The Icelandic Hot Dog is an icon, a bunned sausage that transcends what we would normally expect from a midday snack into a delicacy that is as beloved by visitors as it the locals whom routinely chow them down.
Despite having lived here for near three years, I had never gotten around to grabbing this “national dish”, or at least not from the island’s most recognisable vendor, Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. That is until Guide to Iceland Now sent me on a culinary crusade that would forever solidify my extremely important opinions on how best to eat a sausage in a bun. Indulge me, please.
Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur translates to “The Best Hot Dog in Town”, and while some might argue the accuracy of that claim, it is, without doubt, the city’s most recognised vendor.
The oldest stand and flagship of the brand can be found Tryggvagata, only a minute’s walk from one of the city’s main thoroughfares, Lækjargata. It has been in this same location since the 1960s, though the company has been selling hot dogs from as a far back as 1937. Given how quickly shops and restaurants come and go in Reykjavík today, this longevity is no doubt a testament to just how much people enjoy their sausages.
After all, this is the hot dog stand that has been paid a visit from such big names as Beyonce and Jay Z, US President Bill Clinton, professional mess Charlie Sheen, and Metallica’s James Hetfield. So let’s face facts, if it’s good enough for celebrities and statesmen, then it is good enough for you.
You’d be a fool—and a hungry fool, at that—to skip it.
Hence, Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur is an institution in Reykjavík, as worthy of a visit as Hallgrímskirkja Church, Perlan Museum or Harpa Concert Hall. For 450 ISK, you can get a taste of Iceland that lasts… and last it will, given the mighty, lamb-y aftertaste that reminds you of your dietary habits throughout the coming day.
Despite being a cultural leftover from the American occupation in the Second World War, Icelanders have made the hot dog their own, adding a variety of ingredients and condiments that make it unique amongst the plethora of sandwiched sausages found worldwide. Icelandic hot dogs contain lamb meat, with added pork and beef, thus leaving no one from the farmyard out of the loop.
See Also: The Reykjavík Food Walk
The Icelandic phrase for “one with everything” is “eina með öllu” (though English will no doubt suffice, given the near-constant flurry of tourists that queue at its window).
And just what is everything, you ask? Well, it is a hot dog served in a fluffy bun with two types of onion; crispy fried and raw. It also contains ketchup, sweet, brown mustard and remoulade, a mayonnaise-sauce with added relish and herbs.
With your sausage smothered with such delights, buried beneath an avalanche of potent flavours, you’ll find yourself with more of an open face sandwich than a hot dog, one that drips its deliciousness down your hand the moment you squeeze and take a bite.
It was late at night when I decided to pay this unassuming red and white stand a visit. During the day, a queue of tourists wanting to try this delicious treat is routinely found in front of the stand. At night, you can often see a line of people looking for a late night snack after a night out in the nearby pubs and clubs.
However, the streets were all but empty on this night, and so when I arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to find I was the only one that at that time with a hot dog on the mind.
Early on, I had made the decision to go the full hog—my description of purchasing both a hot dog and coca cola. Yes, there would be no expenses spared this night.
Taking the first bite, a flurry of flavours burst out in my mouth. The meat was salty and rich but with a subtle hint of sweetness, and the hot dog itself gave a little snap as you bit into it. The bun had been heated up in steam for a few seconds, making it both soft and light.
Then there were the sauces which combined created a rainbow of flavours. The ketchup brought the slightly tangy taste to this concoction, the sharp tang of pickled had been dulcified in the creamy mayonnaise that made up the remoulade sauce, and the mustard gave it a sweet flavour with an aroma of spices I didn’t recognise
Finally, I got to the onions. Not only did the combination of juicy, raw onion and crispy, fried onions give the hot dog a slightly sharp aftertaste, but also a crunchy texture which blended well with the ‘snapping’ meat and soft bun.
(Recommendation: Order two hot dogs, you’re going to want a second one)
Okay, they’re not pretty to look at, but if you want to snapshot your food for Instagram, then pay for a photographic excursion to one of the gourmet restaurants in the city. This, however, is pure gastronomy, pure stomach filler, pure guilty indulgence. No one is going to find you alluring or romantic pushing a sauced-up sausage into your mouth, but they will be jealous of the freedom and courage that comes with your culinary choices.
Be strong, be sensible and be savvy, for there’s a hot dog in Iceland with your name on it.
Have you tried the delicious Icelandic hot dogs at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur? Did you have one with everything, or spice it up with a customised flavour? Make sure to leave your thoughts and queries in the Facebook comments box below, and tell us just what other foods you’d like reviewed on Guide to Iceland Now.