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A Bizarre Icelandic Tasting Menu


Modified: January 3, 2024

by Barbara-Anne Bahena



When it comes to exploring new destinations, one can truly uncover the essence of a place through its cuisine. And if you’re a food enthusiast seeking a unique culinary experience, look no further than Iceland. This extraordinary island nation is not only known for its breathtaking landscapes and geothermal wonders but also for its fascinating food traditions.


The Icelandic culinary scene is a delightful blend of tradition and innovation, with its roots deeply entrenched in the country’s rich cultural heritage. From Viking traditions to modern gastronomic trends, Iceland offers a truly unique and unforgettable food travel experience. And if you’re looking for an extraordinary dining experience, the Icelandic tasting menu will take you on a journey of flavors that will surprise and captivate your taste buds.


In this article, we will delve into the world of Icelandic cuisine and explore the concept of tasting menus. We will take you through a gastronomic adventure, highlighting some of the most intriguing and unusual dishes that you can expect to find on an Icelandic tasting menu. So get ready to embark on a culinary exploration like no other, as we dive into the world of bizarre Icelandic delicacies.


The Unique Icelandic Culinary Scene

Icelandic cuisine is heavily influenced by the country’s geographic location and natural resources. Being an island nation surrounded by nutrient-rich waters, Iceland boasts an abundance of fresh seafood, including the likes of salmon, cod, and haddock. Fish dishes play a significant role in Icelandic cuisine, and you can expect to find a variety of preparations – from simple pan-fried fillets to more adventurous dishes like smoked or cured fish.


In addition to seafood, Icelandic cuisine also embraces its agricultural heritage. The harsh climate and volcanic terrain have shaped the country’s farming practices, resulting in unique and flavorsome ingredients. Grass-fed lambs roam freely in the Icelandic countryside, resulting in tender and flavorful meat. Traditional Icelandic lamb dishes, such as smoked lamb and lamb stew, are staples in the country’s culinary repertoire.


Another distinctive aspect of Icelandic cuisine is its emphasis on preserving and fermenting food. Historically, Vikings used fermentation methods to preserve food during the harsh winters. Today, this tradition lives on, and you can experience fermented shark, known as hákarl, on an Icelandic tasting menu. This peculiar dish has a strong and pungent aroma, making it a daring delicacy for the adventurous eater.


Furthermore, Iceland is known for its love affair with dairy products. Skyr, a rich and creamy Icelandic yogurt, is a popular ingredient used in both savory and sweet dishes. You can indulge in a variety of skyr-based desserts, including skyr cake and skyr mousse. Additionally, the country produces delicious artisanal cheeses, showcasing the skill and dedication of Icelandic cheese-makers.


Overall, the Icelandic culinary scene is a true reflection of the country’s rugged landscapes, cultural heritage, and resourcefulness. Exploring the unique flavors and traditions of Icelandic cuisine is not only a feast for the senses but also an opportunity to immerse yourself in the fascinating history and culture of this remarkable island nation.


The Concept of Tasting Menus

Tasting menus have become increasingly popular in the culinary world, offering diners an opportunity to indulge in a multi-course gastronomic experience. The concept of a tasting menu revolves around presenting a curated selection of dishes that showcase the chef’s creativity, skill, and the unique flavors of a particular cuisine or region.


Unlike traditional à la carte menus, where diners choose individual dishes, a tasting menu offers a carefully crafted progression of courses. Each course is thoughtfully designed to complement the others and provide a harmonious journey through different flavors, textures, and presentation styles.


Typically, a tasting menu consists of several small plates or courses, ranging from five to fifteen, depending on the restaurant and chef. This allows diners to sample a wider variety of dishes, expanding their culinary horizons and experiencing a diverse range of flavors in a single meal.


Tasting menus are often accompanied by wine or beverage pairings, curated specifically to enhance the flavors of each course. This adds another layer of enjoyment to the dining experience, as the sommelier or beverage expert carefully selects drinks that complement and elevate the flavors of the dishes.


One of the advantages of tasting menus is that they provide chefs with the opportunity to showcase their creativity and push culinary boundaries. Chefs can experiment with unique ingredients, innovative cooking techniques, and artistic presentations, creating an immersive and memorable dining experience for their guests.


For diners, tasting menus offer a chance to surrender control and trust in the expertise of the chef. It allows them to try new dishes they might not have chosen individually, expanding their palate and exposing them to new flavors and culinary techniques.


When it comes to an Icelandic tasting menu, you can expect the chef to present a selection of dishes that highlight the country’s unique ingredients and traditional flavors. From fermented shark to smoked lamb and black vodka, each course will take you on a culinary adventure that is both intriguing and delicious.


