Traditional recipes

I Ate Fermented Shark Meat in Iceland

I Ate Fermented Shark Meat in Iceland

During a visit to Iceland to learn about the country’s natural beauty and acclaimed bottled water, I told some Reykjavík locals that I wanted to experience the real Icelandic foods — the stuff the locals eat, not what’s served at watered-down tourist traps — and was pointed to a restaurant away from the hustle and commotion of the city center. Along my travels, I’d eaten traditional meals like the ever-so-satisfying and hearty lamb soup, and a ton of succulent langoustine, but I was hungry for something more unusual and offbeat. I arrived at Þrír Frakkar, a tiny little Icelandic establishment, with barely over 10 tables in a local pub-like setting. The emphasis here is apparently on truly Icelandic, classic favorites that are prepared for guests in the most authentic manner, something that’s not easy to find in the tourist-friendly city of Reykjavik.

Sitting down at my table, I was immediately thrown into the treacherous deep end of Icelandic foods when my dining companions insisted that I try their local delicacy, hákarl. It’s Iceland’s infamous national dish with quite the notorious reputation for testing even the most adventurous of stomachs. Greenland shark is fermented for up to 12 weeks, and then hung out to dry for several months, resulting in what can only be described as a full assault on the senses.

A small silver bowl was placed in front of me, with white, gelatinous-looking cubes of flesh that almost look like cheese. An accompanying bottle of Brennivín and a shot glass is also placed next to this. Roughly translated as “burnt wine” (i.e., distilled liquor, more or less), it’s customary to drink a shot of this traditional caraway-flavored schnapps with the hákarl. This fact raised all the concerns that any food requiring a powerful shot as a chaser should raise, but it was too late to turn back. I now had an audience of morbidly curious and amusingly entertained locals watching from nearby tables. The hákarl had a distinct odor, slightly ammonia-like, and taking a small cube of this intimidating delicacy, I moved it to my mouth, ready to taste what would be the most Icelandic moment of my time here.

In all honesty, it wasn't as bad as what it had built up to be. It was chewy in texture, almost spongey, with an unpleasant pungent taste — but as a seasoned adventurous (OK, more like outrageously weird) eater, I was able to stomach its off-putting texture and offensively fishy taste.

Or so I thought.

Literally no less than 10 seconds after thinking, “OK, it wasn’t that bad” — it hit me. And when I say hit me, it wasn’t like a playful slap across the face — eating hákarl is like a Mack truck at 200 miles per hour slam to the head. It begins as a slight tickle at the back of your throat. It’s almost like a tingle, like your mouth is questioning what you just did. It’s confused as it tries to process the insane combination of an incredibly odd firm Jell-O-like meat texture, with the gut-wrenching fumes that seem to almost now decide to unleash their full potentiality. My mouth started to water, like it wanted to gag, and I was overtaken by a putrid aftertaste that can only be described as a mixture of the stinkiest of Limburger cheese that’s been sitting out in the sun for days, and a piece of rotten, moldy chicken that you’ve found at the back of a college dorm refrigerator. My eyes were tearing up, and my mouth couldn’t stop gagging on this horrid taste sensation.

Frantic, I grabbed my shot of Brennivín and throw it down my throat in a feeble attempt to extinguish the aggressive invasion on my poor taste buds. It was like the driver of the aforementioned Mack truck had gotten out of his truck to check it I was OK, and then decided to football tackle me into the ground for fun. At this stage, I was coughing, spluttering, gagging, and tearing up all at the same time — and the locals were loving every minute of it.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that this aftertaste lingered for a solid 30 minutes while I ate other foods. I don’t think that even the strongest of palate cleansers would have been able to counteract the bodily response I had to that small bite. But I had conquered it (to a certain, debatable degree), and it was time to try other less intimidating local dishes.

A selection of different meats was laid out, starting with reindeer pate, a rich and salty contrast to the meal’s pugnacious start. Whale is served in two forms, as a sashimi that’s more reminiscent of a carpaccio than a sashimi, firm and almost steak-like in texture, but with a similar taste to a fatty tuna, and a whale steak, surprisingly smooth and soft. Puffin, another very popular local dish in Iceland, comes as a beautifully dark and rich red meat. It’s almost comparable to kangaroo, with its gaminess and smoky tones, but with a chicken-like, fibrous texture. Horse is another very common meat eaten in Iceland, and eating the steak served to me at Þrír Frakkar, the end result is incredibly similar to a well-seasoned, lean beef steak. At the end of the day, this really is one of the few places in Reykjavik where you can experience a truly authentic, traditional Icelandic meal and sample a range of unique meats and seafood in a charmingly rustic setting.


Fermented Shark and Black Death: A Traditional Icelandic Pairing

Iceland is renowned for its simple, farm-fresh food. Menus throughout the island are replete with lamb, potatoes, and lots and lots of seafood. But despite the quality of product and the ever-imaginative preparations being presented by today’s top Icelandic chefs, the one item that everyone seems to ask about when you mention Icelandic cuisine is hákarl, or fermented shark.

Every TV travel show about the island has to include a segment about this local delicacy, possibly because it’s unique to the country or possibly because it’s notorious for its, how shall I say, unusual flavor. Anthony Bourdain called it “the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing” he’s ever eaten, and Andrew Zimmern, known for eating just about anything, said hákarl was “hardcore food” and “not for beginners.”

