Eating Hákarl, Iceland’s Rotten/Fermented/Putrified Shark Specialty

tops on the list of wacky Icelandic foods to try must be hákarl, little cubes of fermented (via rotting, thank you very much) shark. sources say it is left to rot for up to two months, then dry for several more months — a process that removes the toxins from the shark. yes, kind of random someone discovered this because really, there are more palatable food options available…but i digress.


where to get some

i couldn’t find any at the downtown 10-11, but did see them at the Krambúð on Skólavörðustígur half a block from the Hallgrímskirkja (the famous church), as well as the Bonus that i talked about in my First Timer post. (and yes, you quickly get used to names like these, even if you can’t be bothered to figure out how to pronounce them.)

the one we tried (pictured above) is from the Krambúð; the Bonus has the vacuum-packed-in-plastic variety that you see in the Wikipedia page.

well, what was it like?!

with so much OMG IT’S THE FOULEST THING I’VE EVER HAD hype, i was expecting the worst, but really, it’s not bad. i started by holding my nose and trying a bite — but i could barely taste anything. letting go of my nose, i admit i was kind of disappointed! a vague scent of ammonia but it tasted sorta like…well, fish? it’s quite firm and slightly chewy, about the consistency of a hard, dense melon (but a bit rubberier).

then i tried one of the darker pieces.

now that sh!t is strong. the taste is a bit more intense, but it’s what gets to you after a couple of bites — the ammonia vapors. it made my breath smell like ammonia every time i inhaled or exhaled (you could feel it in your nose).

all in all, i ate four pieces just to make sure i didn’t get off easy, but truth is, it was completely manageable as long as you’ve made peace with the fact that you’re eating fish while smelling Windex. it didn’t taste like ammonia (as far as i know), and certainly didn’t taste or feel rotten (again, as far as i know).

do, however, have a flavored drink at the ready to wash away the taste and smell (it’s not something you really want lingering). i even had a tub of sour cream available (i thought it was yogurt at the store) in case i needed something stronger, but it didn’t come to that. traditionally you’re supposed to chase hákarl with some brennivín, but i already tried that earlier this week. (and as far as alcohol goes, it was not entirely unpleasant.)

PROTIP: That's not yogurt on the left. It's sour cream.

PROTIP: That’s not yogurt on the left. It’s sour cream.

if you put your nose up to the hákarl container and sniff it, though, that ammonia smell will stick around. i learned that the hard way. luckily the Airbnb had some coffee pods for a machine; a couple whiffs of that and all was right in the world.

if you can work up the courage to do it, i have no doubt you’ll escape unscathed from this shark encounter! (still, my all-time favorite wacky food is balut…om nom nom!)

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