Icelandic food from the bizarre to the delicious

Iceland is known for quirkiness, and that includes its food. It has a few dishes you won’t find on the menu anywhere else, although sometimes this is for good reason.

The most famous is Hákarl (fermented shark). Shark meat is acidic so it has to be cured before it’s safe to eat. The meat’s cut up and buried underground to ferment for six to 12 weeks, then hung to dry. The poison breaks down into ammonia and you end up with a taste that’s a bit like a very ripe cheese. It comes with a shot of Brennivín, which is a caraway flavoured schnapps that’s nicknamed the ‘Black Death’.

Another bizarre Icelandic favourite is Svið (sheep’s head). The whole head’s boiled and split in two. The brain’s taken out but you eat the rest with mashed potatoes and turnips, right down to the eyeballs. Sheep also feature in another dish, Súrir hrútspungar, which will see you eating rams’ testicles that are pressed into blocks, boiled and then pickled. And let’s not forget other dishes like cod tongues, whale blubber and boiled puffin.

Icelandic food isn’t all scary though, there are some more tempting options. Iceland’s lamb is known for its delicate flavour, which comes from the rich grass and herbs the animals feed on. It’s often smoked over a wood fire and served with potatoes and beetroot.

Skyr is another Icelandic favourite that’s a cross between Greek yogurt and sour cream. It’s actually a kind of soft cheese made with milk curds that’s high in protein and low in fat and carbohydrates. You eat it for breakfast, as a sauce, in drinks or as a snack.

Icelanders also love pylsa (hot dogs), which are made with lamb as well as pork and beef to add a deeper flavour. They’re best served with plenty of ketchup, mustard, and both raw and fried onions.