In the next sections, we will explore some of the most fascinating and unusual dishes you may encounter on an Icelandic tasting menu, providing you with a glimpse into the unexpected delights of Icelandic cuisine.


First Course: Fermented Shark

When it comes to unusual Icelandic delicacies, fermented shark, known as hákarl, tops the list. This iconic dish has strong cultural significance and is deeply rooted in Iceland’s history and traditions.


Hákarl is made from the meat of Greenland sharks that are typically caught in the waters surrounding Iceland. The meat is not consumed fresh due to its toxicity, but instead undergoes a unique fermentation process to make it safe and edible.


The preparation of hákarl involves burying the shark meat underground and allowing it to ferment for several months. During this time, the high levels of urea and ammonia in the shark’s flesh break down, transforming it into a gelatinous and pungent delicacy.


Once the fermentation process is complete, the shark meat is hung to dry for several months, further intensifying its distinct flavors. It is then sliced into small pieces and served as a traditional Icelandic delicacy.


When it comes to tasting hákarl, be prepared for a unique and acquired flavor experience. The meat has a strong ammonia smell that can be overwhelming for some. The taste itself is intensely savory and somewhat fishy, with a texture that is chewy and rubbery.


Now, you might be wondering why Icelanders go through such elaborate steps to prepare and consume fermented shark. The tradition of hákarl dates back to Viking times when preserving food through fermentation was necessary to survive the harsh winters and long sea voyages.


Despite its pungent aroma and challenging flavor, hákarl holds a special place in Icelandic culture. It is often served during special occasions or as a show of hospitality to visitors, providing an opportunity to connect with the country’s historical roots and Viking heritage.


Whether you dare to try hákarl or not, it is an integral part of the Icelandic tasting menu, adding a sense of adventure and cultural immersion to the dining experience.


Second Course: Smoked Lamb

When it comes to Icelandic cuisine, it’s impossible to overlook the country’s love affair with lamb. The unique farming practices and natural resources of Iceland result in some of the most tender and flavorful lamb meat in the world. And one of the most beloved preparations of Icelandic lamb is smoked lamb.


Smoked lamb, known as hangikjöt, is a traditional dish that holds a special place in Icelandic culinary heritage. The process of smoking the lamb gives it a distinct smoky flavor and a tender texture that melts in your mouth.


The preparation begins by curing the lamb meat in a mixture of salt, sugar, and spices. After the curing process, the lamb is traditionally hung and smoked over a wood fire. The wood used for smoking, such as birch or dried sheep dung, imparts a unique aroma and flavor to the meat.


The resulting smoked lamb is often served thinly sliced, allowing the flavors to fully develop and showcase the quality of the meat. It can be enjoyed on its own as a delicacy or used as an ingredient in various traditional Icelandic dishes.


One popular way to savor smoked lamb is in a traditional Icelandic lamb stew, known as kjötsúpa. This hearty and flavorful soup is made by simmering smoked lamb with root vegetables, such as potatoes, carrots, and turnips. The rich and smoky flavors of the meat infuse the broth, creating a comforting and satisfying dish.


Smoked lamb is also a highlight of many Icelandic Christmas feasts. It is often served with potatoes, pickled red cabbage, and a béchamel sauce, known as upphrauð. This combination of flavors and textures creates a festive and indulgent meal that brings families together during the holiday season.


Whether enjoyed on its own, in a stew, or as part of a festive feast, smoked lamb is a culinary delight that represents the essence of Icelandic cuisine. Its smoky and savory flavors, combined with the high-quality Icelandic lamb, make it a must-try dish on any Icelandic tasting menu, providing a true taste of the country’s culinary heritage.


Third Course: Puffin Meat

Puffins, with their distinctive appearance and vibrant beaks, are an iconic symbol of Iceland’s wildlife. But did you know that puffin meat is also a part of the country’s culinary scene? In Iceland, puffins are not only admired for their adorable presence but also appreciated for their flavorful meat.


Puffin meat, known as lundi in Icelandic, has been a traditional part of the country’s diet for centuries, particularly in coastal communities. The meat is dark and rich, with a flavor that is often described as similar to a combination of fish and game.


The hunting of puffins for meat has been regulated in recent years to protect the population and ensure sustainable harvesting practices. Puffins are typically caught during the summer when they gather in large numbers on coastal cliffs to nest.


The preparation of puffin meat varies, but it is often grilled, roasted, or smoked to enhance its natural flavors. It is commonly served as a delicacy, sometimes as a starter or a main course. The meat is usually tender and juicy, complemented by its unique taste.


