Hakarl: Stinking, rotten shark.

Hakarl: Stinking, rotten shark.

Hakarl (Greenland Shark) available at the Kolaportid Flea Market

Shark, that is buried, rotten and fermented.

A personal hero of mine Anthony Bourdain once said that Hakarl is the most disgusting thing he’s ever eaten. For a guy that’s eaten a lot of gross stuff, that’s saying a lot!

Why eat rotten shark?

Well for one it’s a Viking Icelandic tradition to preserve and eat the Greenland shark. As mentioned in my previous post about sheep’s face, the Icelandic people are very good at sustaining themselves via what’s available at the time, and this dish is part of that ilk.

The Greenland shark is poisonous to eat in it’s natural state due to extremely high levels of trimethylamine oxide and uric acid in the flesh. The preparation process put briefly is:

  • Gutting and behead the shark and place it in a shallow hole dug in gravelly-sand
  • Cover with sand and gravel, and place stones on top of the sand in order to press the fluids out of the shark.
  • The shark ferments for 6–12 weeks depending on the season in this fashion.

Following curing, the shark is then cut into strips and hung to dry for several months. During the drying period, a brown crust will develop *shudder*, which is removed before cutting the shark into small pieces and serving generally in small cubes.

Gross.

In my typical fashion, I didn’t head to a fancy schmancy restaurant to taste the stinker and wash it down with “black death” vodka. A.k.a Brennivin, or as I like to call it “cheating.”

Instead I headed to the weekend Kolaportid Flea Market, to soak up the local atmosphere, check out the seafood and save myself about $30 in the process.

Dried fish (Hardfiskur)
Dried fish in the masses at Kolaportid

For the tidy sum of 200 Icelandic Kronur (almost $2 USD), I had a little sampling tub of Hakarl all to myself.

Little tubs of Hakarl (fermented shark)
So unassuming before taking the lid off.

Being a lovely sunny day I decided to sit out on the harbour to taste the offensive fish, and hopefully save myself from gagging on the smell.

Cos boy did it stink. Like cat piss, that’s been in the sun and had more cats piss on it for a few days. It’s quite obvious why it’s recommended not to sniff it before eating it. A tip I dutifully ignored and promptly regretted.

IMG_0643
You’re lucky you don’t have smell-a-vision

For your viewing pleasure I recorded the experience, head to facebook here for a healthy dose of schadenfreude. You’re welcome.

I didn’t do a great job of explaining the taste in between gulps of water, so here goes…

At first it didn’t seem too astounding or foul, with a taste a bit like some slightly spoiled flake or white fish. Then a heavy taste of ammonia creeps up the back of your throat like a live octopus trying to kill a Korean man.

And it sits there, trying to burn your throat with fishy cat piss and some sort of fish cake that’s been left in the sun.

The water did nothing. I regret not having the Brennivin.

This all sounds very dramatic, and obviously I’m still alive, just like all the Icelanders and tourists who try it. I’m sure you could actually develop a taste for it since it’s so remarkably unusual and still quite popular.

It’s just not my cup of tea, in fact a peppermint tea would have been glorious cos that bastard repeated on me for about two hours.

Not happening again.


BONUS: I fell in love with fish jerky, in particular “BitaFiskur” in Iceland. The ready to eat kind of dried fish that made one of the best hiking snacks ever.

The fish in Iceland is astonishingly good, and I’m glad they still have the rotten shark. They’ll be the nation that survive any worldwide catastrophe or climate disaster for sure!

 

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