Confusing cuisine in Iceland

Gulfoss waterfall

Home to spectacular geysers and the incredible northern lights, there’s no question that Iceland is one of the world’s most beautiful countries. The Icelandic menu, however, is sometimes not quite as appealing as its natural wonders. I always say: you should try everything… at least once. I’ve had my fair share of confusing cuisine but I’ll definitely think twice before feasting on some of these. Here are some of Iceland’s most daring offerings:

Potato wine

Potato wine, or Brennivin, is Iceland’s answer to schnapps. Made from fermented potato pulp and caraway seeds, this national liquor is often referred to as ‘The Black Death’. This reputation, however, does not go unfounded. Literally translated into English as “burning wine”, Brennivin has a strong taste and high alcohol content (37.5ABV) and is often served as a chaser to drink after sampling some of Iceland’s more unusual cuisine.

Courtesy of idovermani


Hrútspungar, or to put it plainly, ram’s testicles, are an Icelandic delicacy. Served as a speciality at celebrations, the testicles are pressed and preserved in whey; a sour by-product of making fresh cheese, before boiling. If that doesn’t sound very appealing, the Hrútspungar can also be pressed and set in gelatin and once spiced with garlic they are served as a pâté, as a starter or snack.

Courtesy of Melo

Burnt sheep’s head

Another obscure delicacy is Svid, or sheep’s head. The head of the sheep is burned to get rid of the hair and any outer gristle, before being cracked open to remove the brains. It is then boiled and served whole, so that you can still see the facial features – including the eyes. The tongue and jaw section of the head are the most popular among locals. The head can also be puréed and turned into jam, affectionately named headcheese, which is used as a sandwich filler or salad topping. Click here if you really want to see what it looks like on a plate!


The puffin is used in Iceland as chicken is in Britain. Nowadays the bird is often fried, roasted or – in true Icelandic style – boiled in whey. Traditionally, however, the serving method was much different. The still warm heart would be eaten straight from the bird’s open chest, often with bread or pâté.

Courtesy of hazboy



Hákarl is a type of ice shark that is poisonous when eaten fresh. To combat this, the shark is left to putrefy (rot) for six to 12 weeks in a shallow hole, covered with sand and gravel. Stones are then placed on top of the sand in order to press the shark. This presses the fluids from the shark out of the body. After putrefying, the shark is cut and hung out to dry for a further four months before being eaten – usually as a chewy snack that is often associated with strength and hardiness.

Courtesy of moohaha

Why not sample some of these confusing dishes for yourself? Cox & Kings offer tailor-made holidays to Iceland that explore the country’s diverse natural and cultural heritage.

This post is brought to you by Cox & Kings.

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7 Responses to “Confusing cuisine in Iceland”

  1. Rachel Cotterill 28/05/2011 12:39 pm

    I’m vegetarian – I had to live off pizza and chips in Iceland! (And endless coffee)

  2. velvet 28/05/2011 11:29 am

    Nice one Mei! LOL! 🙂

  3. Ciki 28/05/2011 11:22 am

    pressed testicles.. niceeeee 😛 hahaahaha That’s what I call getting squeezed by the balls.

  4. velvet 28/05/2011 10:41 am

    Haha, I’ll try the puffin and shark. Not too sure about the sheep’s head! 🙂


  5. Nellie 27/05/2011 2:22 pm

    Interesting piece! I’m definitely trying the burnt sheeps head and puffin when I’m in Iceland this Sep. 🙂


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