Best of Icelandic food & drink: Part four
1. Straight from the tap
As everybody in Iceland will tell you, Icelandic water is the best water in the world. It’s true and it comes in unlimited supply—straight from every tap.
2. Hard to swallow
For the uninitiated, it might be hard to swallow, but fermented skate is considered a great delicacy in Iceland. That is, however, by no means the popular opinion. Few things create a wider rift in the nation than the tradition involving this dish that smells like ammonia, which has been described as eating rotten fish. Happily, for those who can’t stomach the smell, only a handful of Icelanders eat it year round. However, on December 23rd, there is almost no escape for those who do not appreciate fermented skate. This day is called Þorláksmessa (Mass of Saint Þorlákur). It marks the beginning of Christmas in Iceland and is celebrated by eating the smelly fish.
Contrary to what many think, love for fermented skate is not unique to Iceland. It’s also big in South Korea.
3. An infamous treat
Another infamous Icelandic treat is “hákarl” or cured shark meat. Some consider it just a kind of a novelty dish to spook foreign travellers. However, we at Iceland Magazine are not in that camp. Hákarl has been compared to a stinky French cheese, which rings true if the cheese is properly ripened and matured. Similar to strong cheese, hákarl is never a meal but rather a snack to enjoy on its own.
4. A fast food staple
Former president Bill Clinton and model Chrissy Teigen are among the many confirmed fans of the Icelandic hot dog. “I fell in love with Iceland’s cuisine, especially the Icelandic hot dogs,” said the model after a visit in 2014.
The ingredients in Icelandic hot dogs are a combination of several types of meat: free-range lamb, pork, and something else (we don’t want to know more, neither should you). They are served in a white bun with an impressive list of toppings, and you can buy them at gas stations and kiosks around the country.
5. The strangest take-away
Well, maybe it’s not the most delicious lunch you can get, but “Svið” or scorched sheep-heads taste much better than they look. A heritage of old times, and also a nod to modern sustainable ideology, this dish originates from a time when no part of the animal was left to waste.
Several grocery stores and a handful of kiosks include Svið on their daily take-away menu. If you are up for it, the cheek is considered the most tender and tasty part.
6. Lager, lager
Out of Iceland’s top ten most popular beers, six are by local brewers. Actually the top five are all Icelandic. The undisputed king is Víking Gylltur, a strong lager beer (5.6%) that has been described as having “fantastic drinkability.”
Gylltur has more than double the market share of its brother Víking Lager, which comes in at number two.
The top ten list is dominated by lager beers, but Iceland is in the middle of a beer revolution, with new, more adventurous beers from local breweries hitting the market almost every month.
All are available in licensed restaurants or in the 48 state-run liquor stores (there is a monopoly on sales of alcohol in Iceland).
7. Indulge your sweet tooth
Foreign sweets were unavailable in Iceland for decades, due to import restrictions, so local candy factories had to satisfy the sugar cravings. Hence the wide-ranging supply of Icelandic candy. One recommendation from local junk food connoisseur Dr. Gunni is “Kókosbolla,” a bun consisting of a fluffy white paste inside a thin chocolate shell covered in coconut flour. For a volcanic party inside your mouth, Dr. Gunni advises drinking Coca Cola while eating the bun.
8. And quench your thirst
Last century, there were up to six companies that competed in the Icelandic soda market. Now only two or three Icelandic brands remain: the orange soda “Appelsín” and the fruit punch called “Mix.” Probably the most iconic Icelandic soft drink is “Malt,” a sweet malt beverage. It’s not carbonated, but it’s consumed by Icelanders like a soda. An old tradition during Christmas and Easter is to mix Malt and Appelsín (50/50).
Read more: Best of Icelandic food & drink: Part three
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