ICELAND. Every country has its cultural quirks that are often surprising to visitors. In Europe, for example, especially France and Belgium, the preferred sauce for French fries is mayonnaise as opposed to ketchup. While most Americans may turn up their noses at first, it’s actually quite tasty as well as a great ice-breaker and source of conversation when you return home. Bottom line: from Iceland to Italy, to Greece and beyond, the culinary quirks and other cultural oddities just keep on coming.
Scandinavian food oddities are real favorites over there
When it comes to odd food choices, Scandinavia is not a place for sissies. “Lutefisk” is a traditional dish in both Norway and Sweden. But you really have to wonder who dreamed up the idea in the first place. The translated name literally means “lye fish,” with lye being the key ingredient. Lutefisk is made from aged stockfish (air-dried whitefish) or dried/salted whitefish (that’s the polite description). The dish has a gelatinous texture.
Nordic countries also enjoy reindeer as a dietary staple. Moose is another favorite.
Iceland enters the foodie lists
Which bring us to Iceland, where natives celebrate a mid-winter festival known as porablót from mid-January to mid-February each year. According to legend, the historical context is from the Orkneyinga saga, where porri (“Frost”) is an early Finnish king, the son of Snaer (“Snow”) who offered an annual sacrifice to porri at mid-winter.
So far, so good. But the tests for outsiders are the traditional food options during the Porrablót festival. These include Dried Fish Jerky, Fermented Rotten Shark, Sheep Head and Ram’s testicles.
Now you know why the festival only occurs once each year.
In a recent story in the online version of Conde Nast Traveler, the now late but still famous international foodie Anthony Bourdain described fermented shark, otherwise known as hákarl, as “the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing” he’s ever eaten.
According to Conde Nast,
“Most locals don’t eat much of the pungent delicacy anymore. They also no longer eat many sheep’s heads (except on traditional holidays). What they do eat are dishes like grilled lamb, lobster (and) fresh (emphasis added) fish.”
But where are my Icelandic “dogs”?
Ahhh, but here’s the kicker. What Icelanders really love most are hot dogs. Yep, Icelanders love hot dogs so much that today they are practically the national cuisine.
In recent years, Iceland has become one of the darling destinations of the fickle travel and tourism industry. So the hot dog connection is certainly a plus for attracting less-than-adventurous American culinarians.
Just as full-bodied fried clams can be found in virtually every nook and cranny of New England, hot dogs have attained the same reverence in Iceland.
Conde Nast Traveler adds that “The most popular place to get [a hot dog] is in Reykjavik at Baejarins Beztu Pylsur (which translates to “best hot dogs in town”).
Icelandic franks are very different for you and me
Note that, as with many dishes in other lands, the flavor of an Icelandic frank has a different taste than its American counterpart. That doesn’t mean it’s bad. It does mean there’s a difference. And, like those French fries with mayonnaise, the taste is something you need to consider. Just like the preparation and accoutrements.
First, Icelandic dogs consist primarily of Icelandic lamb, along with a bit of pork and beef. Since sheep outnumber humans in Iceland nearly two to one, that makes them a plentiful food source in that country.
One thing many hot dog connoisseurs enjoy most is the little pop that occurs when they bite into an old-style wurst. There’s something magical in that momentary snap that says the reward was worth the wait. Since Iceland’s “red hots” come wrapped in a natural casing, the joy of that pop is automatic.
Unlike in the US, where traditional hot dog toppings may include mustard (spicy or yellow according to taste), ketchup, cheese, slaw, chili, onions and relish,”all the way” in Iceland is different. As you might expect Toppings include raw white onions and crispy fried onions, ketchup, sweet brown mustard called pylsusinnep, and remoulade, a sauce made with mayo, capers, mustard, and herbs.
The usual serving style for Icelandic dogs finds them nestled in small cardboard boats or waxed paper. With all the extras, a bib and additional napkins become very good accompaniments as well should you wish to preserve your clothing.
Of course, public establishments always honor individual preferences. But to eat like a local, order “one with everything.” Just ask for “ein með öllu.”
Best of all: Those Icelandic dogs are a real deal
Scandinavia has always been pricey. And with Iceland’s recently “discovered” popularity, everything is expensive…except, of course, those delightful dogs. They could save you a lot of money and keep your appetite in check since they are the least expensive food in the country.
Conde Nast recommends paying with cash and ordering quickly since there are always lines. At Baejarins Beztu Pylsur, evenings and weekends boast the longest queues. If you hesitate too long, your “wiener Nazi” may give you the full Monty dog (aka, “the works”) by default. After all, this is not Burger King.
Two other Conde Nast suggestions for dining out with dogs.
- Do not tip. Tipping at a hot dog stand is unnecessary.
- Order two hot dogs because you will want another. What the heck? They’re cheap.
The Magellan Travel Club Deal
If you would like to experience Iceland for yourself, the Magellan Travel Club is offering a tour in March of 2020 that includes the Northern Lights. Considering Iceland’s expensive reputation, it’s a price that is hard to beat.
To paraphrase Charles Dickens, throw in a few Icelandic hot dogs. Soon, you’ll experience “the best of times, and the ‘wurst’ of times.”
— Headline image: What do hot dogs and Iceland have in common? Read this article and find out.
(Courtesy: Pixabay.com, royalty free.)
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
Editors Note: Support Bob’s GoFundMe to give him a hand up