Last edit: June 8th, 2020
Icelanders are very keen on new things and tend to take things to the extreme when things are new and become popular.
If the world we live in were a fictional place, Icelanders would probably mostly eat rotten shark, singed sheep head, and the Icelandic version of Haggis; lifrarpylsa. But, even though people do eat those things here in Iceland and for some, it is their ultimate favorite food most people would choose something more modern.
We like new things
Icelanders are very keen on new things and tend to take things to the extreme when things are new and become popular. Take the Béarnaise sauce, for example; this quintessential 60s sauce was as popular here as it was in the rest of the Western world when mini gherkins were all the rage. However, it fell out of favor and you rarely, if ever, saw it anywhere. You could get Eggs Benedict in a restaurant with its mother Hollandaise sauce. Most people forgot how to make it, and a whole generation had never even tasted it. What happened next will shock you! Read on.
Then slowly but surely it started making its way back into the social consciousness. At first, you were able to get it on steak sandwiches; then suddenly one burger joint had it on offer. It just so happened it was one of the most popular burger joints in Reykjavík. From there it just kept on rolling, and now you can get it at every restaurant (especially hamburger places) and buy it ready-made from many different food companies in the supermarket. Suddenly, everyone loves the sauce and don’t know how they lived all those years without it.
It does help that the low carb diet is very popular and that sauce is one of the few people are allowed to eat!
When Friends were the best thing since sliced bread (for many they still are, and a whole new generation are experiencing the sitcom now for the first time), the six friends sometimes ate Sushi. Icelanders had no idea what that was because Japanese cuisine had not made its way to the island. We would have to wait a few more years but in the early 2000s we finally got Sushi, and it has been extremely popular since then. There are at least three restaurants in downtown Reykjavík that are specialized sushi restaurants, Sushi Social, Sakebarinn, and the O-Sushi Train which has the traditional (and fun!) conveyer belt. Then there are Tokyo sushi and Sushibarinn just out of the center.
Icelanders have really benefited from increasing multiculturalism in Iceland for the last 20 years or so. By Ingólfstorg in the center of Reykjavík, you can find four different middle eastern restaurants and fast food places. They are all very good in their own right, but none of them have the same food as the owners all come from different countries. Two of them, Ali Baba and Mandi, are a favorite for many Icelanders after having painted the town red during weekends but it’s not only in a drunken stupor Icelanders eat the food there. Shalimar is more of a restaurant, but their Curry in a hurry lunch offer is a great way to eat there. On the other side of the street is Kebabhúsið which was the first Kebab place to open in Reykjavík and has regular kebabs on offer – as well as fish and chips, pizzas burgers and more. Other places of notice are Víking kebab in Kópavogur and Aleppo kebab in Akureyri.
You will be hard-pressed to find the typical fast-food burgers like McDonald’s and Burger King in Iceland – especially since those two chains are not to be found in the country. Metro burgers in Skeifan are the closest you can get to McDonald’s. However, there are quite a few burger places in Iceland, and all of them are really good. If you want, you could go on a burger joint crawl instead of a beer crawl in the center, but we recommend you start in Ármúli and check out LeCock burgers. Other places worth a mention are Hamborgarabúlla Tómasar (Tommi’s), Dirty Burgers and Ribs, Block Burger, and Lebowski (great if there’s a party vibe going, dead center Reykjavík). All these places are in downtown Reykjavík. And saving the best for last, you must try out The Gastro Truck (it’s in Icelandic, here’s their FB page). It’s like nothing you’ve ever tasted.