Thursday 22 February 2024

How to Be Vegan in Iceland: Accidentally Vegan Icelandic Dishes and More!

vegan in iceland

I entered Iceland pre-covid and pre being an actual vegan - I unfortunately ended up being just vegetarian in Iceland (which is not 1/2 vegan or almost vegan, vegetarian =/= vegan at all). This was mostly due to p!ss-poor planning on my part, but, to be fair to myself it really was harder to be vegan in Iceland back in 2016 than it was to be vegan in say pork and sour cream lovin' Hungary, adobo and lechon baboy Philippines or even mozzarella and bolognese lovin' Italy. I visited all four countries that year and Iceland was by far the hardest. First I'll tell you why and then I'll tell you how to (easily) be vegan in Iceland! :D

vegan food iceland

How to Be Vegan in Iceland

So whaling is on the way out (hopefully). Let's get to it - how can you be vegan and live deliciously in Iceland? Luckily, you don't go to Iceland for the cuisine, you go for sites like this:

vegan travel iceland

and this:

iceland vegan

and although here at VeganVsTravel we strive to give you authentic traditional foods that are accidentally vegan and believe that you almost always can find yummy treats wherever you go, Iceland might be one of the exceptions. So my first piece of advice: go for the sites with the number of things to do in Iceland, not for the food. You can and will find food that fuels you (see below) even if it is nothing to write home about.

#1. Make your own vegan food in Iceland whilst on the road

Whilst the prices are still high compared to most countries, shopping in supermarkets in Iceland is still cheaper than eating in restaurants in Iceland. Plus there's the added bonus that you will know exactly what is going in your food! So my second recommendation for being vegan in Iceland is to make your own food - sandwiches, pasta, rice, porridge, whatever you'd eat at home. Now making your own food isn't really a possibility in a hotel, but I have an idea that will not only allow you to make your own food, it will also give you free reign on where you go and where you sleep! I'm talking of course about renting a camper! Renting a car in Reykjavik with allows you the flexibility to explore Iceland while preparing your own vegan meals.

Stock up on food in Reykjavik and camp your way around this beautiful, peaceful country. Here are so ideas on what to stock up on: some traditional, local and seasonal Icelandic plants (fruit & veg). There are quite a few crops grown outdoors in Iceland traditionally + Iceland also utilizes geothermal energy to grow produce indoors - yes, bananas (!) too, although the urban myth that Iceland is the no. 1. European banana-exporter is... well, an urban myth :)

  • Traditional icelandic vegetables and outdoor crops: carrots, rhubarb, rutabaga (also called swedes / swedish turnip / yellow turnip), cabbage, leeks, potatoes, cauliflower and kale, beets
  • Traditional icelandic seasonal berries: strawberries, bilberries, redcurrants, crowberries, and brambleberries
  • Some popular Icelandic greenhouse plants: tomatoes, cucumber, bell peppers, cabbage and strawberries

Now let's move on to what traditional Icelandic dished you might be able to (veganize easily and) cook (either in a tent, or more realistically, a kitchen :)

#2. Accidentally vegan dishes in Iceland

When it comes to accidentally vegan Icelandic dishes - you've got yourself a real head-scracther! Traditional icelandic cuisine tends to focus on lamb, seafood and of course, dairy, dairy, dairy... not so much on whale meat anymore so much (phew - you can read more on that above). We have collected some traditional Icelandic recipes that happen to be vegan (wow) or can be easily veganized!

  • Icelandic winter vegetable soup with oats: leeks, po-tay-toes (a la Samwise Gamgee), kale, mushrooms, kauliflower, kale and oats, yumm... traditional and vegan, you can find a recipe here;
  • Pickled beets (Rauðkál): yepp, it can be done without whey;
  • Whole roasted cauliflower: fug yes, with sherry vinegar;
  • Red beet salad (Rauðrófusalat): the aforementioned pickled beets combined with apple, lemon juice, etc. (skip the cream or opt for a plant-based version);
  • Icelandic rhubarb pie: vegan butter + non-dairy milk, you can read how to make it here;
  • Icelandic spiced red cabbage: without butter and lambchops obvs....
  • Boiled and stewed rutabagas (Soðnar rófur og rófustappa): kinda like mashed potatoes, skip the butter and nomnomnom;
  • Rutabaga pie / cake: can easily use nut-based milk or non-diary yoghurt and voila;
  • Icelandic leaf bread (Laufabrauð): Xmas food, looks fancy, made with cornstarch, replace the buttermilk, done done done;
  • Rye bread (Rúgbrauð): traditionally they took baked it in a pot that was buried in next to a hot spring, similar to the German pumpernickel bread, easily veganized (drumroll... replace the buttermilk).

So that's it for accidentally vegan or easily veganized Icelandic dishes... let's have a look at vegan restaurants in Iceland, especially Reykjavik (okay, only Reykjavik, read on to see why).

#3. Vegan restaurants in Iceland

I left this part to the end for two reasons: 1) there are only vegan restaurants in Reykjavik, and none in the rest of Iceland and 2) restaurants in Iceland are expensive! Still, let's explore the options! Firstly, when we look on Happy Cow (an international website that let's you explore vegan restaurant options anywhere), we see that things look good:

iceland vegan restaurants

There seems to be vegan restaurants all over Iceland, but actually almost all of these are either vegetarian or serve veg-options, still it's highly advisable to visit these over any other restaurants, chances are they will have not only heard of veganism (rare) but will also have vegan options! Now let's look at Reykjavik:

vegan restaurant reykjavik

As you can see there are currently five vegan restaurants in Reykjavik which is awesome! Unfortunately, none of them serve traditional Icelandic food: Spes Kitchen serves Mexican Asian fusion, Loving Hut has a mixture of Western and Asian dishes, Jomm does fast food and Mama is arguably the healthiest with its salads, hummus plates and soups:

vegan reykjavik

Why Is It Hard to Be Vegan in Iceland

To be honest I think it's hard to be anything in Iceland because everything is so expensive - case in point an (unfortunately vegetarian) sandwich from a cr@ppy petrol station cost $20 (whut). But it makes sense, Iceland being smack bang in the north of the North Atlantic means that importing anything costs a lot because, by definition, it has to come a long way. But prices swept aside like yo some member of the royal family (cause let's face it, for most of us a trip to Iceland includes a lot of saving up before hand and extortionate prices are part of the package), it's still hard to be vegan :(

Iceland and Its Whaling History

The three main whaling countries on this planet are Japan, Norway and - well, it at least used to be - Iceland. After fourteen years of no whaling, Icelandic companies had started whaling again in 2003, killing 1505 whales in total since then :( Fortunately, based on recent news from the two dominant whaling firms in the country, the country might stop whaling once again. The main reason would be: Icelandic people seem to be more and more into watching whales rather than eating them. According to a 2018 survey by the IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare), only 1% of all Icelandic citizens had whale meat on a regular basis and 84% said that they have never had any in their lives. The number of whale watching trips, on the other hand, have grown by 15-34% year by year between 2012 and 2016.

Wrap Up: How to Be Vegan in Iceland

All in all, whilst Iceland might not knock your socks off cuisine-wise, things are looking up - whaling is out, vegan restaurants are in Reykjavik, and you can serve yourself food whilst camping the rest of the time - if you've gone and have any tips, please let us know below :) Thank you for reading + here's a video we made about why we think Iceland is worth visiting - enjoy :)

P.S.: If you're interested in an app designed for vegans & wanna support the vegan movement and us, veganvstravel as well, use this link plz to download Abillionveg. When registering, please use our referral code: TRAVELLINGWEASELS. If you wanna know why we think this is a great app, read here.

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