Top 6 Icelandic Desserts

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Blue ice cream in Iceland
Blue ice cream

It was hard to choose the most Icelandic desserts. There were a lot of contenders. We are pretty certain that some people will disagree with us, but if you have any suggestions for some additions to this list, we would love to hear them! For now, here are ours, along with some suggestions as to where to go and find them around town.

6 Kleina

Eaten in Iceland for over 2 centuries, there are slight variations found in all Nordic countries. Kleina are slightly sweetened fried dough rolls that are often eaten with coffee. The dough is cut into special trapezoidal shapes with a special tool called a kleinujárn. The kleina is traditionally fried in tallow (a rendered form of beef or mutton fat) or in horse fat. They don’t make them that anymore though, with most opting for vegetable oil.

Kleinur, an Icelandic desert speciality

5 Hjónabandsæla

Icelandic for "wedded bliss", this is a bakery treat that marries (see what we did there?) a buttery pastry with a blueberry paste, ticker than jam. They go very well together, hence the name. The pastry is laid in strips, which give the pastry a particular baked lattice. It's not too sweet, and is very nice with coffee, like Kleina (see above). Sometimes, it takes the form of a pie, but very often it is consumed as individual tart-like treats.

Wedded Bliss, an Icelandic desert speciality

4 Aðalbláber og Rjómi

In summer, Iceland erupts into a sea of blueberries, particularly in the West Fjords, where the best are found. It’s the definition of abundance. It is very nice to pick blueberries in summer in Iceland, a highly recommended experience. 

The Icelanders know how to put them to good use; pies, muffins, in pancakes, but sometimes simple is best. Here, the blueberries are presented with a sprinkling of sugar, and cream only. It’s like the Icelandic version of the English strawberries and cream, synonymous with tennis at the All England Club. Sometimes, it is served with Skyr. What is Skyr? It's like yogurt, much thicker than cream.

Blueberries and cream, an Icelandic desert speciality

3 Nammi

Its difficult to express just how important “nammi” is in Iceland. What is “nammi”? Pick n’ mix. Yes, pick n' mix. Icelanders are truly in love with pick n’ mix. The standard day for this is Saturday, otherwise known as “nammidagur” or “nammi day”. On the day, there is an across-the-board discount of 50% on all pick'n'mix at Hagkaup, a popular retailer.  Dentists recommend that you have your nammi once a week, and brush your teeth immediately afterward. The pick'n'mix bags even have toothpaste logos on them promoting the brushing of teeth!

Candy bar in Iceland

2 Ís (Ice cream)

Even more difficult than nammi, It's difficult to express just how much Iceland loves ice cream, it’s truly a national obsession. Honestly, if you come to Iceland and don’t have any ice cream, it’s safe to say that you don’t understand Iceland.

There are two ends to the ice cream spectrum. One of the kinds of ice cream is very similar to what you find in Dairy Queen in the US, or the British will be familiar with the 99 Flake. Soft dairy ice cream from a pump, almost always vanilla. It comes in the "old" style, or "gamla ís" or the "new" style, or "nýi ís" Pumped in large quantities, it is not uncommon to see entire families leave with one liter-sized tub each. Interested in going to get some for yourself? Go to Ísbúð Vesturbær.

The other end of the ice cream spectrum is the gourmet sort, akin to Italian gelato. Artfully made, interesting flavors, and delicious in every sense. Try Valdís for probably the best ice cream in Reykjavík. Get it in a cup, get it in a cone. The cones are worth it, they are handmade on-site!

If you are out in the country, and not in Reykjavík, almost every Icelandic town has an ice cream store, many times found in the gas station. So start there, or just ask somebody. You can almost always get your fix.

Which is better? We could never say definitively, it very much depends on your mood. Try both and report back to us!

Valdís röð

1 Nammi+Ís

Taking the top spot is the holy union of pick n' mix BLENDED with ice cream. It’s what Icelanders call a "flavor fox" or "bragðarefur". Here, they take a large quantity of soft ice cream, and from a large quantity of 20 or so toppings or 5 sauces, you choose 3; sometimes it is a very difficult choice. Then, they put it all together, and they mix it up furiously. You are handed the result thereof. It must be experienced.

Wondering what to do with your ice cream? Go back to your car and, with the car running, sit in it and eat your ice cream.

Congratulations, you have just done the most Icelandic thing you could almost possibly do!

Bragðarefur, ice cream mixed with candy

About the Author

Joseph Mattos-Hall

Joseph Mattos-Hall

Hailing from London and born into a British/Brazilian/Italian household, Joseph came to Iceland originally to complete a master’s degree in Environment and Natural Resources from the University of Iceland: the rest is history.

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