As you plan to immerse yourself in the beauty and culture of Iceland, a key part of your experience will undoubtedly be the Icelandic cuisine. To help you navigate this unique gastronomic adventure, this article will serve as a guide to Icelandic grocery stores and how to stock up on food and beverages efficiently.
Iceland, the land of fire and ice, is as distinctive in its grocery offerings as it is in its breathtaking landscapes. Stepping into an Icelandic grocery store can be an adventure in itself. From Skyr, a rich and creamy Icelandic dairy product, to dried fish snacks and an array of traditional baked goods, the local stores carry a variety of items that reflect the country’s distinct culinary identity.
Grocery stores in Iceland range from budget-friendly chains like Bónus and Krónan, to more upscale and specialized options such as Hagkaup. No matter where you decide to shop, be ready to encounter new and exciting ingredients, along with familiar staples.
The budget-conscious traveler will appreciate Bónus, recognizable by its distinctive logo featuring a pink piggy bank. Known for its competitive prices, Bónus offers a wide selection of fresh produce, local meats, and dairy products, making it an excellent place to start stocking your pantry.
Krónan is another affordable choice with a broader product range, including gluten-free and organic options. They often feature promotional deals, providing an opportunity for savvy shoppers to save even more.
Meanwhile, Hagkaup caters to shoppers seeking more specialty and international items, alongside local produce. This 24-hour store chain is slightly pricier, but the selection justifies the cost. Here, you can find everything from fresh sushi to gourmet chocolates and an extensive wine selection.
When navigating these stores, remember that the Icelandic diet traditionally relies heavily on seafood, lamb, and dairy products. To make the most of your grocery trip, here are some unique Icelandic foods to consider:
Fish and Seafood: Iceland’s cold, clean waters are abundant with a variety of fish and seafood. If you’re cooking your meals, be sure to try fresh cod, haddock, or Arctic char. Dried fish, or “hardfiskur,” served with butter, is a popular snack. It’s lightweight, high in protein, making it an excellent choice for outdoor enthusiasts on the go.
Lamb: Icelandic lamb is another local favorite. Fed on a natural diet of grass and berries, the lamb in Iceland is incredibly flavorful. A stew of lamb, root vegetables, and rich gravy, also known as “Kjötsúpa,” is a must-try.
Skyr: An Icelandic staple, Skyr is a high-protein dairy product, similar to Greek yogurt but with a milder flavor. Enjoy it with fresh berries for breakfast or as a snack.
Rúgbrauð: A type of dense, dark rye bread traditionally baked in geothermal grounds, Rúgbrauð is a unique Icelandic product. Its slightly sweet flavor pairs well with smoked salmon or pickled herring.
Brennivín*: Also known as ‘Black Death’, Brennivín is a unique Icelandic schnapps made from fermented potatoes and flavored with caraway. It’s traditionally served cold and used to wash down a bite of ‘hákarl’ (fermented shark), another Icelandic delicacy.
Icelandic Craft Beers*: The craft beer scene in Iceland has blossomed in recent years, and many Icelandic brews are available in grocery stores. The unique flavors often incorporate local ingredients like Arctic thyme or Icelandic barley.
* Note: Full strength Icelandic beer, wine and liquor is only available in government run shops such as Duty Free and Vinbuden.
While exploring these local flavors, also look out for fresh produce, including local berries during summer. Icelandic strawberries, blueberries, and crowberries are a delight. Another unusual find is Angelica, a wild herb used in various Icelandic dishes. Moreover, look for locally sourced honey, cheeses, and preserves to get a taste of Iceland’s sweet and savory delicacies.
Here are some additional tips to enhance your shopping experience:
1. Embrace the Seasonality: The variety of fresh produce available in grocery stores varies depending on the season, reflecting the country’s commitment to sustainability and local sourcing. During summer months, you’ll find an abundance of fresh berries and vegetables. However, during winter, expect more root vegetables, preserved foods, and frozen produce.
2. Stay Hydrated with Tap Water: Iceland boasts some of the cleanest and purest tap water in the world. Instead of buying bottled water, refill a reusable bottle straight from the tap. It’s not only more eco-friendly but also a delightful, crisp, and refreshing experience.
3. Understand the Alcohol Regulations: Beer, wine, and spirits aren’t sold in regular grocery stores due to local regulations. These are available at state-run stores called Vínbúðin. Plan your visit as their operating hours can be limited, especially outside of Reykjavik.
4. Bring Reusable Shopping Bags: Like many other European countries, Icelandic grocery stores encourage customers to bring their own bags. Not only is this a more sustainable option, but it also saves you a small charge for plastic bags.
5. Deciphering Labels: Labels in Iceland are usually in Icelandic. An English-Icelandic dictionary or a translation app can be a handy tool for understanding what you’re buying. However, staff are usually fluent in English and are more than willing to assist.
6. Try Before You Buy: Be on the lookout for sample stations, particularly in larger stores. It’s a great way to try local cheeses, meats, or baked goods before you buy.
Stocking up on groceries in Iceland is an adventure that allows you to dive headfirst into Icelandic cuisine, traditions, and everyday life. By embracing the local offerings and knowing where and what to shop, you can turn an ordinary task into a memorable part of your Icelandic experience. As the old Icelandic saying goes, “Það er nóg af brauði í búð” – “There is enough bread in the shop,” symbolizing the richness of life. In the context of your journey, it is a call to savor the diverse culinary culture awaiting you in the Icelandic grocery stores.