Hákarl: Iceland’s Rancid Fermented Shark Delicacy

Hakarl shark being stored

Hákarl is an Icelandic delicacy of fermented Greenland shark meat that gives off one hell of a pungent odor! The shark meat is fermented for 9 weeks before it is ready to eat and is traditionally eaten uncooked in little chunks.

If you love exploring weird foods around the world and are in the market for a dish that attacks the nostrils and leaves you with a persistent aftertaste then Hákari might be for you.

The only foods with a comparable smell would be the Swedish Surströmming (so bad it’s banned from being taken on a plane) or the incredibly bizarre Kiviak (500 auk birds stuffed in a seal).

It’s safe to say that countries close to the Arctic circle have somewhat of a penchant for stinky foods!

How is Hákarl prepared?

Hákarl drying

Back in the day, Hákarl was prepared underground with a dash of urine. Yes, you read right! The shark urinates through its skin thus leaving you with a pungent urine odor, from preparation to serving!

In the good, old 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 allowed!

Why fermentation you ask?

Fresh Greenland sharks are poisonous as they are packed with plenty of toxins. The fermentation process helps neutralize the 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. Back in the day, its liver was also a precious commodity as it was used for lighting lamps. But, that’s a story for another day!

As for taste, Hákarl, depending on the piece on your plate, tastes like very strong cheese.

It’s like putting a chunk of blue cheese in your mouth and after chewing, ending up with the aftermath of urine with a rather strong aftertaste! The smell is very strong-you may want to hold your nose if you are faint-hearted! 

Serving

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, I would strongly advise against attempting to eat this delicacy in an enclosed room. Enjoy your “meat” outside!

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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