Published April 7, 2006
Q: What do you get in your burger to make it worth $10?
A: Well, I’ll tell you what you don’t get: MAD COW!!!!!
That’s right, it used to sound fucking crazy to pay $10 for a hamburger. But with seven cases of mad cow reported among American cows in February of 2006 alone, that $10 burger is starting to look a whole lot more sane. Yeah, local products and farming factor into even the most inane and universal of foods – the hamburger. If you’re lucky enough to live in a country where your cows aren’t fed meat, then you get to eat beef without suffering degenerative diseases. This is something that The Economist might want to think about the next time they come up with something as obnoxious as the Big Mac Index, one of the many ethnocentric measures they have to analyse world economies… and a measure Iceland, with the most expensive Big Mac in the world, has failed badly.
But enough about deadly meat. Let’s talk burgers.
Burgers and fast food are an Icelandic obsession. Likely, you have come across this already – that Bill Clinton visited Iceland and ate fish was not noted locally; that he sampled the local hot dog is an immense point of pride. The burger is just as much an obsession: the Grapevine has received more queries from Icelanders to judge the best local burger than we have to judge the best local poet – ten times as many. As best we can figure, fast food is simply respected as an art form.
The goal with fast food, as with fast music, is to take on American and European influences, and then drop those influences on their head. Hence the Sugarcubes were able to cite American and British punk, while American and British audiences couldn’t hear any such influence, and hence a local chain, American Style, can serve tasty local concoctions to be eaten with knife and fork, which bear almost no resemblance to any hamburger served on American soil.
The burger that tastes most like the American ideal – a good non-frozen, hand-shaped patty of beef, slightly rare, with mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, must’d, ketchup – is on display at Hamborgarabúllan. You can ask for it less rare, and you can ask for it to be healthier, but neither is going to happen. The burgers are what they say they are: beefy and good.
If you like beef, you’ll like this burger. There may be a moment when you think, sitting among the patrons at the always-crowded, celebrated burger stand, that it is just average, nothing that special has been done to the meat, there is no fancy-ass seasoning.
It will be months later that the perfection of the Tommiburger will hit you. You will realise that, on your visit to Iceland, you ate that one ideal American burger, and that to eat another like it you will either have to wait for a new set of environmental policies in the US of A, or you will have to hop a plane back to Iceland.
Hamborgarabúlla Tómasar, Geirsgata 1, 101 Reykjavík, Tel.: 511-1888
Also at Reykjavíkurvegur 62 in Hafnarfjörður, and Miðvangur 13 in Egilsstaðir