As a semi-former fat kid, I can say with confidence that I know a thing or two about convenience-store sandwiches. They’re ubiquitous back in the states, and for years they have been the staple food in my diet. So of course, when I arrived in Reykjavik, my first order of business was to sample the local fare to see how it compared. Fortunately, I’d been blessed by providence to have shacked-up mere decametres from a local chain.
At first, the experience was analogous to your typical visit to an American store. There was the tepid greeting from the cashier. My eyes anguished beneath strobes of sickly fluorescent lighting, and there was that welcome, grim aroma of commercial cleaning solution. The overhead speakers leaked out tinny top 40. All four walls lined with variegated product labels all calling out to me: ‘Buy us! Participate in Capitalism, you bitch!’ And oh, how I would.
The items were arranged with that convenience store quasi-logic: where chips and salsa transition into pet food which transitions into cookies, snack cakes, and then there’s also an air freshener for some reason… Sure, why not? The point is, with my senses primed for conspicuous consumption, I felt right at home.
I made my way over to where the sandwiches live and was immediately struck by this: the variety. At most one could expect four or five options from an American establishment—at least two of which would be functionally identical in terms of meat contents and condiments. But here! There were wraps, there were subs (of various shapes, sizes, and colours!), there were pitas, there was some kinda focaccia-lookin’ nonsense. And that was just the bread!
Never before had I seen such a diverse set of meaty offerings shelved on one shelf at one time. I was enraptured, close to tears, and I’d yet to even hold one of these marvellous creations in my hand. Suddenly, I became acutely aware that I had been staring at the sandwiches and softly moaning. So I grabbed blindly, paid, and got out of there before anyone thought I was weird.
Turns out I’d purchased a vegetarian wrap—the label read: spiced chickpeas… so, hummus? Not too shabby. Ideally, I would’ve preferred some meat to be a part of my first foray into the Icelandic convenience-store-sandwich scene, but chickpeas still got some protein to them, so I was golden. I didn’t even wait until I’d returned to my apartment. I tore off the plastic and chowed down right there on curb.
What an experience this sandwich turned out to be. The lettuce was fresh, crisp, and the cucumbers were the perfect level of crunchy-chill—not at all what one would expect from such a prepackaged item. The hummus was well seasoned (though not spicy in any sense of the word connoting heat; rather, it was pleasantly aromatic and earthy), lightly whipped, with just the proper level of grit to keep things interesting texturally.
Then, suddenly, there came from within my sandwich a sudden, sweet burst of citrus I was ill-prepared to receive. What could be the source of this heavenly addition to the taste-party in my mouth? I flipped the label over to read the list of ingredients, and found that, to my utter delight, my sandwich contained within it a pomegranate surprise!
Yes… you read that correctly. POMEGRANATE. I! CAN’T! EVEN! (Pause here to take it all in. Seriously. Breathe. Just breathe.) I have NEVER! EVER! been so pleasantly surprised to find secret fruit hiding in anything as I was at that moment. Such complexity! Such a harmonious medley of flavour. Be still, my beating taste buds! The non-denominational sandwich gods had truly blessed me on that day.
After my moment of ecstasy had passed—i.e. once I’d effectively shotgunned the sandwich in four-or-so bites—I began to wonder. Was it just that one sandwich? Had I stumbled upon the fabled Omni-Gyro of lore? Or was every sandwich the store offered as transcendent? I had to investigate further.
Subsequent trips proved as fantastic, if not more-so, than my initial encounter. There were sandwiches containing hard-boiled eggs for days! There was fresh spinach, and juicy bell peppers. There was smoked lamb, there was BBQ chicken with hearty cuts of sweet potato. There were avocados and bean salads and fish, fish, fish! My dormant Scandinavian taste buds had been re-awakened—a sandwich renaissance! I’d transcended the physical plane and arrived at the collective sandwich-unconscious of this clearly great nation; I feel all of Iceland chewing with me.
Keep in mind, though, that convenience-store sandwiches are relative. When viewed from an external frame of reference (e.g. when compared to actual food), there’s no question which is better. But when stacked against the offerings of Icelandic vendors, the sandwiches of the U.S. just don’t hold up. I dread my return to the States in a few months, knowing what I know now. But based on what I’ve found so far in Iceland, I am confident that a many more marvellous things are in store for me while I’m here.