REYKJAVIK, Iceland- “Now we ate a hot dog in the same place that Big Bill did,” an American tourist proclaimed with tongue in cheek pride as he finished off a dog at a little stand near Reykjavik’s sea port. Apparently, Bill Clinton once came to Iceland and ate a hot dog from the same stall, called Bæjarins beztu pylsur — The Best Hot Dog in Town. Repeating this culinary feat is now one of the prime tourist attractions of the city.
This may seem strange — why would the president of the USA eat something so lowly as a hot dog when visiting Iceland?
Because the hot dog is Iceland’s national food.
Well, this may not be true, but it may as well be. Hot dogs, called pylsur, are all over Iceland, and like going to the swimming pool, driving laps in a car aimlessly around and around a town, and drinking hard on Friday and Saturday nights, eating them habitually seems to be some sort of national obsession.
On my bicycle travels through the country I would often go for days on end without an option for prepared food that extended very far beyond hot dogs. I ate them for lunch, dinner, and, on one fateful morning, I rode up to a quicky mart and asked if they sell hot dogs for breakfast:
I must have eaten a hundred hot dogs throughout my five weeks in the country, and I must admit that they became an addiction of sorts. I never before dreamed of having cravings for hot dogs — a food that is viewed as being incredibly base and banal in most of the world — but as I moved through Iceland my mouth would water a couple times a day for this food. I was in culinary heaven, as hot dog stands are everywhere in Iceland where there is a congregation of over 10 people. I think this is mandated by law.
The Icelandic weiner is different than the average weiner though, as hot dogs in Iceland are not made out of beef — I did not see a single cow in the entire country — but are made with either lamb, pork, and, very possibly, horse meat. To order hot dog “Icelandic style” you need to get it with rémoulade sauce, fried crisp onions, raw chopped onions, ketchup, and mustard — which sets a solitary hot dog upon a sea of condiments. It is excellent, an entire meal in and of itself, a virtual meat soup in a bun.
When I’m asked what people eat in the places I travel to, I often don’t know what to say. There are specialty foods that are sold as the “local cuisine” in tourist restaurants, then there are the foods that the people really eat, and then there are the foods that I eat (which is super cheap and simple). But when talking about the cuisine of Iceland there is no conflict in my story:
The Icelandic people eat hot dogs, the tourists eat hot dogs, visiting presidents eat hot dogs, everybody in Iceland eats hot dogs.