Hamburgers may be ubiquitous in Iceland today, but that wasn’t always the case. When the first hamburger arrived is still a mystery, with some clues.
Like many other things Icelanders have adopted from other cultures, there are as many takes on the humble hamburger in this country as there are restaurants that sell them. Hamburgers have become so engrained in Icelandic food culture that one could be forgiven for thinking that they’ve always been here.
But every cultural phenomenon has to start somewhere, and the news outlets Stöð 2 and Vísir have been trying to get to the bottom of when hamburgers were first sold in Iceland.
Initially it was thought that Staðarskáli, that roadside restaurant on Route 1 in Hrútafjörður, sold the first burger in the summer of 1960. Shortly after this contention went public, however, numerous Icelanders contacted reporters with newspaper clips from years before, showing that hamburgers were on menus throughout the 1950s.
It would end up being Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir, the author of many cookbooks and an expert in Icelandic cuisine, who found the oldest instance (thus far) of hamburgers for sale.
Citing an advertisement in the Daily Post, an English language newspaper for American troops stationed in Iceland, she discovered that the restaurant Matstofan in Reykjavík had hamburgers on their menu in July 1941—the same month and year that American troops first came to Iceland. Even so, the burger was slow to catch on. It wouldn’t be until the 1950s that restaurant advertisements featuring hamburgers started appearing in greater numbers.
While the matter is far from concluded, it would appear as though hamburgers arrived in Iceland along with military occupation. If any earlier instances appear in history, we will be sure to keep you informed.
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