History of Icelandic Cuisine

The roots of Icelandic cuisine can be found in the very oldest cooking traditions of Scandinavian cuisine, tracing its origins back to the Vikings and the first settlers of Iceland. Products made from the various Icelandic animals dominate Icelandic cuisine today as they have for centuries. Fresh lamb meat for example remains extremely popular in Icelandic cuisine. Popular taste has developed to become closer to the European norm with American influences with regards to fast food such as pizza and hamburgers. With innovations in geothermal heating and the harnessing of thermal energy consumption of Icelandic vegetables has greatly increased in recent decades while, sadly, consumption of fish has diminished.

Several events in the History of Iceland were of special significance for its cuisine. With the Christianization of Iceland in the year 1000 came the tradition of fasting through Lent, this increased the importance of fish as a source of protein and lead to the development of some fish dishes as well as the increased effort to preserve fish through the method of drying it. At the time of the acceptance of christianity in Iceland an exception was made to the overall ban on horse meat consumption which has throughout the christian world been considered a heathen practice. The ban was later put in place but did not have much effect on Icelandic cuisine as Icelandic people chose to ignore it and continue to eat horse meat to this day.

The event which probably had the greatest impact on farming, and hence, Icelandic food and Icelandic cuisine, was the onset of the so called little Ice Age in the 14th century. A cooler climate changed Icelands fields and limited farming options, farmers were no longer able to grow barley and had to rely on imports for any kind of cereal.

Important ingredients in Icelandic cuisine remain those produced by the farmers and fishermen of Iceland. Icelandic lamb, dairy products from free range cows, and fish caught off the coast of Iceland.

Modern Icelandic chefs usually place an emphasis on the high quality of the available ingredients rather than age-old cooking traditions and methods. Hence, there are a number of restaurants in Reykjavik and other places in Iceland that specialise in different types of cooking using Icelandic lamb and Icelandic seafood.

Icelandic cuisine has found a home in it’s capital Reykjavik, where the annual “Food and fun” chef’s competition has been held since 2004. The competition challenges its contestants to create innovative dishes with fresh ingredients produced in Iceland. Points of pride are the quality of the lamb meat, seafood and (more recently) skyr.

Other local ingredients that form part of the Icelandic chefs store include the seabirds, and waterfowl, including the eggs of said birds, the Icelandic salmon and trout as well as the many wonderful wild ingredients such as crowberry, blueberry, rhubarb, Icelandic moss, wild mushrooms, thyme, lovage, angelica and dried seaweed, not to mention the dairy products such as the cheeses, creams and skyr.