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Hákarl – Icelandic Fermented Shark!

Hakarl hanging in a shed fermenting.
Hákarl hanging in a shed fermenting.

What is Hákarl?

Hákarl or kæstur hákarl (Icelandic for “fermented shark”) is a national dish from Iceland. It consists of a Greenland or basking shark which is rotten, has been cured with a fermentation process, and is hung to dry in an open air shed.

National Geographic covers the shark decomposition and preparation in the following video.

How is Hákarl Prepared?

Historically in Viking times the shark was fermented underground, though it is typically done above ground today, with an expert deciding based on scent when the food is ready to be hung to complete the breakdown process. It can be served after 6 months.

Icelandic fermented shark hanging in an open air shed.
Icelandic fermented shark hanging in an open air shed.

The Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum produces most of the country’s supply of Hákarl.

What Does Fermented SharkTaste Like?

Hákarl has a very particular ammonia-rich smell and taste, similar to very strong cheese. It is an acquired taste and many Icelanders never eat it.

When is the Dish Available?

Hákarl is served as part of a Þorramatur, a selection of traditional Icelandic food served at the Þorrablót festival in midwinter, a celebration with pagan origins.

The dish is readily available in Icelandic stores all year round and is eaten in all seasons. Many enjoy eating it as a snack with vodka.

Fermented shark with vodka.
Fermented shark with vodka.

Anthony Bourdain Hated It

The late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain tasted this dish in a 2014 visit to Iceland as part of his No Reservations series. In a Bon Appétit interview with friend Eric Ripert he described fermented shark as one of the foods he would never eat again along with Nambia warthog anus and airplane food.

Submitted by A. Joshi

Posted by Brad | in Disgusting Delicasies | 2 Comments »

2 Comments on “Hákarl – Icelandic Fermented Shark!”

  1. John Says:

    I’ve had this, on a trip to Iceland.
    It was served pre-cut into small cubes, which I skewered and ate with a toothpick.

    The ammonia type smell, is very strong. But it did not remind me of any cheese. Instead, I was assaulted with the memory of changing nappies (diapers) on my newborn baby sister. Incredibly pungent.

    The meat was soft, and a greyish white. It didn’t taste bad at all. If you have no sense of smell, or a really heavy cold, you’d be fine with this.

  2. Mabel Says:

    It smells loads worse than it tastes. Imagine Jewish deli whitefish soaked in Windex. If you like strong fish and you can get past the ammoniated smell it’s actually not that bad.

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