Rye Flatbread is a traditional Icelandic food and definitely one of the top ten foods to try in Iceland. Every time I ask Valur if he needs anything from the store the answer is always flatbread. He really loves it and actually, so do I and our three year old. It‘s a part of our everyday diet. We have it with butter and cheese or butter and smoked lamb. I had it once with both and that really got Valur going. Cheese and smoked lamb together – how could I! Well honestly, that and so much more is excellent on flatbread. Restaurants are starting to appreciate it in greater numbers, offering it with various salads, smoked salmon and more.
In our Reykjavik Food Tour, we stop by Reykjavik Flea Market: the Kolaportið, if the tour is on during the weekend (As the flea market is only open from 11 am to 5 pm on Saturday’s and Sunday’s). You can read our blog about the Kolaportið here. There we have rye flatbread with butter and smoked lamb and you can also buy some in the food stalls, as well as many other traditional Icelandic delicacies.
Rye Flatbread is the poor man‘s bread. It is a thin rounded bread traditionally made only with rye and water. Sometimes barley or moss instead of rye. Rye has little gluten and lacks lifting qualities making the bread only about 2 millimeters thick, which explains the name flatbread. Prior to modern cooking methods, the bread was baked in a pot or directly on a stove. The bread is round shaped and is normally cut in half or four pieces. Today other ingredients have been added such as flour, salt, and even sugar.
The Icelandic Rye Flatbread goes back centuries – even back to the settlement of Iceland in 874 AD. The Icelandic climate is not favorable to growing corn so the bread was not a big part of the Icelandic diet. People had butter on dried fish, not bread (and we still do sometimes!). But Rye can be grown in cold climates. That is why flatbread was so common and has very strong roots in our culture. For example, it plays a big part in the Thorrablót, the Icelandic mid-winter festivals. The festivals are held across the country throughout the month of Thorri, which begins on Husband’s Day in January and ends on Woman’s Day in February.
If you like to try it just pop into the next grocery shop. With a bit of luck, you can find it in some cafes and restaurants. Or simply join our Reykjavik Food Tour!