So naturally, when I had the chance to go to Iceland, I knew that I had to make a stop at the country’s epicenter of hákarl, The Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum, about 20 minutes west of Stykkishólmur on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

A large shark-shaped sign on road 54, points you down a long dirt road toward what at first glance appears to be a private farm along the rocky coast. But continue around the first building, and you’ll come across the front of the museum, an unassuming door with a simple sign saying “Come and taste the shark and see how its made.” Admission is 1.000 Icelandic krónur or about $8 U.S.

I was able to meet with the owner of the museum, the famous “Shark Man” Hildibrandur Bjarnason, a congenial white-haired man with a ruddy complexion, twinkling eyes, and an infectious smile. Hildibrandur spoke little English, but he gladly showed me around the room, filled with mementos of his family’s shark fishing business that dates back more than 400 years. A wooden fishing boat, built in 1860, dominated the center of the room, surrounded by vintage fishing equipment, historic family photos, and taxidermied birds and sea life.

A video, in Icelandic, showed how the hákarl is made. Printed materials were available in Icelandic and English for a better understanding.

“This is the Greenland shark,” said Hildibrandur, his wife translating for him. “We can’t eat this shark fresh. It is toxic fresh. There is a lot of ammonia [urea] inside of it.” This urea, along with other toxins, acts as an antifreeze when the shark is alive, allowing it to live in the cold arctic waters.

Hildibrandur no longer fishes for shark like his ancestors did. He purchases 50 to 60 sharks annually. An average Greenland shark weighs about 1,100 pounds and is about 13 feet long.

The shark meat is placed in large containers and weighted down for about six weeks. As the meat decomposes, it oozes toxic ammonia. Afterwards, it is hung in an outdoor drying shed—Hildibrandur’s is located behind the museum—for about four to six months to complete the breakdown process. During the drying process, the toxins form a thick brown crust on the meat, which is then cut off, revealing an edible rubbery white flesh.

“We eat the shark at special times,” said Hildibrandur. “It’s for when friends come together, family comes together. We eat it like a snack.” Hákarl is also a signature dish of the Thorrablot midwinter festival. And it is washed down with another Icelandic tradition: Brennivin, a clear schnapps made from fermented potato mash and flavored with caraway, cumin, and angelica.

It was soon time to taste the hákarl. I took a piece of dark rye bread and a small cube of shark meat. I sniffed it. There’s no kind way of saying this: It smelled like cat pee. Luckily, the smell is much worse than the taste. The shark was chewy and fishy, with a strange, rather unpleasant, ammonia aftertaste. I downed a shot of Brennivin.

Known as the Black Death, 80-proof Brennivin tastes similar to vodka, with a slight herbal aroma. Many people I met in Iceland said it tasted heavily of caraway others leaned more toward the cumin. To me, it was sharp, burning, and flavorless—the perfect follow-up to cut through the fatty film left behind in my mouth from the shark.

Overall, the experience of eating hákarl was not as bad as I was expecting. As I finished my sample, Hildibrandur stood by, a large grin on his face. He was clearly pleased.

“We are the favorite [hákarl producer],” he said proudly. “People like the shark from here.”

If you’d like to try some hákarl, it is available through some online shops. But if you’re ever in Iceland, be sure to stop by the Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum and try some of Hildibrandur’s famous family recipe. Until then, you can learn about the museum at www.bjarnarhofn.is.

Have you been to Iceland and sampled the hákarl? What did you think of it? Or, was there another local “delicacy” that you tried but wished you hadn’t? I’d love to hear your experiences.


Fermented Shark and Black Death: A Traditional Icelandic Pairing

Iceland is renowned for its simple, farm-fresh food. Menus throughout the island are replete with lamb, potatoes, and lots and lots of seafood. But despite the quality of product and the ever-imaginative preparations being presented by today’s top Icelandic chefs, the one item that everyone seems to ask about when you mention Icelandic cuisine is hákarl, or fermented shark.

Every TV travel show about the island has to include a segment about this local delicacy, possibly because it’s unique to the country or possibly because it’s notorious for its, how shall I say, unusual flavor. Anthony Bourdain called it “the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing” he’s ever eaten, and Andrew Zimmern, known for eating just about anything, said hákarl was “hardcore food” and “not for beginners.”

So naturally, when I had the chance to go to Iceland, I knew that I had to make a stop at the country’s epicenter of hákarl, The Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum, about 20 minutes west of Stykkishólmur on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

A large shark-shaped sign on road 54, points you down a long dirt road toward what at first glance appears to be a private farm along the rocky coast. But continue around the first building, and you’ll come across the front of the museum, an unassuming door with a simple sign saying “Come and taste the shark and see how its made.” Admission is 1.000 Icelandic krónur or about $8 U.S.

I was able to meet with the owner of the museum, the famous “Shark Man” Hildibrandur Bjarnason, a congenial white-haired man with a ruddy complexion, twinkling eyes, and an infectious smile. Hildibrandur spoke little English, but he gladly showed me around the room, filled with mementos of his family’s shark fishing business that dates back more than 400 years. A wooden fishing boat, built in 1860, dominated the center of the room, surrounded by vintage fishing equipment, historic family photos, and taxidermied birds and sea life.

A video, in Icelandic, showed how the hákarl is made. Printed materials were available in Icelandic and English for a better understanding.

“This is the Greenland shark,” said Hildibrandur, his wife translating for him. “We can’t eat this shark fresh. It is toxic fresh. There is a lot of ammonia [urea] inside of it.” This urea, along with other toxins, acts as an antifreeze when the shark is alive, allowing it to live in the cold arctic waters.

