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Culinary Ambassadors: Street Food in Iceland - Hot Dogs from Bæjarins Beztu
Serious Eats' Culinary Ambassadors check in from time to time with reports on food fare in their homeland or countries of residence. Here's the latest! (Find out more about CA or join here!) —The Mgmt.
Due to inclement weather and the fairly recent urbanization of the country, the street food phenomenon is rather new to Icelandic gastronomy. However, in the endless days of summer when the sky is as lambent and pristine at 3 o'clock in the morning as it is at that same time in the afternoon, Icelanders are more than happy to welcome yet another meal into the day's feast, thus lovingly embracing the idea of brinner, a cross between breakfast and dinner.
Sleep is saved for the winter months' hibernation, as hand-held delicacies dripping with indulgence and deep-fried pleasure are purchased and savoured while not watching the sun rise because it never actually set in the first place. Vendorateurs (yes, I'm inventing a word) have caught a whiff of this trend, and in recent years Reykjavik has witnessed a steady increase of vending carts catering to every viking whim, offering anything from Belgian waffles to hefty-serving subs stuffed with roasted Icelandic lamb (not the whole animal, but that's only because of lack of big enough breads) and béarnaise sauce.
But one particular street vendor has been more resilient and traditional than all the others, ascending to a near sacred status in the national character with its unrefined charm and a menu so short that if you blink, you might miss it.
In 1937, a small hot-dog stand with a big name opened in the middle of the tiny nation's capital. Bæjarins Beztu (meaning "The Best in Town," the z in Beztu a relic from the days when the z was still a part of the Icelandic alphabet) served hot dogs based on a Danish model—long, slim dogs in a bun with a side of sweet Danish mustard and ketchup.
Soon enough, family outings on sunny afternoons wouldn't be complete without having a "eina með öllu" (pronounced AYN-ah-med-UTL-lou, the password to a happy stay in Iceland), which would translate as "one with the works." The works being ketchup; dark, slightly sweet Icelandic mustard with a surprising kick; remúlaði (or remulade, a Danish mayonnaise-based sauce with minced pickles, carrots, and capers); and French fried onions. The truly pious insist that chopped raw onion must be included, but mostly that topping is reserved for the passionate, the hungry, and the single.
The vendor, who also serves as a sommelier, would recommend that this much-loved delicacy be paired with ebony-coloured, sweet, and sparkling beverages such as Coca-Cola, preferably of a good year. Cash-strapped gourmands can allow themselves such luxury as the price of a "One with the works" comes to a mere 280 Icelandic kronur, or about $2.40.
Day and night, come hail or shine, there is a line in front of this unassuming stand that is so treasured among Icelanders from all corners of society, and tourists are inevitably attracted by the scent of boiling hot dogs and crisp fried onions. The most famous "tourist" to ever have bitten into a "eina með öllu" is the former president of the United States, Bill Clinton. Little word goes of his praise for what has sometimes been called the Icelandic national dish, but we like to believe that he was simply lost for words.