Going to a supermarket in a foreign country is always a fun little insight into a national psyche. There are usually some familiar international products along with a host of national products ranging from the merely unfamiliar to the downright crazy looking. The only problem is – most of the time you don’t know what you’re buying. A friend of mine once tried to buy butter in Greece and ended up with a block of yeast! In order to save you from spending your money on endless packages of yeast, here are some delicious Icelandic snacks you should get from the supermarket, perfect for a packed lunch or a picnic!
Skyr is a delicious dairy treat, unique to Iceland. Not only is it delicious, it also happens to be virtually fat-free and full of protein! It looks similar to Greek yoghurt but is actually produced like a cheese. It’s also a little bit thicker than yoghurt and the unflavoured version tastes tangier than unflavoured yoghurt. Skyr is available in just about every flavour you can imagine, from coconut to lemon cake! The unsweetened version is delicious with berries, a little sugar and cream (which negates most of the health effects but tastes delicious!) but is also increasingly used in savoury cooking as well.
Matarkex is the oldest biscuit still in production in Iceland and, along with its sister Mjólkurkex, probably the most popular. It’s a pretty basic biscuit, a mildly sweet biscuit of white flour that breaks with a snap, but its beauty lies in its versatility. This kex (the word is borrowed from English – cakes!) can be eaten as is, dunked in milk or hot coffee, or even eaten buttered with a slice of cheese. If you’re wondering what the difference is between Mjólkurkex and Matarkex, there isn’t one. They’re exactly the same biscuit aside from the shape and the packaging.
This orange soda is another classic, produced in Iceland since 1955. It’s sweet, very orange-coloured and for some reason, has even more fizz than other sodas. It’s a refreshing drink all on its own (perfect with a hot dog with everything) but during Christmas, it becomes one-half of the most celebrated duo of the Christmas meal – Malt & Appelsín. Malt is another soda with a long history, first produced in 1913 as a health elixir! Together, they make Christmas ale, the non-alcoholic drink served with almost every Christmas dinner in Iceland!
Flatkökur & Hangikjöt
Flatkökur are unleavened rye flatbreads, easily recognised by the charred black spots. It’s a traditional Icelandic recipe and the cakes used to be cooked on an open fire. The cakes are usually spread with butter and can be topped with anything from pâté to smoked salmon. The number one most popular topping in Iceland, however, is thinly sliced smoked lamb. You can get it in every store in Iceland in the sandwich meat department and the delicate smoky flavour works like a dream on the savoury rye cakes.
Before refrigerators, Icelanders had plenty of imaginative ways to preserve the food they produced. Today, some of them sound less than appetising (pickled whale fat, anyone?) but others still hold their ground. Harðfiskur is dried and slightly salted fish. Not only does drying fish preserve it, it also produces a snack that’s very nearly pure protein and also happens to be delicious, especially eaten with a pat of butter. Although the smell might indicate otherwise, the flavour is very mild, slightly salty and completely addictive, try it! Just don’t forget the butter, it really makes all the difference.
I can actually hear all the American readers turning up their noses at this, but hear me out! Black liquorice might be an acquired taste but the sharp, salty-sweet flavour pairs perfectly with a creamy chocolate cover. You can find several different incarnations of this in Iceland so beginners can start out with mildly liquorice-y chewy caramels Bingókúlur or þristur, a chocolate-covered fudge bar with liquorice bits suspended in the filling. Advanced liquorice eaters can go straight for the sharper Kúlusúkk or its inverse, Tvistur!