If you are planning a voyage to Iceland, while you are there you can have the unique experience of biting a shark, instead of having it bite you. This is one shark you’ll want to bite, as it is putrefied. Better known as Hákarl, this strange delicacy is worth a try – if you can get past the smell!
How is Hákarl Served?
Hákarl is one of Iceland’s more well-known traditional offerings, and is perhaps a bit infamous as well. Hákarl is typically served on a small plate, and is cut into small cube-shaped pieces that may look a bit like cheese to the untrained eye. Using a toothpick, diners spear their fare, and then the true Hákarl experience begins. Be cautioned that if you are like most people who try Hákarl for the first time, you will gag when you take your first bite. Hákarl is generally accompanied by a glass of Brennivín, which is a good thing, as it helps to clear the palate of overpowering taste of this extremely flavorful cuisine.
What Does Hákarl Taste and Smell Like?
Hákarl smells of ammonia, high-strength cleaning products and rotten cheese. Each piece is moist to the touch, and retains a fishlike texture, while having a consistency not unlike bamboo shoots. If you are going to try this pungent dish, you may wish to pinch your nose while trying it, but be prepared to handle a very strong aftertaste that may remind you of ammonia. Worst of all, the aftertaste of Hákarl truly lingers, so you may very well find yourself looking for that glass of Brennivín.
Why Does Hákarl Have Such a Strong Aroma?
Hákarl has been consumed since the days of the Vikings. Greenlandic sharks (from which Hákarl is made) do not have kidneys, and thus their meat is highly toxic and contains a large amount of ammonia and uric acid. The Vikings figured out a way to make this toxic fare safe to eat, which is right in line with the Icelandic tendency not to waste food.
How is Hákarl Cured?
The Hákarl sitting before you on the serving tray has undergone a process that takes around 6 months. First, the shark meat is buried in a shallow hole, and is then covered over with gravel and sand which is packed down tightly to allow toxins to be removed for a while. Depending on the season, the meat will be left to ferment for anywhere between six weeks and a two months. It is also possible to cure Hákarl in a container with a hole through which the toxins may drain out. After the meat is cured, it is hung to dry, and the curing process continues until the process is complete. After that, the outside of the shark meat is removed (as it is normally brown and crusty from the curing process). Then it is ready to eat!
Give it a Try!
If you will be traveling to the beautiful volcano nation of Iceland, you should definitely try some Hákarl with a glass of Brennivín, Iceland’s Signature Firewater on the side. Brennivín is almost 80-proof, and is made from potatoes, and the name literally means “wine that burns.” Good thing, considering that you’ll need that to take the taste of the Hákarl out of your mouth. Once you get past the burn, you will note it is really tasty liquor! Be brave during your vacation to Iceland and treat yourself to a literal taste of the Viking experience by sampling Hákarl and Brennivín.