Photo by jayneandd/FlickrCC
Most Americans I know are familiar with Iceland only insofar as its strategic location in the board game Risk. So it's understandable that after I returned from a vacation there last August, friends and family were curious. Sure, I brought back some quintessential Iceland stories: I had attempted to communicate with the Hidden People; I had waded in the Blue Lagoon; and I had drunk Brennivin, a schnapps regularly (and deservedly) referred to as "Black Death."
But in truth, the most Iceland-y thing I had done was a good deal less exotic. I ate a hot dog.
It turns out Icelanders love hot dogs. Every convenience store, kiosk, gas station, roadside stop, and eatery of any kind carries them, and they're consumed for meals, snacks, pick-me-ups, and as late-night munchies. We even glimpsed a pair of schoolchildren grabbing some for breakfast. Vegetarianism, while not unheard of, is exceedingly rare (I found this somewhat incongruent with what seems to be an otherwise progressive country), and I met almost no one who didn't regularly eat hot dogs. I, however, was on the cusp of becoming a full-on vegetarian, and rarely, if ever, ate meat, local cuisine be damned.
The hot dog is a point of Icelandic national pride. Ubiquitous and cheap, it has nonetheless managed to avoid a low-class status. I'm trying to think of an American equivalent here, but I can't—so just imagine our hot dog significantly higher on the food totem pole. And, by widespread reputation, tastier. (Cattle are scarce in Iceland, so there's some ambiguity as to what exactly is in the dogs. Conflicting reports led me to conclude it's likely a combination of beef, pork, and lamb.)