It’s late night in Reykjavik. Or is it morning? I can’t tell, as I’ve been out drinking Icelandic craft beers under the midnight sun, when dusk turns to dawn without darkness ever coming in between. Even though it’s June, there’s a cold wind whipping off the north Atlantic to where I’m standing – in line at a simple metal shack near the harbour, hungry for Iceland’s most famous snack.
No, I’m not talking about fermented shark. I’m here for a hot dog.
There is a line-up at Baejarins Beztu Pylsur any time of day, although the after-bar period is particularly popular. Nothing cures a bit too much booze like street food, after all, and the stall kindly stays open until 2am on weekdays and 4:30am on weekends to serve those, like me, who have been out until morning partaking in Reykjavik’s famous nightlife.
The line-up is a mix of locals and tourists alike. The place is as famous among the Icelandic community (it’s been open since 1937), as it is with travellers who have read it about it in every guidebook and blog post about Reykjavik.
Bill Clinton has eaten here. So have Metallica and Kim Kardashian (not together). Ben Stiller grabbed one while he was in town filming The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. It’s been featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. In 2006, The Guardian named it home to the best hot dog in Europe. But why would something as simple as sausage on a bun be such a foodie attraction? And why, of all places, here on the edge of the Arctic Circle?
Well, turns out that the location may be part of its appeal. The hot dogs are made primarily from lamb, which makes sense when you think about the fact there are some 800,000 sheep in Iceland – and only 320,000 people. Icelandic lamb is free-range organic and hormone-free, so the meat is far higher quality than you might expect from your typical “street meat” stall. The all-natural casing gives the hot dogs a satisfying snap, and their small size means you can easily eat two (trust me, order a second). These aren’t the jumbo foot-longs you find at American ball parks.
The fixings are quite different from your typical hot dog, too – don’t expect to find any relish or hot mustard on the counter. Instead, if you want to eat it the way the locals do, you order it “eina með öllu“ or “one with everything”: sweet ketchup that’s made from apple sugar, sweet mustard that is an admittedly off-putting brown colour, remoulade (a sweet, mayo-based dressing), and to counter all that sweetness, a mix of raw and crispy fried onions.
Baejarins Beztu isn’t the only hot dog stand in town. In fact, hot dogs can be found all over Iceland, and in a country where food prices can break your travel wallet, they make for an affordable option (about 300 ISK or 2.50 USD). They’re also mega convenient as you’re driving the Ring Road or even in transit at Keflavik Airport – every gas station sells them and you can grab one in the terminal to snack on at your gate. But if you’re about tradition, you need to go to the original hot dog stand that’s been in operation and family-owned for over 80 years. You’ll find it on Tryggvagata, not far from the Harpa Concert Hall. Just look for the line of people, any time of day. If I’m in town, I’ll be there, too.