Hildibrandur no longer fishes for shark like his ancestors did. He purchases 50 to 60 sharks annually. An average Greenland shark weighs about 1,100 pounds and is about 13 feet long.

The shark meat is placed in large containers and weighted down for about six weeks. As the meat decomposes, it oozes toxic ammonia. Afterwards, it is hung in an outdoor drying shed—Hildibrandur’s is located behind the museum—for about four to six months to complete the breakdown process. During the drying process, the toxins form a thick brown crust on the meat, which is then cut off, revealing an edible rubbery white flesh.

“We eat the shark at special times,” said Hildibrandur. “It’s for when friends come together, family comes together. We eat it like a snack.” Hákarl is also a signature dish of the Thorrablot midwinter festival. And it is washed down with another Icelandic tradition: Brennivin, a clear schnapps made from fermented potato mash and flavored with caraway, cumin, and angelica.

It was soon time to taste the hákarl. I took a piece of dark rye bread and a small cube of shark meat. I sniffed it. There’s no kind way of saying this: It smelled like cat pee. Luckily, the smell is much worse than the taste. The shark was chewy and fishy, with a strange, rather unpleasant, ammonia aftertaste. I downed a shot of Brennivin.

Known as the Black Death, 80-proof Brennivin tastes similar to vodka, with a slight herbal aroma. Many people I met in Iceland said it tasted heavily of caraway others leaned more toward the cumin. To me, it was sharp, burning, and flavorless—the perfect follow-up to cut through the fatty film left behind in my mouth from the shark.

Overall, the experience of eating hákarl was not as bad as I was expecting. As I finished my sample, Hildibrandur stood by, a large grin on his face. He was clearly pleased.

“We are the favorite [hákarl producer],” he said proudly. “People like the shark from here.”

If you’d like to try some hákarl, it is available through some online shops. But if you’re ever in Iceland, be sure to stop by the Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum and try some of Hildibrandur’s famous family recipe. Until then, you can learn about the museum at www.bjarnarhofn.is.

Have you been to Iceland and sampled the hákarl? What did you think of it? Or, was there another local “delicacy” that you tried but wished you hadn’t? I’d love to hear your experiences.


Fermented Shark and Black Death: A Traditional Icelandic Pairing

Iceland is renowned for its simple, farm-fresh food. Menus throughout the island are replete with lamb, potatoes, and lots and lots of seafood. But despite the quality of product and the ever-imaginative preparations being presented by today’s top Icelandic chefs, the one item that everyone seems to ask about when you mention Icelandic cuisine is hákarl, or fermented shark.

Every TV travel show about the island has to include a segment about this local delicacy, possibly because it’s unique to the country or possibly because it’s notorious for its, how shall I say, unusual flavor. Anthony Bourdain called it “the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing” he’s ever eaten, and Andrew Zimmern, known for eating just about anything, said hákarl was “hardcore food” and “not for beginners.”

So naturally, when I had the chance to go to Iceland, I knew that I had to make a stop at the country’s epicenter of hákarl, The Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum, about 20 minutes west of Stykkishólmur on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

A large shark-shaped sign on road 54, points you down a long dirt road toward what at first glance appears to be a private farm along the rocky coast. But continue around the first building, and you’ll come across the front of the museum, an unassuming door with a simple sign saying “Come and taste the shark and see how its made.” Admission is 1.000 Icelandic krónur or about $8 U.S.

I was able to meet with the owner of the museum, the famous “Shark Man” Hildibrandur Bjarnason, a congenial white-haired man with a ruddy complexion, twinkling eyes, and an infectious smile. Hildibrandur spoke little English, but he gladly showed me around the room, filled with mementos of his family’s shark fishing business that dates back more than 400 years. A wooden fishing boat, built in 1860, dominated the center of the room, surrounded by vintage fishing equipment, historic family photos, and taxidermied birds and sea life.

A video, in Icelandic, showed how the hákarl is made. Printed materials were available in Icelandic and English for a better understanding.

“This is the Greenland shark,” said Hildibrandur, his wife translating for him. “We can’t eat this shark fresh. It is toxic fresh. There is a lot of ammonia [urea] inside of it.” This urea, along with other toxins, acts as an antifreeze when the shark is alive, allowing it to live in the cold arctic waters.

Hildibrandur no longer fishes for shark like his ancestors did. He purchases 50 to 60 sharks annually. An average Greenland shark weighs about 1,100 pounds and is about 13 feet long.

The shark meat is placed in large containers and weighted down for about six weeks. As the meat decomposes, it oozes toxic ammonia. Afterwards, it is hung in an outdoor drying shed—Hildibrandur’s is located behind the museum—for about four to six months to complete the breakdown process. During the drying process, the toxins form a thick brown crust on the meat, which is then cut off, revealing an edible rubbery white flesh.

“We eat the shark at special times,” said Hildibrandur. “It’s for when friends come together, family comes together. We eat it like a snack.” Hákarl is also a signature dish of the Thorrablot midwinter festival. And it is washed down with another Icelandic tradition: Brennivin, a clear schnapps made from fermented potato mash and flavored with caraway, cumin, and angelica.

It was soon time to taste the hákarl. I took a piece of dark rye bread and a small cube of shark meat. I sniffed it. There’s no kind way of saying this: It smelled like cat pee. Luckily, the smell is much worse than the taste. The shark was chewy and fishy, with a strange, rather unpleasant, ammonia aftertaste. I downed a shot of Brennivin.

