Many Americans visiting Iceland respond to this country’s version of the hamburger with a range of reactions, from surprise to bewilderment. Raw cucumbers? Why no tomatoes? And what’s this weird pink sauce? While it’s certainly true that when travelling to another country, one should al-ways be willing to try other culinary takes on your favourite foods, some of us expats get homesick for cheeseburgers the way we’re used to having them.
For this reason, Hamborgarabúllan is a godsend. Yellow mustard, dill slices, relish and other condiments seldom found in Icelandic homes let alone in a fast food place are among the things that set Hamborgarabúllan apart. What does the owner think?
Tómas Andrés Tómasson—or Tommi, as he is known—was very self-deprecating when asked what makes Hamborgarabúllan special among Iceland’s hundreds of hamburger joints. He says the restaurant’s success has been based on “lots of luck, struggling, persistence, determination and hard work”. When asked what makes Hamborgarabúllan different from any other burger joint, he said, “It’s like Bæjarins bestu [famed hot dog stand]. They sell the same hot dogs you can get anywhere else, but you go there for the experience. That’s what we offer. It’s the atmosphere of the place.”
To be sure, the interior of their best-known location, by Reykjavík harbour, is replete with Americana ranging from Frank Sinatra’s teenage mug-shot to a poster for the Sopranos to yet another poster, featuring E.T. None of this is put together in a purposeful, contrived manner – you can imagine the owner finding one of these things and just taking it up on a free space on the wall.
Tommi also believes specialisation has worked in their favour. “There are plenty of places that sell burgers and other things. We pretty much just sell burgers. That’s a benefit for us, we feel. You could go to a fancier place, but when you’re in the mood for a fast burger, you come here”.
Tommi’s modest demeanour comes through in the understated and personal interior of his restaurants. But you don’t need to boast when you sell burgers that taste this good.