Forget fermented shark. In Iceland, the humble hot dog has gone from fast food to culinary treasure. I caught up with Intrepid leader Larus Astvaldsson to find out why.
It’s impossible to capture the ethereal essence of Iceland. From rolling hills and black-sand beaches to glacial lakes and steaming springs, this Nordic nation knows no equal when it comes to nature. But despite Iceland’s bounty of natural beauty, Larus Astvaldsson – an Intrepid leader living in Reykjavik – says that there are two main things that people now travel to Iceland for. ‘The first,’ he says, ‘is the Northern Lights. And the second is hot dogs.’
Yes, hot dogs. Although the history of the Icelandic hot dog can be traced back to 1908, it wasn’t until 1986 – when Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev travelled to Iceland for the Reykjavik Summit – that it made its global debut. This proved to be a historic meeting; nuclear catastrophe was avoided, the Cold War would soon end and Iceland’s delicious dogs enjoyed their first, but by no means final, moment in the spotlight.
The next political powerhouse to shine a light on the hot dog was Bill Clinton. A 2004 visit saw the former US President dine on hot dogs three times, with his controversial order (mustard only) now immortalised by hot dog hawkers as The Clinton. Kim Kardashian (ketchup only) came through twelve years later and though there’s no such order as The Kardashian, her patronage proved that hot dogs have never been, well, hotter.
‘The thing that makes Icelandic hot dogs so special is the combination of meat that’s used,’ explains Larus. There are three meat sources: beef, lamb and pork. And though it’s rare, he thinks, to find lamb in a hot dog, it’s by no means surprising given Iceland is home to more sheep than people.
Icelanders also serve their hot dogs in a special way – Bill and Kim, take note. ‘There are two types of onions,’ says Larus. ‘Crispy and fresh. We then have three types of sauces: mustard, remoulade [similar to tartare] and ketchup, which is made with apples as well as tomato. We call this a hot dog with everything – ein með öllu – which is what I always recommend. It’s the local way.’
There are, of course, different ways to dog. ‘They’re usually served boiled, but also grilled,’ says Larus. ‘I like these original ones very much, but I also like them deep fried.’ He’s a big fan of one particular stand, on Iceland’s west coast, where hot dogs are served deep-fried with melted cheese and spices. But it’s at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, in Reykjavik, where Intrepid travellers on the new Six Days in Iceland trip can eat in the footsteps of Clinton and Kardashian.
This family-run stand, which translates as “the town’s best hot dogs”, has been serving up boiled beauties since 1937 and more than lives up to its name. It’s open late throughout the week, though on Friday and Saturday you can get your fix until six in the morning.
‘It’s in the heart of the city, so people go there during work or after partying,’ Larus explains. He mentions his brother-in-law, who will take his wife out to dinner at one of Reykjavik’s finest restaurants then stop by the hot dog stand for a final snack before bed. ‘They’re not the healthiest food,’ Larus admits, ‘but they are very, very good.’
For Larus, however, the Icelandic hot dog is more than a cheap, satisfying snack to be wolfed down on lunch break or after a few drinks. ‘When I’ve travelled many days overseas and come back home, the first thing I like to have is a hot dog,’ he says. ‘It’s a really pleasant welcome treat.’ And the best time to enjoy them? ‘Rain, hail or shine,’ he laughs.