Known as the Black Death, 80-proof Brennivin tastes similar to vodka, with a slight herbal aroma. Many people I met in Iceland said it tasted heavily of caraway others leaned more toward the cumin. To me, it was sharp, burning, and flavorless—the perfect follow-up to cut through the fatty film left behind in my mouth from the shark.

Overall, the experience of eating hákarl was not as bad as I was expecting. As I finished my sample, Hildibrandur stood by, a large grin on his face. He was clearly pleased.

“We are the favorite [hákarl producer],” he said proudly. “People like the shark from here.”

If you’d like to try some hákarl, it is available through some online shops. But if you’re ever in Iceland, be sure to stop by the Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum and try some of Hildibrandur’s famous family recipe. Until then, you can learn about the museum at www.bjarnarhofn.is.

Have you been to Iceland and sampled the hákarl? What did you think of it? Or, was there another local “delicacy” that you tried but wished you hadn’t? I’d love to hear your experiences.


Fermented Shark and Black Death: A Traditional Icelandic Pairing

Iceland is renowned for its simple, farm-fresh food. Menus throughout the island are replete with lamb, potatoes, and lots and lots of seafood. But despite the quality of product and the ever-imaginative preparations being presented by today’s top Icelandic chefs, the one item that everyone seems to ask about when you mention Icelandic cuisine is hákarl, or fermented shark.

Every TV travel show about the island has to include a segment about this local delicacy, possibly because it’s unique to the country or possibly because it’s notorious for its, how shall I say, unusual flavor. Anthony Bourdain called it “the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing” he’s ever eaten, and Andrew Zimmern, known for eating just about anything, said hákarl was “hardcore food” and “not for beginners.”

So naturally, when I had the chance to go to Iceland, I knew that I had to make a stop at the country’s epicenter of hákarl, The Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum, about 20 minutes west of Stykkishólmur on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

A large shark-shaped sign on road 54, points you down a long dirt road toward what at first glance appears to be a private farm along the rocky coast. But continue around the first building, and you’ll come across the front of the museum, an unassuming door with a simple sign saying “Come and taste the shark and see how its made.” Admission is 1.000 Icelandic krónur or about $8 U.S.

I was able to meet with the owner of the museum, the famous “Shark Man” Hildibrandur Bjarnason, a congenial white-haired man with a ruddy complexion, twinkling eyes, and an infectious smile. Hildibrandur spoke little English, but he gladly showed me around the room, filled with mementos of his family’s shark fishing business that dates back more than 400 years. A wooden fishing boat, built in 1860, dominated the center of the room, surrounded by vintage fishing equipment, historic family photos, and taxidermied birds and sea life.

A video, in Icelandic, showed how the hákarl is made. Printed materials were available in Icelandic and English for a better understanding.

“This is the Greenland shark,” said Hildibrandur, his wife translating for him. “We can’t eat this shark fresh. It is toxic fresh. There is a lot of ammonia [urea] inside of it.” This urea, along with other toxins, acts as an antifreeze when the shark is alive, allowing it to live in the cold arctic waters.

Hildibrandur no longer fishes for shark like his ancestors did. He purchases 50 to 60 sharks annually. An average Greenland shark weighs about 1,100 pounds and is about 13 feet long.

The shark meat is placed in large containers and weighted down for about six weeks. As the meat decomposes, it oozes toxic ammonia. Afterwards, it is hung in an outdoor drying shed—Hildibrandur’s is located behind the museum—for about four to six months to complete the breakdown process. During the drying process, the toxins form a thick brown crust on the meat, which is then cut off, revealing an edible rubbery white flesh.

“We eat the shark at special times,” said Hildibrandur. “It’s for when friends come together, family comes together. We eat it like a snack.” Hákarl is also a signature dish of the Thorrablot midwinter festival. And it is washed down with another Icelandic tradition: Brennivin, a clear schnapps made from fermented potato mash and flavored with caraway, cumin, and angelica.

It was soon time to taste the hákarl. I took a piece of dark rye bread and a small cube of shark meat. I sniffed it. There’s no kind way of saying this: It smelled like cat pee. Luckily, the smell is much worse than the taste. The shark was chewy and fishy, with a strange, rather unpleasant, ammonia aftertaste. I downed a shot of Brennivin.

Known as the Black Death, 80-proof Brennivin tastes similar to vodka, with a slight herbal aroma. Many people I met in Iceland said it tasted heavily of caraway others leaned more toward the cumin. To me, it was sharp, burning, and flavorless—the perfect follow-up to cut through the fatty film left behind in my mouth from the shark.

Overall, the experience of eating hákarl was not as bad as I was expecting. As I finished my sample, Hildibrandur stood by, a large grin on his face. He was clearly pleased.

“We are the favorite [hákarl producer],” he said proudly. “People like the shark from here.”

If you’d like to try some hákarl, it is available through some online shops. But if you’re ever in Iceland, be sure to stop by the Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum and try some of Hildibrandur’s famous family recipe. Until then, you can learn about the museum at www.bjarnarhofn.is.

Have you been to Iceland and sampled the hákarl? What did you think of it? Or, was there another local “delicacy” that you tried but wished you hadn’t? I’d love to hear your experiences.


