Reykjavík in January is not everybody’s idea of a good holiday location. It’s cold, a bit wet and therefore potentially – and actually in the case of this January – very icy. Similarly, Reykjavík in Jauary, when it’s cold and icy isn’t everybody’s idea of a perfect time to try a bit of the local street food. But then I’m an idiot.
Or maybe not, because Reykjavík as it turns out is a wonderful city to spend a winter weekend in; beautiful, small enough to traverse on foot, friendly and packed with interesting places to eat. Step outside the city and the countryside whilst seemingly alien in its lack of fauna, is breathtaking. Anyway, enough with the Judith Chalmers bit. On to the food.
Bæjarins Beztu is an Icelandic institution, serving up their local version of hotdogs in Reykjavik harbour since 1937. Speak to the locals and they’ll tell you tales of people driving for hours across the lava speckled tundra to get their fix, before driving the same distance home again.
Whilst there are now a few branches scattered across the greater Reykjavic area, the original hut down amongst the boats of the fishing industry and whale watching tours is the original and therefore the one to hit for peak touristic points. Just like Bill Clinton before us.
Even for street food, this is not a complicated meal. You pay your 300ISK (roughly a quid-fifty at current rates) and you get a lamb-filled casing and the option of a a few condiments; onion (raw or fried), ketchup and the (practically obligatory) local mustard “Pylsusinnep”.
Pylsusinnep is not an attractive thing. It has the colour of – at best – gruel, and when applied doesn’t render the basic ‘dog an attractive beast. The ‘dog itself is slightly flaccid, maybe a result of the lamb within contracting during cooking; dosed with Pylsusinnep and Ketchup, it did taste considerably better than it looked.
The lamb dog is, as you’d imagine, slightly sweet tasting and despite the loose casing seemingly had lost none of its vital juices during cooking. Pylsusinnep however, is not a mustard as we – of the French’s Classic or Colemans persuasion – might expect. It is exceedingly sweet and yet at the same times carries no discernible heat, rendering it a condiment with a bit of an identity crisis, especially in this setting. It did leave the impression that this ‘dog with a coating of the aforementioned (or even better, some Huy Fong Sriracha) would have lifted it into more exalted company.
Now this might leave you thinking I have a bit of a downer on poor old Bæjarins Beztu. Yes, in London we’re spoiled by having the likes of “Big Apple Hotdogs” serving up high quality fare and in a head-to-head there isn’t any comparison. But this isn’t a hotdog in that US-influenced sense. It shares a common ancestry for sure, but this is an Icelandic ‘dog, with Icelandic condiments. With the boats bobbing around behind you and the locals pulling over in their cars for their mid-evening fix of familiar comfort food, it becomes less about culinary excellence and instead more an essential stop off for any visitor who wants to get under the skin of the city.
Bæjarins Beztu, Tryggvagata, Reykjavik [website]