One popular way to experience puffin meat is by enjoying it in a puffin breast dish. The breast is usually seasoned and cooked to a medium-rare or medium temperature, allowing for a tender and flavorful bite. It is often served with roasted potatoes, seasonal vegetables, and a tangy berry sauce, which adds a delightful balance to the rich flavors of the meat.


It’s worth noting that puffin meat may not be readily available in all restaurants, and it is a more adventurous choice on an Icelandic tasting menu. Its inclusion reflects the country’s connection to nature and its commitment to preserving its culinary traditions.


Trying puffin meat provides an opportunity to explore the diverse flavors of Icelandic cuisine and appreciate the unique culinary heritage of this enchanting island nation.


Fourth Course: Minke Whale

Icelandic cuisine often sparks debate and controversy due to the inclusion of certain ingredients. One such ingredient is minke whale, which has been a part of the country’s culinary traditions for centuries.


Minke whale meat, known as hnakkur in Icelandic, has a deep red color and a flavor that is often likened to beef or venison. Historically, Icelanders relied on hunting whales as a vital source of food and sustenance in the harsh and isolated conditions of the island.


Today, the hunting of minke whales is heavily regulated, and the meat is available in limited quantities. It is primarily served in select restaurants, particularly those that focus on traditional and authentic Icelandic cuisine.


When prepared as part of an Icelandic tasting menu, minke whale is usually served as a steak or as thin slices similar to carpaccio. It is often grilled or pan-seared to medium-rare to preserve its tenderness and enhance its natural flavor.


Minke whale meat is known for its rich taste and unique texture, making it a delicacy for those who appreciate adventurous dining experiences. However, it is important to note that the consumption of whale meat remains a subject of debate due to conservation concerns and ethical considerations.


For some, trying minke whale meat on an Icelandic tasting menu is an opportunity to explore the cultural and historical significance of whaling in the country’s culinary traditions. For others, it may raise ethical questions and personal dilemmas, leading them to opt for alternative dishes on the tasting menu.


Ultimately, the inclusion of minke whale in an Icelandic tasting menu highlights the complexities of Iceland’s relationship with its natural resources and traditions, inviting diners to consider both the cultural significance and the conservation aspect associated with consuming this unique meat.


Fifth Course: Black Vodka

When it comes to the unique offerings of an Icelandic tasting menu, be prepared to encounter black vodka. This intriguing spirit, known as Svartidauði in Icelandic, adds a touch of mystique and allure to the dining experience.


Black vodka gets its distinctive color from the addition of activated charcoal, which gives it a deep, inky black appearance. It is often made from traditional ingredients, such as wheat or potatoes, and is distilled multiple times for a smooth and refined taste.


The addition of activated charcoal not only imparts its striking color but also contributes to the vodka’s unique flavor profile. Black vodka is known for its silky texture, subtle sweetness, and a mild smoky note.


On an Icelandic tasting menu, black vodka usually makes its appearance as a palate cleanser between courses. It acts as a refreshing and intriguing interlude, preparing the taste buds for the upcoming flavors.


The black vodka is typically served as a chilled shot, allowing the diners to experience its velvety smoothness and enjoy its intriguing visual display. Sipping on black vodka provides a moment of surprise and curiosity, as the palate is awakened with a delicate balance of flavors.


It’s worth noting that black vodka is not exclusive to Iceland, but it has gained popularity in the country’s culinary scene due to its visually striking presence and the element of surprise it adds to the dining experience.


While black vodka may not be for everyone, its inclusion in an Icelandic tasting menu showcases the diversity and creativity of the country’s culinary offerings. It adds an element of intrigue and uniqueness, allowing diners to expand their horizons and indulge in an unexpected and captivating libation.


Sixth Course: Icelandic Moss

Icelandic cuisine is known for its inventive use of local ingredients, and one particular ingredient that stands out is Icelandic moss. This unique plant, scientifically known as Cetraria islandica, plays a significant role in the country’s food culture and is often featured as a standout ingredient in an Icelandic tasting menu.


Icelandic moss is a type of lichen that grows abundantly in the country’s volcanic landscapes. It has been utilized for centuries by Icelanders for its medicinal properties and as a food source during harsh winters.


In a culinary context, Icelandic moss adds a distinctive earthy and slightly bitter flavor. It is commonly used as a seasoning or garnish in traditional dishes, providing a touch of complexity and enhancing the overall taste profile.


On an Icelandic tasting menu, Icelandic moss may appear in various forms. It can be infused into oils, creating a flavorful drizzle to complement other ingredients. It can also be incorporated into sauces or as a seasoning for meats, adding a unique dimension to the dish.