Fermented Shark and Black Death: A Traditional Icelandic Pairing

Iceland is renowned for its simple, farm-fresh food. Menus throughout the island are replete with lamb, potatoes, and lots and lots of seafood. But despite the quality of product and the ever-imaginative preparations being presented by today’s top Icelandic chefs, the one item that everyone seems to ask about when you mention Icelandic cuisine is hákarl, or fermented shark.

Every TV travel show about the island has to include a segment about this local delicacy, possibly because it’s unique to the country or possibly because it’s notorious for its, how shall I say, unusual flavor. Anthony Bourdain called it “the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing” he’s ever eaten, and Andrew Zimmern, known for eating just about anything, said hákarl was “hardcore food” and “not for beginners.”

So naturally, when I had the chance to go to Iceland, I knew that I had to make a stop at the country’s epicenter of hákarl, The Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum, about 20 minutes west of Stykkishólmur on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

A large shark-shaped sign on road 54, points you down a long dirt road toward what at first glance appears to be a private farm along the rocky coast. But continue around the first building, and you’ll come across the front of the museum, an unassuming door with a simple sign saying “Come and taste the shark and see how its made.” Admission is 1.000 Icelandic krónur or about $8 U.S.

I was able to meet with the owner of the museum, the famous “Shark Man” Hildibrandur Bjarnason, a congenial white-haired man with a ruddy complexion, twinkling eyes, and an infectious smile. Hildibrandur spoke little English, but he gladly showed me around the room, filled with mementos of his family’s shark fishing business that dates back more than 400 years. A wooden fishing boat, built in 1860, dominated the center of the room, surrounded by vintage fishing equipment, historic family photos, and taxidermied birds and sea life.

A video, in Icelandic, showed how the hákarl is made. Printed materials were available in Icelandic and English for a better understanding.

“This is the Greenland shark,” said Hildibrandur, his wife translating for him. “We can’t eat this shark fresh. It is toxic fresh. There is a lot of ammonia [urea] inside of it.” This urea, along with other toxins, acts as an antifreeze when the shark is alive, allowing it to live in the cold arctic waters.

Hildibrandur no longer fishes for shark like his ancestors did. He purchases 50 to 60 sharks annually. An average Greenland shark weighs about 1,100 pounds and is about 13 feet long.

The shark meat is placed in large containers and weighted down for about six weeks. As the meat decomposes, it oozes toxic ammonia. Afterwards, it is hung in an outdoor drying shed—Hildibrandur’s is located behind the museum—for about four to six months to complete the breakdown process. During the drying process, the toxins form a thick brown crust on the meat, which is then cut off, revealing an edible rubbery white flesh.

“We eat the shark at special times,” said Hildibrandur. “It’s for when friends come together, family comes together. We eat it like a snack.” Hákarl is also a signature dish of the Thorrablot midwinter festival. And it is washed down with another Icelandic tradition: Brennivin, a clear schnapps made from fermented potato mash and flavored with caraway, cumin, and angelica.

It was soon time to taste the hákarl. I took a piece of dark rye bread and a small cube of shark meat. I sniffed it. There’s no kind way of saying this: It smelled like cat pee. Luckily, the smell is much worse than the taste. The shark was chewy and fishy, with a strange, rather unpleasant, ammonia aftertaste. I downed a shot of Brennivin.

Known as the Black Death, 80-proof Brennivin tastes similar to vodka, with a slight herbal aroma. Many people I met in Iceland said it tasted heavily of caraway others leaned more toward the cumin. To me, it was sharp, burning, and flavorless—the perfect follow-up to cut through the fatty film left behind in my mouth from the shark.

Overall, the experience of eating hákarl was not as bad as I was expecting. As I finished my sample, Hildibrandur stood by, a large grin on his face. He was clearly pleased.

“We are the favorite [hákarl producer],” he said proudly. “People like the shark from here.”

If you’d like to try some hákarl, it is available through some online shops. But if you’re ever in Iceland, be sure to stop by the Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum and try some of Hildibrandur’s famous family recipe. Until then, you can learn about the museum at www.bjarnarhofn.is.

Have you been to Iceland and sampled the hákarl? What did you think of it? Or, was there another local “delicacy” that you tried but wished you hadn’t? I’d love to hear your experiences.


Fermented Shark and Black Death: A Traditional Icelandic Pairing

Iceland is renowned for its simple, farm-fresh food. Menus throughout the island are replete with lamb, potatoes, and lots and lots of seafood. But despite the quality of product and the ever-imaginative preparations being presented by today’s top Icelandic chefs, the one item that everyone seems to ask about when you mention Icelandic cuisine is hákarl, or fermented shark.

Every TV travel show about the island has to include a segment about this local delicacy, possibly because it’s unique to the country or possibly because it’s notorious for its, how shall I say, unusual flavor. Anthony Bourdain called it “the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing” he’s ever eaten, and Andrew Zimmern, known for eating just about anything, said hákarl was “hardcore food” and “not for beginners.”

So naturally, when I had the chance to go to Iceland, I knew that I had to make a stop at the country’s epicenter of hákarl, The Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum, about 20 minutes west of Stykkishólmur on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

A large shark-shaped sign on road 54, points you down a long dirt road toward what at first glance appears to be a private farm along the rocky coast. But continue around the first building, and you’ll come across the front of the museum, an unassuming door with a simple sign saying “Come and taste the shark and see how its made.” Admission is 1.000 Icelandic krónur or about $8 U.S.

