Home Food & Beverage Visiting Iceland? Leave The Whale, Horse & Puffin To The Other Tourists

Visiting Iceland? Leave The Whale, Horse & Puffin To The Other Tourists

by joeheg

When we travel outside of the US, we like to eat some of the local specialties. However, we’ve learned that some of the dishes served to tourists aren’t things the locals eat. Instead, they are dishes that tourists like to try to think they’re being adventurous.

No clearer example of this did we discover when visiting Iceland in 2021. After getting to our hotel in Reykjavik and taking a nap, we walked around the city.

Our first stop was to check out one of the Icelandic hot dogs. While this may be touristy, it’s definitely a place where the locals stop after having a few drinks at the bar.

However, it didn’t take us long to come across advertisements for “touristy” restaurants offering a taste of “local delicacies.”

The four dishes of the “Icelandic Platter” are:

  • Smoked Puffin
  • Minke Whale
  • Arctic Char
  • Horse “Carpaccio”

Of these four proteins, the only one we found served throughout Iceland was the Arctic Char, which, by the way, is a fantastic fish.

As for the puffin, whale and horse, they’re just for the tourists. I found a post that describes these dishes served to visitors.

However, I think the locals are delighting in some of these rumors. They love pawning off ‘delicacies’ to visitors, ensuring them that yes of course, they all eat fermented shark (news flash: they don’t). So I’m here to clear up some of the things you may have heard about certain Icelandic foods that are mostly a myth, and what dishes you really should try when you next visit this beautiful country.

First of all, if you’ve ever seen a puffin, how could you eat one?

OK, I’ve seen cows, lambs and ducks and I eat them all. I’m not saying my judgments make any sense and if I was starving and this was the only bird available, I’d totally eat it.

But if you’re looking to eat the same foods as the Icelandic people, stay away from the tourist traps.

By all means, look for the Icelandic lamb. It’s phenomenal. Sharon ordered it at a restaurant in Höfn and it was as good as you’d imagine.

Also, order the Arctic Char when you can. Sharon ordered it at Messinn and it was amazing.

On our second trip there, I ordered the Icelandic Plokkfishur. A literal translation is “pulled fish,” but it’s a form of Icelandic fish stew. This is way more of a classic Icelandic food than any of those other options.

Final thoughts

No matter where you’re visiting, places will tend to serve what they think you’ll want instead of what the locals eat. It’s the reason we ask hotel concierges “The Question” instead of asking where’s a good place to eat.

If you ask me, we managed to eat more Icelandic food on our trip than we would have if we stuck to places serving an “Icelandic Platter.”

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Andy March 25, 2022 - 11:19 am

You can’t eat a puffin, but you have no problem eating a baby lamb that was taken away from its mother?

joeheg March 25, 2022 - 8:12 pm

I have no explanation for the judgments my mind makes about things I’m willing to eat.

Audrey March 26, 2022 - 9:52 am

Also, eating puffin which is a listed vulnerable species, and whale which is illegal to hunt and only hunted in Iceland and Japan in violation of an international whaling ban, to satisfy tourists, just not worth it. So much better food in Iceland, I know, I live there.

Peter March 29, 2022 - 3:17 pm

Well we don’t exactly overhunt whale or puffins, they are pretty well protected from my understanding.

Hanna March 28, 2022 - 10:07 am

Hmm, as an Icelander I’d just like to say that my family and I have been eating all those things as long as I remember and it’s not weird or “touristy”. We’re just more likely to cook them at home rather than eating them out cause they’re considered more everyday foods rather than delicacies or something you’d order in a restaurant. Just saying.

Bex March 29, 2022 - 10:12 am

This is under researched horse poo. Most folks eat horse! And reindeer! They aren’t there just to be cute petting zoo animals. I spent four summers guiding trips in Iceland and eating in the homes of locals and still love to go back to visit. Puffin is less seen, but is eaten and while the practice of netting the puffins off the cliffs is much lower than before it is still a traditional way of hunting the bird.

Did you step foot outside of Reykjavik? How long was your trip? Tired of click bait travel writers that google “too ten Iceland” buy a book, get out of the city and talk to locals. The Icelandic people are some of the kindest and most generous in the world and will often share their kitchen and their home after five minutes of meeting.

joeheg March 29, 2022 - 10:20 pm

Yes, we left Reykjavik. Drove as far as Vik on the southern coast on our 8-day trip. Stayed at guesthouses where the hosts cooked dinner for us each evening. Several other parts of our trip are chronicled on the blog. Thank you for your comment about the local eating habits. Since we didn’t see this on the menu outside of Reykjavik, we thought it was just a ploy for the tourists.

Camille Anderson March 29, 2022 - 2:19 pm

Nothing was touristy with the whale, puffin, horse and shark. The locals all eat it. Been to Iceland twice and we’ve tried everything and loved it all. Adventure or not!

Bill March 31, 2022 - 8:55 pm

“Nothing touristy”, “I’ve been there twice”…Can’t make this stuff up

Mitch July 21, 2022 - 6:01 pm

Touristy or not it is certainly what Icelanders ate before Reykjavik was overrun by burger, pizza, and taco joints. Why eat all the stuff that you can get at home at double the price? Puffin hunting is well regulated in Iceland. Also, Minke whales are the most common whale and not endangered (but very high in mercury). I am sure there are places in Iceland where people still eat such things just as there are Americans who hunt deer and eat venison.


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