From Iceland — Great Moments in Icelandic History

Great Moments in Icelandic History

Published July 29, 2008

Bill Clinton eats a hot dog at Bæjarins Bestu

Great Moments in Icelandic History
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Bill Clinton eats a hot dog at Bæjarins Bestu

It was a bright and sunny day, on August 31, 2004. People smiled to each other, strolling easily down the streets of Reykjavik, a light breeze coming off the sea, no one suspecting that two great national icons were poised to converge. Bæjarins Beztu, proud server of the Icelandic national dish since 1937, was operating as usual, providing delicious hot dogs to young and old. Meanwhile, American President Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary, were in the country on a worldwide mission for UNICEF. After a visit to the Reykjavik Art Museum, he was walking back to his car, flanked by bodyguards, when he heard a little voice calling him to try “The best hot dogs in town”.

The voice had come from María, an employee at Bæjarins Beztu Hot Dogs for 33 years. “I recognised him right away,” says María, “You know his face from the news and then its right there, and it was such a nice day, I thought maybe he’d like to try a hot dog.”

As the story goes, Clinton’s bodyguards stopped and fiercely looked around “as if they’d just heard Osama Bin Laden”, but the President was intrigued. Since there was no line in front of the stand (a rare thing), he simply walked up to the window, and said that yes indeed, he would like to try the best hot dogs in town.

Now, what to put on the president’s hot dog? No fresh onions, the president had to talk to important people that day. No crisped onions or remúlaði, too fattening. And ketchup?

“Well,” said the president “maybe we should just leave it at just mustard”. And so it went down in history, the former president of the United States, ordering “ein pylsa, bara með sinnepi” – one hot dog, just with mustard.

Mr. Clinton and his bodyguards ate their hot dogs quietly at the tables outside, wishing well to María as he left, releasing a gush of excitement from bystanders as soon as he was out of sight.

When Clinton had his infamous heart attack three months later, María was often questioned if she had poisoned him. “I didn’t, of course,” she said, “He was very nice, I thought he should just enjoy his hot dog.”

A few months later, Bæjarins Beztu received a letter signed by the President himself, thanking them for their hospitality, and their very fine hot dogs. “He even said he would have to come back to Iceland for another,” said María. And if he does, it is sure to be another great moment in Icelandic history.

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