Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur

What to eat in Iceland

The one dish to eat in Iceland is not fermented shark. Many travelers assume that Iceland's most iconic dish is hákarl, or fermented shark, which Anthony Bourdain famously called "the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing" he's ever eaten. And if you look at the menus at tourist restaurants, it's easy to see why this perception persists. The truth is that most locals don't eat much of the pungent delicacy anymore. They also no longer eat many sheep's heads (except on traditional holidays) or much whale meat. What they do eat are dishes like grilled lamb, lobster, fresh fish, and hot dogs. The great Icelandic hotdog Hot dogs are so ubiquitous and beloved in Iceland, they're practically the national dish. They're sold on nearly every street corner and in practically every convenience store. Yet and still, the most popular place to get one is in Reykjavik at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur - which translates to the "best hot dogs in town". Seventy percent of the country's 300,000 residents have eaten at the harborside hot dog stand, which has been open since 1937 and fed famous visitors like Bill Clinton and Rock & Roll legends, Metallica. Icelandic hot dogs have a different flavor than their American counterparts because they're made mostly from Icelandic lamb, along with a bit of pork and beef. Sheep outnumber humans in Iceland nearly two to one, so they're a plentiful food source; turning them into hot dogs was an easy way to preserve the meat before modern food storage was available. Additionally, Iceland doesn't allow the import of any live animals, so the lamb eaten today—which is free-range, grass-fed, organic and hormone-free—is just like the lamb eaten hundreds of years ago. Icelandic hot dogs, which have a natural casing that gives them a delightful snap when bitten into, are topped with raw white onions and crispy fried onions, ketchup, sweet brown mustard called pylsusinnep, and remoulade.

Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur

Unlike in the U.S., hot dogs aren't dismissed as lowly fast food, though they are the cheapest meal in pricey Iceland. You'll see people eating hot dogs throughout the day—for lunch, dinner, a late-morning snack, and after the clubs close at 4 a.m. on weekends in hard-partying Reykjavik. Saying "ein með öllu" will get you one with everything, including appreciation for attempting to speak Icelandic. However, English will work as well, as most Icelanders know at least a little. Pointing at the condiments you want is also effective, and, at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, ordering "the Clinton" means you want your hot dog with only mustard—the same way the former president enjoyed his when he visited the stand in 2004.

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