What is hakarl? How do you eat it? and why on earth do people eat it? Welcome to the number 1 guide to the famous Icelandic shark dish.
Well time surely flies when you are having fun and it is now a year since I headed for a global trek and Iceland research adventure, which would also take me to Greenland and where I would discover Hakarl.
So, what exactly is hakarl?
If you have not heard of this fine delicacy then you do not share my love of all things both weird and wonderful in the culinary world! If you read any food blog about the rancid food son the planet then hakarl is usually right up there, usually alongside balut (which I love). There are even videos of people being sick after eating hakarl. Wimps say I!!!!
Simply put, Hakarl is the fermented meat of a Greenlandic shark, but let’s get into a bit more detail about how Hakarl is made.
Hákarl, or to give its proper name kæstur hákarl (rotten shark) is a kind of national dish in Iceland, although these days most Icelanders will kind of deny this to an extent.
How do you make it?
Greenland Shark meat is poisonous when fresh, so in Iceland, they behead the shark and then bury it in a sandpit covered by rocks to get rid of the poison. The shark then ferments for 6-12 weeks before being dug-up, cut into strips and hung out to dry for up to 5 months in a barn. Said barn will now stink of ammonia — like really stink — and this is where this dish gets its gruesome reputation. And yes ammonia smells like piss. It is famously bad because it smells of urine.
How do you eat hakarl?
The way to then consume it is to eat a cube on a toothpick, then chew it for 30 seconds, before chasing it with Brennivin, the local moonshine of Iceland. Legend has it the shot was used to neutralize any poison left. Nice!
Why do Icelanders eat it?
Quite simply most disgusting food, or shall we be more polite and say delicacies like hakarl are born out of necessity rather than choice. Would you believe it, but winters in Iceland and Greenland are a little bit harsh, this means that you need to be able to preserve meat, or fish for sustenance during the winter. Back in the day there were not supermarkets like Iceland in Iceland (pun very much intended).
But why do they STILL eat hakarl in Iceland?
Traditions are traditions and just because you can go down the road for a pint and pizza in Reykjavik doesn’t mean they want to let their traditions die. Even if said traditions are a fermented shark, that smells of piss! In reality though Icelanders rarely eat the stuff now, and as my bartender put it it is mainly for the tourists.
So where in Reykjavik can you eat Hakarl?
In reality there are lots of places where you can eat hakarl, particularly when you are in rural Iceland. In the interests of this article I have listed the two best places to try it in Reykjavik. One for free, the other you pay for.
1) Reykjavik Flea Market
If you want to be a cheap ass then you can go to the flea market. Here they have Hakarl on a stick that you can try for free. A very good start — and at a cost of nothing — but without the option of a shot to chase it down. As I was later to discover the sot is equally as important as the rotten-shark.
2) Icelandic Street Food & Craft Beer
The best street food in town! And you can do Hakarl and Brennivin for about 1000 Icelandic Krona, or about $7. And after you’ve done that, you can get food from next door, or head downstairs for a comedy show. Can’t say better than that!
So, that’s the story of Hakarl and where you should eat it in Reykjavik. To sum up, though: the Street Food Guy has a stronger stomach than most, but it really isn’t all that bad!
How does hakarl taste?
OK, so as the street food guy I have a stronger stomach than your average bear, but I really found it not all that bad (I had it three times whilst I was there). As you chew the fish, allegedly for 30 seconds the flavors do seem a bit ammonia like, but the fish tastes like most dried fish and it is palatable rather than good one might say. But then like all great things you get to chase it down with a shot. The shot makes it marginally better than that other smelly beast stinky tofu.
And that is my the story of my love affair with with rotten shark, one of the most notoriously bad foods on the planet.
And with Iceland now being one of the most tourist destinations on the planet, get your warm clothes, head to Reykjavik, man up and get into some rancid shark tasting..