Searching for franks in Reykjavik.
Iceland isn't exactly known for its cuisine. A low crime rate? Sure. Elves? Okay. Volcanoes, waterfalls, and other natural wonders? Most definitely. But Tuscany it’s not. In fact, the national dish of Iceland is something called Hákarl, fermented shark that smells akin to ammonia. Let’s just say it’s an acquired taste.
But despite its less-than-palatable traditional eats, Iceland is also home to a food trend this red- (white and blue-) blooded American can get behind: the hot dog.
A cheap meal (typically $3-4 USD) in a country known for its pricey dining options, the hot dog is surprisingly ubiquitous, found in bus stations and convenience stores throughout the country.
Now, as an unabashed hot dog lover, naturally I read up on craze before I headed across the Atlantic earlier this February. All of my research pointed straight to a small stand in central Reykjavik, just off the water. So, after a morning full of sightseeing and souvenir shopping, my husband and I made our way to the nearly 80-year-old Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. Literally translated? “The Best Hot Dogs in Town.” And if the constant queue outside the kiosk is any indication, the name isn’t an overstatement.
Despite the fanfare, just two menu items entice tourists and locals alike to wait and dine in the cold: pylsa (hot dog) and gos (soda). We went all in and ordered our dogs eina með öllu (with everything), slathered in ketchup, sweet mustard, raw onions, fried onions, and remolaði, a mayonnaise-based sauce with sweet relish. On the side? An oh-so-familiar Diet Coke. The woman working that Thursday morning was affable, but she certainly knew how to keep the line moving. And while we were prepared with cash in hand, we were pleasantly surprised that cards were accepted as well.
I highly recommend getting your franks with the works—seriously, why don’t hot dogs in America come with fried onions on top?— but if you’re looking to customize, speak quickly and point to the condiments you want. Or, ask for “The Clinton,” a dog with mustard, just like the former president ordered it on his visit in 2004.
Slightly different from the Kosher-beef eats served in ballparks across the U.S. of A., Iceland’s version of the wiener is lamb-based and has a casing to it that snaps when you take that first bite. The condiments come together in a more saccharine mouthful than I was used to, and the New Yorker in me couldn’t help but miss that sharp yellow mustard taste, but that didn’t stop me from ordering another. And housing them both, gloves on, in the snow. A taste of home in an otherwise otherworldy winter escape.