This is the first of what is meant to be an ongoing commentary, so let’s start with introductions, shall we? My name is Catharine. I work here at the Grapevine. I’m firmly in my mid-twenties, where I plan on staying. My favourite colour, like my hair, is orange. Contrary to popular belief, I’d like to think that I do have a soul. I like piña coladas and getting caught in the rain.
Scratch that. I hate pineapple in any incarnation and I despise becoming involuntarily wet as it oft results in frizzy hair and running mascara – not a good look for me.
Moving on. The ingenious editor of this here Reykjavík Grapevine asked me to share my thoughts as a foreigner, on the city, the country, my experiences, etc. That was nearly a month ago. Being an obedient and diligent employee, I ignored his request until this Monday, when the sun was shining on the café patio of Eymundsson on Austurstræti in such a way that it reminded me of summer picnics and inspired me to write about something that has struck me about Reykjavík.
Hotdogs // Pylsa.
Where I come from the only time I encounter hotdogs is if there’s a family barbeque and somebody tosses one or two on the grill ‘for the kids.’ Hot dogs are, by and large, the food of children… or beer-bellied spectators at sporting events. Sure, every once in a while the pungent aroma of ‘street meat’ is just too enticing to resist after a night out on the town, but never have I witnessed such an affinity for wieners like in Reykjavík – or such line-ups for the fare day and night.
The choice of Presidents and Rock-stars
Intrigued by the seemingly universal love of the dog, I did some online investigation about Iceland’s relationship with pylsa to find out what the big deal was.
Entering the terms “Iceland” and “hot dog” into Google produces 343,000 results – positive proof that y’all love your tubular meat. Reading through the pages, I learned that hot dogs are somewhat of the national dish of Iceland (who needs foie gras or other such pretensions), and the only way to order one (properly) is “eina með öllu.”
I also learned that Bæjarins beztu pylsur, which I can see from a window in the Grapevine offices, is the best of the best and has satiated the hungers of both Bill Clinton and James Hetfield. They must be doing something right because the crowds of hungry patrons around the tiny kiosk are always sizeable.
Confession: I have yet to sample the goods of Bæjarins beztu pylsur. I’m slightly ashamed now that I’m aware of their status among Reykjavík’s hot dog aficionados.
Condiments are dangerous
The one pylsa I’ve indulged in since arriving in Iceland was at a petrol station not far from the centre of Reykjavík. An Icelandic friend and I had just driven back from Ísafjörður and he was in serious need of a fix. As the woman behind the counter piled on the onions, mustard, ketchup and remúlaði, my friend painted a mental picture for me of the atmosphere in that petrol station on a typical Friday or Saturday night… or Saturday and Sunday morning: beautiful young people, hungry after a night on the town, sloppily drunk and equally sloppily devouring pylsa. Particularly enjoyable was his description of the young men who go out dressed to impress in sleek suits and ties and then end the night eating out of a paper wrapper and going home with mustard slopped down their lapels. The ‘beautiful’ image of Icelanders just doesn’t mesh with mustard-stained designer clothes.
Maybe that’s why I always relegated hotdogs to kids.