One of the most popular ways to experience Icelandic moss is in bread or pastries. Icelandic moss is often ground into a powder or finely chopped and added to dough, giving bread a distinct flavor and texture. This moss-infused bread pairs well with various toppings or can be enjoyed on its own as a tasty and nutritious treat.


Aside from its culinary uses, Icelandic moss is also recognized for its nutritional benefits. It is rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, making it a valued ingredient for its health-promoting properties.


Incorporating Icelandic moss into an Icelandic tasting menu not only showcases the country’s unique flora but also pays homage to the resourcefulness and adaptability of Icelandic cuisine. It provides diners with an opportunity to explore the lesser-known ingredients and indulge in the natural flavors of the region.


Whether enjoyed for its distinct taste, added nutritional value, or cultural significance, Icelandic moss adds a layer of intrigue and authenticity to an Icelandic tasting menu, making it a memorable and distinctive course in the culinary journey.


Seventh Course: Skyr Dessert

No Icelandic tasting menu would be complete without a sweet ending, and what better way to conclude the culinary journey than with a delightful skyr dessert?


Skyr is a thick and creamy Icelandic yogurt that has been a staple in Icelandic cuisine for centuries. It is made by straining yogurt to remove the whey, resulting in a rich and velvety texture.


Skyr has gained international popularity for its high protein content, low fat content, and numerous health benefits. It is often enjoyed as a nutritious breakfast or snack option. However, in an Icelandic tasting menu, skyr takes center stage as a versatile ingredient for creating indulgent and satisfying desserts.


An array of skyr-based desserts can be savored on an Icelandic tasting menu. From skyr cheesecake to skyr mousse, these desserts showcase the luscious and creamy qualities of skyr, paired with a variety of flavors and textures.


A classic skyr dessert that often graces the Icelandic table is hetta – a simple combination of skyr, sugar, and fresh berries. The tartness of skyr is balanced by the sweetness of the sugar and the natural flavors of the berries, creating a harmonious and refreshing dessert.


For those seeking a more decadent treat, skyr can be transformed into a velvety smooth mousse. The light and airy texture of the mousse, paired with the intense flavors of chocolate or fruit, result in a truly indulgent dessert experience.


Other variations of skyr desserts may include layering skyr with homemade granola and honey, or incorporating it into frozen yogurt for a cool and creamy delight.


What makes skyr desserts particularly special is their ability to satisfy the sweet tooth without being overly heavy or cloyingly sweet. The natural tanginess of skyr lends a delightful balance to the desserts and makes them a crowd-pleasing finale to an Icelandic tasting menu.


Skyr desserts not only highlight the versatility of this traditional Icelandic ingredient but also represent the country’s commitment to wholesome and nourishing culinary experiences.


So, prepare your taste buds for a blissful finale as you indulge in the heavenly delights of skyr desserts, celebrating the marriage of tradition, flavor, and the sweetness of Icelandic cuisine.



Embarking on an Icelandic tasting menu is not just a culinary adventure but a journey through the rich cultural heritage and diverse flavors of this captivating island nation. From the unique nuances of smoked lamb to the daring flavors of fermented shark, each course reveals a story, tradition, and connection to Iceland’s natural resources and Viking roots.


The concept of a tasting menu allows you to experience a curated selection of dishes that showcase the creativity, skill, and innovation of Icelandic chefs. It is an opportunity to surrender control, trust in the expertise of the culinary team, and embrace the unexpected as you navigate through a progression of bold and unconventional flavors.


The tasting menu introduces you to Icelandic delicacies that may challenge your taste buds, such as fermented shark and minke whale, while also delighting you with the comfort of smoked lamb and the smooth allure of black vodka. It is a true reflection of the country’s culinary tapestry, combining history, regional ingredients, and contemporary interpretations.


Moreover, Icelandic cuisine is not just about the peculiar and adventurous. It also embraces the simplicity and beauty of natural ingredients, as seen in the utilization of Icelandic moss and the wholesome indulgence of skyr desserts. These dishes highlight the resourcefulness, sustainability, and health-consciousness that are central to Icelandic culture.


An Icelandic tasting menu is an invitation to engage all of your senses, to immerse yourself in the vibrant flavors, textures, aromas, and visual presentations that make Icelandic cuisine truly unique. It is a celebration of tradition, innovation, and the immense pride that Icelanders take in their gastronomic heritage.


So, whether you’re a seasoned food traveler or someone seeking a one-of-a-kind dining experience, prepare yourself for an unforgettable adventure through the flavors of Iceland. Embrace the unusual, savor the familiar, and allow each course to transport you to the rugged landscapes, ancient traditions, and vibrant culinary scene that define this fascinating island nation.