I was able to meet with the owner of the museum, the famous “Shark Man” Hildibrandur Bjarnason, a congenial white-haired man with a ruddy complexion, twinkling eyes, and an infectious smile. Hildibrandur spoke little English, but he gladly showed me around the room, filled with mementos of his family’s shark fishing business that dates back more than 400 years. A wooden fishing boat, built in 1860, dominated the center of the room, surrounded by vintage fishing equipment, historic family photos, and taxidermied birds and sea life.

A video, in Icelandic, showed how the hákarl is made. Printed materials were available in Icelandic and English for a better understanding.

“This is the Greenland shark,” said Hildibrandur, his wife translating for him. “We can’t eat this shark fresh. It is toxic fresh. There is a lot of ammonia [urea] inside of it.” This urea, along with other toxins, acts as an antifreeze when the shark is alive, allowing it to live in the cold arctic waters.

Hildibrandur no longer fishes for shark like his ancestors did. He purchases 50 to 60 sharks annually. An average Greenland shark weighs about 1,100 pounds and is about 13 feet long.

The shark meat is placed in large containers and weighted down for about six weeks. As the meat decomposes, it oozes toxic ammonia. Afterwards, it is hung in an outdoor drying shed—Hildibrandur’s is located behind the museum—for about four to six months to complete the breakdown process. During the drying process, the toxins form a thick brown crust on the meat, which is then cut off, revealing an edible rubbery white flesh.

“We eat the shark at special times,” said Hildibrandur. “It’s for when friends come together, family comes together. We eat it like a snack.” Hákarl is also a signature dish of the Thorrablot midwinter festival. And it is washed down with another Icelandic tradition: Brennivin, a clear schnapps made from fermented potato mash and flavored with caraway, cumin, and angelica.

It was soon time to taste the hákarl. I took a piece of dark rye bread and a small cube of shark meat. I sniffed it. There’s no kind way of saying this: It smelled like cat pee. Luckily, the smell is much worse than the taste. The shark was chewy and fishy, with a strange, rather unpleasant, ammonia aftertaste. I downed a shot of Brennivin.

Known as the Black Death, 80-proof Brennivin tastes similar to vodka, with a slight herbal aroma. Many people I met in Iceland said it tasted heavily of caraway others leaned more toward the cumin. To me, it was sharp, burning, and flavorless—the perfect follow-up to cut through the fatty film left behind in my mouth from the shark.

Overall, the experience of eating hákarl was not as bad as I was expecting. As I finished my sample, Hildibrandur stood by, a large grin on his face. He was clearly pleased.

“We are the favorite [hákarl producer],” he said proudly. “People like the shark from here.”

If you’d like to try some hákarl, it is available through some online shops. But if you’re ever in Iceland, be sure to stop by the Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum and try some of Hildibrandur’s famous family recipe. Until then, you can learn about the museum at www.bjarnarhofn.is.

Have you been to Iceland and sampled the hákarl? What did you think of it? Or, was there another local “delicacy” that you tried but wished you hadn’t? I’d love to hear your experiences.


Fermented Shark and Black Death: A Traditional Icelandic Pairing

Iceland is renowned for its simple, farm-fresh food. Menus throughout the island are replete with lamb, potatoes, and lots and lots of seafood. But despite the quality of product and the ever-imaginative preparations being presented by today’s top Icelandic chefs, the one item that everyone seems to ask about when you mention Icelandic cuisine is hákarl, or fermented shark.

Every TV travel show about the island has to include a segment about this local delicacy, possibly because it’s unique to the country or possibly because it’s notorious for its, how shall I say, unusual flavor. Anthony Bourdain called it “the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing” he’s ever eaten, and Andrew Zimmern, known for eating just about anything, said hákarl was “hardcore food” and “not for beginners.”

So naturally, when I had the chance to go to Iceland, I knew that I had to make a stop at the country’s epicenter of hákarl, The Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum, about 20 minutes west of Stykkishólmur on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

A large shark-shaped sign on road 54, points you down a long dirt road toward what at first glance appears to be a private farm along the rocky coast. But continue around the first building, and you’ll come across the front of the museum, an unassuming door with a simple sign saying “Come and taste the shark and see how its made.” Admission is 1.000 Icelandic krónur or about $8 U.S.

I was able to meet with the owner of the museum, the famous “Shark Man” Hildibrandur Bjarnason, a congenial white-haired man with a ruddy complexion, twinkling eyes, and an infectious smile. Hildibrandur spoke little English, but he gladly showed me around the room, filled with mementos of his family’s shark fishing business that dates back more than 400 years. A wooden fishing boat, built in 1860, dominated the center of the room, surrounded by vintage fishing equipment, historic family photos, and taxidermied birds and sea life.

A video, in Icelandic, showed how the hákarl is made. Printed materials were available in Icelandic and English for a better understanding.

“This is the Greenland shark,” said Hildibrandur, his wife translating for him. “We can’t eat this shark fresh. It is toxic fresh. There is a lot of ammonia [urea] inside of it.” This urea, along with other toxins, acts as an antifreeze when the shark is alive, allowing it to live in the cold arctic waters.

Hildibrandur no longer fishes for shark like his ancestors did. He purchases 50 to 60 sharks annually. An average Greenland shark weighs about 1,100 pounds and is about 13 feet long.

The shark meat is placed in large containers and weighted down for about six weeks. As the meat decomposes, it oozes toxic ammonia. Afterwards, it is hung in an outdoor drying shed—Hildibrandur’s is located behind the museum—for about four to six months to complete the breakdown process. During the drying process, the toxins form a thick brown crust on the meat, which is then cut off, revealing an edible rubbery white flesh.

