Best of Icelandic food & drink: Part One
Fresh water, fresh fish, free-roaming sheep, and rye bread baked underground in geothermal areas: Gastronomes have plenty to look forward to when visiting Iceland.
Iceland might not be best known for its culinary traditions—at least not yet—but there is an abundance of culinary delights for foodies to enjoy while visiting the country. Icelandic cod, for instance, is a popular delicacy in Spain, and now Icelandic skyr has seen a huge increase in popularity, especially in the Nordic countries. Here’s Iceland Magazine’s list of local treats to try.
1. The Icelandic yogurt
Skyr is a traditional Icelandic dairy product that resembles yogurt, but it is, correctly speaking, a cheese. Skyr-making dates all the way back to the 9th century.The product is made from skim milk, which remains after the cream has been removed. The milk is then warmed, live cultures from previous batches of skyr are added, and after it has thickened, it is strained off from the whey.
Internationally, skyr has seen a huge increase in popularity over the past years, especially in neighbouring Nordic countries. Recently the international dairy company Arla Foods began to sell Icelandic skyr in the UK. Like the saying goes: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Right?
2. A fish story
Cod is the most important marine resource in Icelandic waters. The fish is processed in different ways. Much of it is salted and sold to countries such as Spain and the UK, which are the largest export markets for Icelandic cod.
Haddock is another popular fish and the one most commonly eaten by Icelanders, probably because cod was better suited for salting, and therefore export. Traditionally, Icelanders boil or fry the fish and serve it with melted butter and boiled potatoes. Absolutely delish!
3. Small size, big taste
Langoustine, called humar (lobster) in Icelandic, is caught in the warmer waters along the south, southeast, and southwest coasts of Iceland. Smaller than other lobster species, the Icelandic langoustine is known for its succulent, tasty meat. Much of the langoustine harvest is exported to Spain, the Netherlands, Canada, and the U.S.
Icelanders tend to cook langoustine for special occasions such as Christmas, New Year’s Eve, or just to celebrate sunny summer days.
4. All meat and no potatoes
Icelandic sheep roam the open countryside freely during the summer grazing season. The breed arrived in Iceland with the Vikings and, over the centuries, the stout, sturdy animal has proved to be well adapted to the Icelandic climate.
The animals feed on grass, berries, angelica, and seaweed, all of which add to the flavour of the meat. Icelanders vehemently maintain that the meat can taste different in different regions. But don’t take our word for it—try it yourself.
5. Old school
Slátur was a common and popular dish among Icelanders well into the 20th century. The word means slaughter, and in former times the term was used for everything and anything that was considered edible from the sheep, including scorched sheep’s head. The two most popular dishes made from sheep’s innards are blóðmör and lifrarpylsa. Blóðmör is similar to Irish black pudding and is made from sheep’s blood, flour, and suet. Lifrarpylsa, or liver sausage, resembles Scottish haggis and is made from sheep’s liver, flour, suet, and spices. The mixture is stuffed into little pouches that have been cut from the sheep’s stomach and sewn together. Of the two, the latter is more popular and is usually eaten warm with mashed potatoes and turnips.
6. Break bread
Flatbrauð and rúgbrauð are two types of traditional, Icelandic bread. Flatbrauð, also called flatkaka, or ‘flat bread,’ is a soft, thin, pan-fried rye bread. It is generally eaten with butter and thin slices of hangikjöt (smoked lamb).
Rúgbrauð, also known as ‘þrumari’, is another rye bread traditional to Iceland. It’s cooked underground in geothermal areas and is dark, very dense, and rather sweet. The bread is usually eaten with pâté or a thick layer of salted butter. Stale rúgbrauð is often used to make bread soup, brauðsúpa.
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