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Hákarl: Iceland’s Rancid Fermented Shark Delicacy

Hákarl: Iceland’s Rancid Fermented Shark Delicacy

Hákarl is an Icelandic delicacy of fermented Greenland shark meat that is known for its particularly pungent odor. Shark meat is fermented for 9 weeks before it is ready to eat and is traditionally eaten uncooked in little chunks.

Nordic countries have somewhat of a reputation for smelly delicacies, with Hákarl being comparable to the Swedish Surströmming or Greenland’s Kiviak.

How is Hákarl Prepared?

Hákarl drying

Historically Hákarl was prepared underground with a dash of urine. The shark urinates through its skin leaving you with a pungent urine odor, from preparation to serving.

In those days the shark was fermented underground. It was buried for a few weeks to help neutralize the toxins.

Today though, the shark is fermented in a room for approximately nine weeks then it is hung to dry for about five months. When the process is done, the Hákarl is ready to be eaten, no cooking of any sort is allowed.

Fresh Greenland sharks are poisonous as they are packed with plenty of toxins. The fermentation process helps neutralize those toxins.

The entire process can take up to five months. At first sight of the hanging shark, you will be forgiven for thinking it is smoked. This is because it develops brown crust over time. 

What Does Hákarl Taste Like?

Vacuum packed Hákarl

There are two textures in the Greenland shark meat: the reddish, chewy meat from the belly, and the white, cheese-like meat from the body.

The body and belly are not the only important parts of this shark though. Historically the shark’s liver was also a precious commodity as it was used for lighting lamps.

As for taste, Hákarl tastes like very much like a strong cheese.

It is akin to putting a chunk of blue cheese in your mouth with an aftertaste of urine. The smell is very strong so the faint-hearted may wish to hold their nose when chewing.

How is Hákarl Served?

Depending on the part of the shark you wish to taste, body or belly, the pieces are normally cut into bite-size cubes.

If you visit Iceland and you witness Hákarl hanging, don’t wonder why you don’t see the brown crusted pieces on your plate. The crust is removed before dicing and serving. You may make use of a toothpick to pick up the cubes. 

Owing to the pungent smell, it is strongly advised against attempting to eat this delicacy in an enclosed room.

You may be served with some bread but be warned, the bread will take away the true taste of this delicacy. It’s better to brave it and eat it “live” then if you must, wash it down with a shot!

You might also compare Hákarl to the Greenland ‘Muktuk’ of whale meat chunks due to the serving and texture.

Worth a Try?

This delicacy is not for the faint-hearted.

You may gag and never recover from the taste and smell. The aftertaste is very much like having urine in your mouth, as you would expect. Not to worry though, as the natives recommend washing it down with a shot of Brennivín.

However, real foodies may fall in love with eating Hákarl if you have an everlasting love with very strong cheese.

If you wish to partake of this delicacy, the best place to experience this delicacy, from fermentation to tasting is at the Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum.

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