“We eat the shark at special times,” said Hildibrandur. “It’s for when friends come together, family comes together. We eat it like a snack.” Hákarl is also a signature dish of the Thorrablot midwinter festival. And it is washed down with another Icelandic tradition: Brennivin, a clear schnapps made from fermented potato mash and flavored with caraway, cumin, and angelica.

It was soon time to taste the hákarl. I took a piece of dark rye bread and a small cube of shark meat. I sniffed it. There’s no kind way of saying this: It smelled like cat pee. Luckily, the smell is much worse than the taste. The shark was chewy and fishy, with a strange, rather unpleasant, ammonia aftertaste. I downed a shot of Brennivin.

Known as the Black Death, 80-proof Brennivin tastes similar to vodka, with a slight herbal aroma. Many people I met in Iceland said it tasted heavily of caraway others leaned more toward the cumin. To me, it was sharp, burning, and flavorless—the perfect follow-up to cut through the fatty film left behind in my mouth from the shark.

Overall, the experience of eating hákarl was not as bad as I was expecting. As I finished my sample, Hildibrandur stood by, a large grin on his face. He was clearly pleased.

“We are the favorite [hákarl producer],” he said proudly. “People like the shark from here.”

If you’d like to try some hákarl, it is available through some online shops. But if you’re ever in Iceland, be sure to stop by the Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum and try some of Hildibrandur’s famous family recipe. Until then, you can learn about the museum at www.bjarnarhofn.is.

Have you been to Iceland and sampled the hákarl? What did you think of it? Or, was there another local “delicacy” that you tried but wished you hadn’t? I’d love to hear your experiences.


Fermented Shark and Black Death: A Traditional Icelandic Pairing

Iceland is renowned for its simple, farm-fresh food. Menus throughout the island are replete with lamb, potatoes, and lots and lots of seafood. But despite the quality of product and the ever-imaginative preparations being presented by today’s top Icelandic chefs, the one item that everyone seems to ask about when you mention Icelandic cuisine is hákarl, or fermented shark.

Every TV travel show about the island has to include a segment about this local delicacy, possibly because it’s unique to the country or possibly because it’s notorious for its, how shall I say, unusual flavor. Anthony Bourdain called it “the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing” he’s ever eaten, and Andrew Zimmern, known for eating just about anything, said hákarl was “hardcore food” and “not for beginners.”

So naturally, when I had the chance to go to Iceland, I knew that I had to make a stop at the country’s epicenter of hákarl, The Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum, about 20 minutes west of Stykkishólmur on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

A large shark-shaped sign on road 54, points you down a long dirt road toward what at first glance appears to be a private farm along the rocky coast. But continue around the first building, and you’ll come across the front of the museum, an unassuming door with a simple sign saying “Come and taste the shark and see how its made.” Admission is 1.000 Icelandic krónur or about $8 U.S.

I was able to meet with the owner of the museum, the famous “Shark Man” Hildibrandur Bjarnason, a congenial white-haired man with a ruddy complexion, twinkling eyes, and an infectious smile. Hildibrandur spoke little English, but he gladly showed me around the room, filled with mementos of his family’s shark fishing business that dates back more than 400 years. A wooden fishing boat, built in 1860, dominated the center of the room, surrounded by vintage fishing equipment, historic family photos, and taxidermied birds and sea life.

A video, in Icelandic, showed how the hákarl is made. Printed materials were available in Icelandic and English for a better understanding.

“This is the Greenland shark,” said Hildibrandur, his wife translating for him. “We can’t eat this shark fresh. It is toxic fresh. There is a lot of ammonia [urea] inside of it.” This urea, along with other toxins, acts as an antifreeze when the shark is alive, allowing it to live in the cold arctic waters.

Hildibrandur no longer fishes for shark like his ancestors did. He purchases 50 to 60 sharks annually. An average Greenland shark weighs about 1,100 pounds and is about 13 feet long.

The shark meat is placed in large containers and weighted down for about six weeks. As the meat decomposes, it oozes toxic ammonia. Afterwards, it is hung in an outdoor drying shed—Hildibrandur’s is located behind the museum—for about four to six months to complete the breakdown process. During the drying process, the toxins form a thick brown crust on the meat, which is then cut off, revealing an edible rubbery white flesh.

“We eat the shark at special times,” said Hildibrandur. “It’s for when friends come together, family comes together. We eat it like a snack.” Hákarl is also a signature dish of the Thorrablot midwinter festival. And it is washed down with another Icelandic tradition: Brennivin, a clear schnapps made from fermented potato mash and flavored with caraway, cumin, and angelica.

It was soon time to taste the hákarl. I took a piece of dark rye bread and a small cube of shark meat. I sniffed it. There’s no kind way of saying this: It smelled like cat pee. Luckily, the smell is much worse than the taste. The shark was chewy and fishy, with a strange, rather unpleasant, ammonia aftertaste. I downed a shot of Brennivin.

Known as the Black Death, 80-proof Brennivin tastes similar to vodka, with a slight herbal aroma. Many people I met in Iceland said it tasted heavily of caraway others leaned more toward the cumin. To me, it was sharp, burning, and flavorless—the perfect follow-up to cut through the fatty film left behind in my mouth from the shark.

Overall, the experience of eating hákarl was not as bad as I was expecting. As I finished my sample, Hildibrandur stood by, a large grin on his face. He was clearly pleased.

“We are the favorite [hákarl producer],” he said proudly. “People like the shark from here.”

