Underdogs and Hot Dogs
With a national population of just over 330,000 people, the chances of locating Icelandic cuisine in New Jersey are better than than the likelihood of bumping into an actual Icelander in the Garden State.
Fewer than 800 New Jersey residents claim Icelandic ancestors, with the greatest concentration (126) living in the Essex County town of Glen Ridge. An estimated ten percent of the Icelandic nation is currently in France anyhow, on an extended, unexpected holiday.
Last week, Iceland’s men’s national soccer team defeated Austria to advance to the knockout rounds of the 2016 UEFA European Championship. This is a big deal. Iceland is in the Euros for the first time ever (they have never qualified for a World Cup final). One of the team’s co-coaches is a dentist. Icelanders are understandably ecstatic. I thought Andres Cantor was an over-the-top futbol announcer. Until I heard Gudmundur Benediktsson:
Benediktsson was equally subdued when Iceland beat England 2-1 last Monday to reach the quarter finals, screaming in Icelandic, “You can leave Europe! You can go wherever the hell you want!”
The Icelanders’ viral Viking chant evokes the haka dance of New Zealand’s Māori All Blacks.
Tomorrow, these mighty Icelanders face host country France in the Stade de France for a spot in the semifinals against reigning World Cup Champions Germany. All the pressure will be on France, one of the tournament favorites. Many football fans will rooting for Iceland.
Where can any New Jerseyan with a soft spot for colossal underdogs (I’m looking at you, Mets fans) find Icelandic cuisine to celebrate this Nordic Rudy story? It’s not easy. My research turns up no restaurant in New Jersey serving smoked puffin, whale steak or skyr.
There is, however, a fish market in Bergen County specializing in Icelandic fish, like Arctic char, blue ling, tusk and wolffish, flown into Newark airport daily from frigid Icelandic waters. The Fish Dock, opened last year by Icelanders Olafur and Maria Baldursson is in Closter, NJ (not Glen Ridge). Alas, The Fish Dock is closed on Sundays.
Iceland’s most popular restaurant is a hot dog kiosk called Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, or “the best hot dogs in town,” on the Reykjavik waterfront. I know this because I ate an Icelandic hot dog (pylsur) there after running the Reykjavik Half-Marathon in 2012. I recommend the hot dog, made from beef, pork and lamb, with a sweet brown mustard, and Iceland, a fascinating volcanic landscape of glaciers and sheep.
New Jerseyans share Icelanders love of hot dogs. Maybe Rutt’s Hut in Clifton, NJ is the place for Icelanders, and newfound fans of the Icelandic national team, to watch Sunday’s game?