HLÖLLA for the Lambwich

Three years ago, Cheesler and I visited Iceland to attend an international music festival called Iceland Airwaves. We took away many things from that trip: among them were fantastic memories of an unspoilt landscape, new favourite bands, a fondness for sulpher-scented water and a couple of massive hangovers. The best thing we took away, however, was the knowledge that we had experienced the most delicious sandwich in the world. The lambwich from a tiny icelandic fast food joint in the centre of Reykjavik: HLÖLLABÁTAR.

Halfway through each night, exhausted from endless lineups to get into tiny packed clubs to see such headliners as Gus Gus, Yelle and Crystal Castles, we would make our way towards the gleaming red beacon in the dark. Thoroughly soused with liquor, their “lambwiches” – as we soon coined the sub-like sandwiches – would signal the end of our night before staggering back to the hotel (conveniently across the street) to collapse in our tiny scandinavian twin beds.

Ever since returning from Iceland, I have searched the internet in vain, trying to figure out why they were so delicious. I mean, they were constructed simply enough: fried lamb, onions and pickles on a hoagie-style bun. What was the secret? For years, I contemplated this conundrum. Every once in a while, Cheesler and I would reminisce about those wonderful days, the days of the lambwich. We have even discussed going back simply to eat them again. One day, out of the blue, I heard a low muttering from the other room. I strained to hear…”the sauce. It’s gotta be the sauce”. Cheesler, in a fugue state was speaking aloud his revelation. The secret was in the sauce! But what WAS the sauce? We knew it was mayonnaise-based. But there was something special about it. Something…different.

From that point on I was determined. Several other bloggers have written about the lambwich but none have revealed the recipe. I suspect it is highly guarded by its proprietors. Or…is it?

I pride myself on my super sleauthy internet skillz. One day, it dawned on me that it was probably someting very simple. Kind of like how McDonalds has the big mac sauce that is supposed to be so special but its really just ketchup and mayo, or something like that. On a roll, I googled “icelandic mayonnaise based sauces”, and discovered a world of recipes. The icelandic peoples love a good sauce. But one stood out from the rest.

It was mayo, ketchup and mustard mixed with a little vinegar and cayenne. The translation to english came out roughly as fry sauce…something to dip fried stuff in. As I read on, my tastebuds tingled with recollection. Yes…this was it! After some adjustments to the proportions and the substitution of sriracha instead of cayenne, I thought I could pull off a pretty good imitation of the Hlolli sauce. I set to work immediately, pulling up the restaurant’s website, and using google translate to confirm the ingredients of the lambwich. Sure enough – lamb, fried onions, cabbage and pickles were the stars of the show, all nestled into a crusty sub bun. It’s a good thing I checked, otherwise I may have forgotten about the cabbage.

I already had most of these things at home, and conveniently enough, I had half a lamb roast left over from the night before! It was kismet. I announced to Cheesler that I had found the philosopher’s stone of sandwich recipes and would be creating it that very evening. In response, he fainted. When he came to, I was subjected to many kisses of gratitude.

Anyway, I concocted the sauce first. I didn’t have icelandic mayo so I used the next best thing: Fritessaus from Holland. Dutch mayo. They like to put it on their fries.

The rest was easy-peasy. Mix in some ketchup, a little mustard, a little sugar, a little vinegar…and of course, sriracha – to give it a little kick.

Behold! Sophie’s Hlolli sauce ripoff!

Then I got started on the onions. I coated them in a little flour to give them some crispiness,

then fried them in butter until they were nice and brown.

I sliced the lamb roast into thin(ish) slices and fried it in the cast-iron skillet, just on its own as it already has some fat in it.

Finally, it was time to construct it. First, some pickles:

Followed by some thinly sliced cabbage – for some crunch!

Followed by the fried lamb slices.

Followed by a layer of onions…

And topped off with a drizzle of the tasty tasty sauce.

It turned out splendidly. Absolutely delicious! And everything I’ve dreamed of for the last three years.

We had cracked the code. So, for a comparison, here is Sophie devouring a true lambwich in Iceland three years ago…

And here is Sophie devouring the lambwich imitation…

Okay, one last look. Feast your eyes on this beaut….


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Categories: Food, Travel

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One Comment on “HLÖLLA for the Lambwich”

  1. A former employee of Hlöllabátar
    September 18, 2011 at 6:15 pm #

    This is a very nice try and I can imagine it quite tasty. The souce you made is indeed the staple of Icelandic fast food and it’s known here as Kokteilsósa (eng. Coctail sauce) but it is not what you finde at Hlölli. The sauce you find at Hlölli is called Hlöllasósa and is indeed the cornerstone of that sandwich place. I don’t know the full list of ingredients but I do know that the sauce is mayo based and includes Aromat (a Knorr “spice” mostly made up of MSG), canned sweet corn and some of the juice from the can, propably some pickled cucumber and something else. Also the fried onions you need are called Cronions and they are what gave the sandwich the crunch. There is no cabbage either but salad. Any light greenleafed that doesn’t have strong taste to it will do. Good luck in your sandwich hunt – But it looks like you could do with a quick trip to dust of those tastey memories. 🙂
    p.s. If you do make a trip to have the sandwich again you really should check out the main competitor Nonnabiti and try his sandwiches.

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