Iceland is an extraordinary, fascinating country, which amuses its visitors not only with breathtaking scenery. When you decide to visit the island, you will be overtaken not only with the views but also… food. It can taste really great, but sometimes it may also arouse quite a controversy. We came to Iceland with the thought of eating deliciously fresh fish and other marine delicacies. After the first feast in the company of Icelanders, we realised that Icelandic cuisine would be even more than intriguing.
So here is the holy trinity of Icelandic culinary scene. Remember that these snacks are not only an attraction for visitors looking for excitement. Icelanders truly love them and eat them with a really great pleasure.
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Let’s take the first crack at Hákarl. Hákarl is an Icelandic traditional dish of cured, rotten shark, which putrid smell is said to rival its horrifying taste. It’s a true culinary legend, and rumour has it that it’s one of the most awful snacks in the world. Shockingly many Icelanders just adore it, despite its ammonia-rich smell. Many people just wonder why to eat it rotten. Icelanders eat the Greenland shark, which is poisonous when fresh, due to a very high content of urea. It may be consumed, but after being processed. The process of fermentation gets rid of all the poisonous substances. Fermented shark is left at the mercy of wild, arctic winds, but even after all these lashes it still smells awful. The process makes it edible, but the idea of eating it is just crazy, of course not for the Icelanders.
If after reading this, you still want to try it, go on. It’s often served in cubes on toothpicks. What’s more, hákarl is an excellent excuse to drink Brennivín, popular Icelandic liquor. Brennivín, also known as Black Death, is potato vodka with cumin aroma, and sincerely just another Icelandic product with a rather bad reputation. Hákarl and Brennivín often create a perfect couple, so first you take a hazardous bite, and then an equally risky sip.
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Svið from the first sight repels and disturbs, but observing how willingly Icelanders scoff it down, can really fascinate. Svið is a traditional Icelandic dish consisting of a sheep’s head cut in half, then singed to remove the fur and after that boiled with the brain removed. It’s served as delicacy itself, so without spices, sauces and often without side dishes, and if with them, then in a company of two types of purée – potato and turnip. Svið is full of something wild and primal, so it’s a treat for brave explorers and fans of culinary curiosities. Many Icelanders consider eyes to be the most delicious part of the head.
In the past svið served without the ears was considered a taboo. Ears have always had a mark of the animal’s owner. For a long time, people tried not to cut them due to the superstitious belief that when they are removed, the one who eats such svið, will be accused of theft. Nowadays all sheep heads, which you can get in grocery stores, are sold without ears.
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Harðfiskur, namely wind-dried fish, most often cod. It’s almost as popular as Icelandic hot dogs. You can buy harðfiskur in every supermarket and at every petrol station – Icelanders love to have this special snack on hand. The most controversial thing about harðfiskur is its smell. An awful, unbelievably bad aroma, which can nauseate more sensitive people. It’s like a fish market aroma in a concentrate. The worst thing is the first step when you must open the package and bad smell just explodes in your face. But if you open the window, then put fish on the plate and wait for a while, it is fine and really tasty. There are a few types of harðfiskur. Some of them are difficult to bite, and other resemble fish chips. All of them are very healthy, filling and nutritious. Icelanders like to eat it with the creamy butter on top. Adam is a huge fan of harðfiskur, especially with a glass of beer, and I, to be honest, haven’t tried it because of the smell.
And what about you? Would you be so brave to try them? Or maybe you have already? If you wonder where you could try all these delicacies, check out a guide to best places to eat in Reykjavik.