungry tourists and coffee sipping locals. In less populated areas where you are not staying near a city or town, then breakfast may be a challenge unless you are staying in a hotel. Be prepared to travel to get to the restaurants and cafes you want to visit. Some restaurants close at 14:00 and reopen at 17:00 for dinner service so lunch is usually eaten before this - from 12_00 onwards. Dinner can be eaten at any point from 17:00 onwards, depending on the person or family though it has been said Icelanders favour eating around 20:00. Restaurants which serve evening meals also open around 17:00 and stay open until late to cater for all. Icelanders do like eating out, but also love home cooked meals. They tend to buy from local shops and a small array of self-selected supermarkets. Coffee shop chains which are usually in abundance in city centres only reveals one, Kaffitár. For supermarkets Bonus has appeared dotted around the country but more local versions are available such as Hagkaup which is more of a hypermarket and open 24 hours a day and Krónan which has a very large selection of food and drink with reasonable prices which are enjoyed by locals and foreigners too.

Icelanders are proud of their locally sourced meat, fish and dairy which is almost exactly how nature intended, devoid of hormones, pesticides or antibiotics. Fermented meat and fish is still prepared using age old traditional methods from the Viking era and as with many aspects of Icelandic life, historic traditions are valued adding to the rich history and identity of the country. Importing lamb is illegal and bringing foreign raw meat into the country is also frowned upon due to fears of contamination. Locals value the top quality meat on sale prepared by highly skilled and informed butchers. Like the locality of the fresh meat, fish and vegetables, with the latter being powered by geothermal plants (for example tomatoes) the spring water which is high in minerals and PH which has a neutralising effect for those who suffer with acid reflux. Icelanders enjoy special occasions such as birthdays, weddings, confirmations and baptisms with a certain tradition similar to the English afternoon tea though of course, it contains gallons of coffee (kaffi) as opposed to china tea cups and Earl Grey tea. Accompanying the coffee is a cake like sandwich (brauðterta) which is topped with savoury toppings and cream. Sweet sponge cakes with cream are also available.

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