On our first trip, after we got lost taking the long route around Hvalfjordur (and who hasn’t?), we went looking for the perfect pylsur. Kathryn had whetted our appetites. She had been to Iceland several times before on horse buying sprees. “We once went to this place that had the best hot dogs in the world.” She started this refrain right outside of Borgarnes. It seemed innocent enough at the time. She didn’t know how susceptible I was to obsessive food pursuits. Kat kept slowing down at every Nesti gas station (or N1) on the road. “No that’s not it.” Pretty soon we were all involved in this search for the perfect hot dog. Kat would wax rhapsodic. “It’s got the right amount of snap when you bite into it and it’s got the best crunchy onions and this kind of mayonnaise…” I could feel my mouth on this dog. I had to have it. I wasn’t even hungry. I didn’t even like hot dogs. In fact, back home they usually repulsed me. Then somewhere outside of Bifrost, we pulled into a N1 and Kat declared with authority, “This is it.” Now, N1s are franchised gas station/cafeteria/quick marts in Iceland and are all pretty much the same. The combo of fill your car and fill your belly may sound terrible, but the food is pretty great. Picture equally divided up areas of a fast food restaurant, candy stand, ice cream stand, bakery, maps and hats, and a hot dog stand. The restaurant food is a comforting mix of greasy and hearty platters of hamburgers, chicken sandwiches and fish dishes. The candy counter is a dizzying display of sweets you can buy packaged or by the pound—I was once told by an Icelander that their country had the highest sugar consumption in the world, as I watched her consume six cans of Pepsi in about two hours.
Next to the ice cream stand is usually the hot dog counter. “This is the place,” Kat said. I fell in line. It was an interminably long line for the hot dogs, proof that in the hinterlands of Iceland no one would stand in line for a hot dog if it wasn’t the best hot dog in the world. Kat squealed with delight. “Ooh, those are the onions…and those are the sauces. You get it with everything on it,” she said when my turn came up at the counter. “Einn pylsur,” I braved, using my phrase book Icelandic, remembering the plural/singular Latin-like declensions. Maybe not. The counter girl stared blankly at me. “Pylsa?” I tried. My experience with attempting to pronounce anything Icelandic is never rewarding. So I pointed, “Hot dog? With this and this and this.” She put the dog on a soft white roll, sprinkled on the dried and sautéed onions, and squeezed on the three bottled sauces. I greedily ate it in three bites. It’s a three-bite hot dog. “Excellent,” I said to Kat, “you’re right, the best hot dog I ever had.” Kat was devouring hers. “Isn’t it?” she said. But when we got back in the car, Kat paused, looked wistfully down the road, “No, that wasn’t it. It was good, but it wasn’t the special hot dog place.”Three stops and four hot dogs later, the last being at Skadarskali, Kathryn declared “Eureka!” But a few miles down the road she began to doubt it again, “Maybe that wasn’t it either.”
For me, that first stop would always be the one I’d remember. But then my Proustian gas station wasn’t Kat’s Proustian gas station.