For centuries Icelanders had to find ways to store food during long and cold winters. That was before refrigerators and modern technology. One of those „delicacies“ and one of Iceland‘s national dishes is the fermented shark or kæstur hákarl, which we, of course, offer a taste of on our Reykjavik Food Lovers Tour. One way to know if you are being offered a fermented shark is the overwhelming smell that refuses to leave your nostrils for a serious amount of time. That’s why we tell first-timers to pinch their nose while taking the first bite and be quick to wash it down with a shot of brennivín (very strong alcohol). Sounds good right!
Some of the most famous chefs in the world have come to Iceland and tried the fermented shark. Anthony Bourdain described it as “the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing” he has ever eaten and Gordon Ramsay simply spat it out. But each to his own, the shark is well appreciated among many. Well, at least many Icelanders.
The Greenland shark (or other sleeper sharks) is cured with a particular fermentation process. The shark is gutted and beheaded and placed in a shallow hole dug in gravelly sand. The shark is completely covered with sand and piled stones on top for 6-12 weeks depending on the season. This way the fluids are pressed out of the meat. The shark is then cut into strips and hung to dry for four to five months. The crust is removed prior to cutting the shark into small pieces and serving. Often served/sold in a small plastic container where it has been cut in small cubicles. That’s when a toothpick in your wallet comes in handy.
The meat is actually poisonous when fresh but may be consumed after being processed correctly so no need to worry, it’s perfectly safe to consume from the stores or markets in Iceland. You will be able to find it in most supermarkets. Few bits of advice though. Do not open the container in your car. Do not open the container in your hotel room either. To be completely honest, it is best eaten outside.