When planning our trip to Iceland we made a point of asking friends and family who’d been for advice and suggestions on where to go and what to see. Oddly enough, everyone had a different favorite spot or food they raved about. Some loved the giant Geysir (geyser), while others couldn’t stop talking about the chance to snap their own iconic images of the floating icebergs in Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon (it was pretty amazing). And with regards to Icelandic food, it was all about the fish, the lobster and the lamb. It was clear early on that there’s a lot to love about Iceland and no matter what your interests, there’s something there for everyone.
In the flurry of recommendations we received I did find one constant—the amazing hotdog in the harbor of downtown Reykjavik.
“If there’s one thing you do in Reykjavik, get the hotdog!” a friend said. “It’s the best hotdog I’ve ever had,” said another.
I don’t know if it’s the best word of mouth marketing or what, but not a single person forgot to tell us about the best hotdog they’ve ever had and how there’s a specific little hotdog booth along the waterfront in Reykjavik where we had to get one.
Nobody can tell you the name of the hotdog stand, because it’s Icelandic, and pronouncing it would first require a crash course in Klingon, but here’s the name in case you want to show it to a local: Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. It’s at the intersection of Tryggvatagata and Lækjargata Streets…trying saying either of those five times fast.
Most people will tell you the food in Iceland is just okay. Anthony Bourdain’s episode of No Reservations for the Travel Channel seemed to portray Icelandic cuisine as fermented shark testicles, whale tartar and puffin—none of which looked particularly appetizing. But somehow the best hotdog in Reykjavik was popping up on everyone’s radar, and I had to try it for myself.
Now I don’t know about you, but hotdogs were never a big thing in our home growing up. The fact that they often contain pork or “mystery meat” probably had something to do with it, but even the kosher all-beef hotdogs from Hebrew National made a rare appearance at our family BBQs and summer soirees. We ate them, sure, but they were backup in case we ran out of hamburgers and grilled chicken.
My father had season tickets to the Padres at Jack Murphy Stadium, but we never got hotdogs at the baseball games—or cotton candy for that matter. Instead we always stopped at the Del Cerro deli for turkey sandwiches in pita pockets that he had us kids smuggle past security because he didn’t want to buy food inside the park.
“It’s way overpriced!” he used to say, which is the same reason he doesn’t order diet cokes in restaurants, or buy popcorn at the movies.
I remember briefly getting into “gourmet” hotdogs when I was 12 when my stepmother took me on a family roadshow through Chicago. In addition to introducing me to her thousands of cousins (first, second, three times removed, etc), she also got me hooked on Chicago cuisine, namely the quintessential Vienna beef hotdog covered in peppers, pickles, tomatoes, onions and spicy mustard. But even then, we were both more inclined to scarf down a deep-dish pizza or an Italian beef sandwich dunked in jus than a hotdog.
Thanks to Costco (which was Price Club when we first started going there) there was a two-year period in high school where I ate 2-3 bagel dogs a day. This is probably what caused my growth spurt to taper off prematurely, but we’ll never really know. My father bought bagel dogs by the case, and kept the freezer stocked, because they took 2 minutes to nook in the microwave and we could serve ourselves dinner by dousing them in ketchup—which I think he considered to be a vegetable; making a bagel dog with ketchup a well-balanced meal. But that’s as close to America’s columnar cultural icon obsession as I got.
Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur Icelandic Hotdogs
Which brings me to the hotdogs of Iceland. From the moment we touched down in Reykjavik, I was asking people about the infamous Reykjavik hotdog stand. The woman at the hotel reception desk laughed and said, “I’m not sure why everyone is always asking about the best hotdog in Reykjavik, it’s not that good.” It was three in the morning so I assumed she was just cranky.
While in a cab to the domestic airport later that day I asked the cab driver about the best hotdog in Reykjavik and even he said it was “just okay,” and suggested we try the Icelandic hotdogs they sell at the N1 gas stations all over the country.
By this time, my interest was peaked, and I had questions. Was the best hotdog in Reykjavik actually from the stand nobody can pronounce but everyone raves about? Or are the hotdogs at the N1 gas stations better? The former is for tourists, and the later for locals. Surely the locals know which is a better hotdog than the lemming tourists riding the hotdog bandwagon, right?
So I decided to conduct my own research on Iceland’s favorite street food—the hotdog—and I’ve got news for you: the best hotdog in Reykjavik is tasty, but it’s definitely not worth the hype.
What I learned in my week of traveling through Iceland from Egilsstaðir (largest city on the east side of the island) to Reykjavik, is that what makes an Icelandic hotdog unique, is two fold: the meat mashup includes lamb since there’s so much of it on the island, and two, Icelandic hotdogs are traditionally served with sweet mustard, fried onions and a remoulade (sweet mayo-like sauce). Aside from that, they’re all the same, and the ones you’ll find on your pit stop in a small town, are going to be very similar to those you’ll find at the N1 gas stations, and the Reykjavik hotdog stand that is probably more notorious for it’s long line than anything else!
So try and skip the lines by getting to the harbor hotdog stand in Reykjavik earlier in the morning. Otherwise, satiate your Icelandic hotdog cravings with any hotdog you can find.
Believe me, it’s a lot of hype for little hoopla.
Icelandic Hotdog in Djúpivogur
The infamous “best hotdog in Reykjavik” is very similar to the hotdogs we found in a small café on the side of a tackle and bait shop in the south eastern town of Djúpivogur.
See, same thing on the other side of the island.
Why’d we stop in Djúpivogur? It definitely wasn’t for the Icelandic hotdogs, though it was nice to do a comparison. We stopped in Djúpivogur to see the puffins on Papey Island.