Considering how breathtakingly beautiful Iceland is, it seems a bit odd that the most famous food in the country is the lowly hot dog. But Icelanders know a thing or two about this baseball stadium snack, and will likely surprise even the most skeptical gourmands with their national rendition.
Made mostly of organic Icelandic lamb (with some organic pork and beef as well), these dogs are best eaten with “everything” on them: crisp fried onions; raw white onions; a brown mustard called pylsusinnep that is surprisingly creamy and sweet; ketchup; and a remoulade made of mustard, mayonnaise, herbs, and capers. Watch in awe as attendants whip all the toppings onto the dog with ferocious speed, and then sand curbside to dig in while it’s warm.
There are many hot dog huts dotting the capital city of Reykjavik, but perhaps best is Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur (recommended to this author by a local waitress). Opened in 1937, it is something of a national treasure and has even served Bill Clinton.
While the hot dog is a must-try (at least for the carnivores) when in Iceland, there are a few other memorable establishments in Reykjavik that are certainly worth a visit. For pastry, the tiny Brauð & Co bakes up fresh bread and sweets that are perfect for eating with a morning coffee, or in the car while touring the island’s famed Golden Circle. Pretzels, sugary swirls, flaky croissants—it’s hard not to want it all.
If looking for a sit-down brunch instead, head to Sandholt. A delectable selection of sweets line the counters here too, but try to resist in favour of grabbing a table at the in-house cafe. Along with a cappuccino, order some slices of fresh-baked sourdough bread with house-made butter and jam, or a poached egg with strips of bacon. Grab a cream pastry on your way out, because you’re only human.
For dinner, a surprising runaway hit is Sumac Grill + Drinks. Reserve a table in advance, if possible, because this is a popular spot for the local community. Creating unconventional but delicious Lebanese and Moroccan dishes using seasonal Icelandic ingredients, Sumac is inventive and surprising. Roasted cauliflower is served with shaved almonds, pomegranate seeds, and cumin yogurt sauce, while pork belly tagine is accompanied by dates, celeriac, and carrots. There are falafel balls (perfectly crispy on the outside and soft on the inside), harissa chicken wings, and various fish options, plus a memorable grilled octopus dish with chickpeas and red pepper salsa. A local Icelandic beer pairs nicely, though the wine list might be hard to pass up. Whether seated at the bar or at a table, the lively, comfortable atmosphere will make this an altogether fantastic experience.
So while the hot springs and otherworldly landscapes might be what make Iceland magical, the cuisine can offer something truly special, too. Don’t spend your whole trip chasing waterfalls.
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