If you’d like to try some hákarl, it is available through some online shops. But if you’re ever in Iceland, be sure to stop by the Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum and try some of Hildibrandur’s famous family recipe. Until then, you can learn about the museum at www.bjarnarhofn.is.

Have you been to Iceland and sampled the hákarl? What did you think of it? Or, was there another local “delicacy” that you tried but wished you hadn’t? I’d love to hear your experiences.


Fermented Shark and Black Death: A Traditional Icelandic Pairing

Iceland is renowned for its simple, farm-fresh food. Menus throughout the island are replete with lamb, potatoes, and lots and lots of seafood. But despite the quality of product and the ever-imaginative preparations being presented by today’s top Icelandic chefs, the one item that everyone seems to ask about when you mention Icelandic cuisine is hákarl, or fermented shark.

Every TV travel show about the island has to include a segment about this local delicacy, possibly because it’s unique to the country or possibly because it’s notorious for its, how shall I say, unusual flavor. Anthony Bourdain called it “the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing” he’s ever eaten, and Andrew Zimmern, known for eating just about anything, said hákarl was “hardcore food” and “not for beginners.”

So naturally, when I had the chance to go to Iceland, I knew that I had to make a stop at the country’s epicenter of hákarl, The Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum, about 20 minutes west of Stykkishólmur on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

A large shark-shaped sign on road 54, points you down a long dirt road toward what at first glance appears to be a private farm along the rocky coast. But continue around the first building, and you’ll come across the front of the museum, an unassuming door with a simple sign saying “Come and taste the shark and see how its made.” Admission is 1.000 Icelandic krónur or about $8 U.S.

I was able to meet with the owner of the museum, the famous “Shark Man” Hildibrandur Bjarnason, a congenial white-haired man with a ruddy complexion, twinkling eyes, and an infectious smile. Hildibrandur spoke little English, but he gladly showed me around the room, filled with mementos of his family’s shark fishing business that dates back more than 400 years. A wooden fishing boat, built in 1860, dominated the center of the room, surrounded by vintage fishing equipment, historic family photos, and taxidermied birds and sea life.

A video, in Icelandic, showed how the hákarl is made. Printed materials were available in Icelandic and English for a better understanding.

“This is the Greenland shark,” said Hildibrandur, his wife translating for him. “We can’t eat this shark fresh. It is toxic fresh. There is a lot of ammonia [urea] inside of it.” This urea, along with other toxins, acts as an antifreeze when the shark is alive, allowing it to live in the cold arctic waters.

Hildibrandur no longer fishes for shark like his ancestors did. He purchases 50 to 60 sharks annually. An average Greenland shark weighs about 1,100 pounds and is about 13 feet long.

The shark meat is placed in large containers and weighted down for about six weeks. As the meat decomposes, it oozes toxic ammonia. Afterwards, it is hung in an outdoor drying shed—Hildibrandur’s is located behind the museum—for about four to six months to complete the breakdown process. During the drying process, the toxins form a thick brown crust on the meat, which is then cut off, revealing an edible rubbery white flesh.

“We eat the shark at special times,” said Hildibrandur. “It’s for when friends come together, family comes together. We eat it like a snack.” Hákarl is also a signature dish of the Thorrablot midwinter festival. And it is washed down with another Icelandic tradition: Brennivin, a clear schnapps made from fermented potato mash and flavored with caraway, cumin, and angelica.

It was soon time to taste the hákarl. I took a piece of dark rye bread and a small cube of shark meat. I sniffed it. There’s no kind way of saying this: It smelled like cat pee. Luckily, the smell is much worse than the taste. The shark was chewy and fishy, with a strange, rather unpleasant, ammonia aftertaste. I downed a shot of Brennivin.

Known as the Black Death, 80-proof Brennivin tastes similar to vodka, with a slight herbal aroma. Many people I met in Iceland said it tasted heavily of caraway others leaned more toward the cumin. To me, it was sharp, burning, and flavorless—the perfect follow-up to cut through the fatty film left behind in my mouth from the shark.

Overall, the experience of eating hákarl was not as bad as I was expecting. As I finished my sample, Hildibrandur stood by, a large grin on his face. He was clearly pleased.

“We are the favorite [hákarl producer],” he said proudly. “People like the shark from here.”

If you’d like to try some hákarl, it is available through some online shops. But if you’re ever in Iceland, be sure to stop by the Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum and try some of Hildibrandur’s famous family recipe. Until then, you can learn about the museum at www.bjarnarhofn.is.

Have you been to Iceland and sampled the hákarl? What did you think of it? Or, was there another local “delicacy” that you tried but wished you hadn’t? I’d love to hear your experiences.


Fermented Shark and Black Death: A Traditional Icelandic Pairing

Iceland is renowned for its simple, farm-fresh food. Menus throughout the island are replete with lamb, potatoes, and lots and lots of seafood. But despite the quality of product and the ever-imaginative preparations being presented by today’s top Icelandic chefs, the one item that everyone seems to ask about when you mention Icelandic cuisine is hákarl, or fermented shark.

Every TV travel show about the island has to include a segment about this local delicacy, possibly because it’s unique to the country or possibly because it’s notorious for its, how shall I say, unusual flavor. Anthony Bourdain called it “the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing” he’s ever eaten, and Andrew Zimmern, known for eating just about anything, said hákarl was “hardcore food” and “not for beginners.”

So naturally, when I had the chance to go to Iceland, I knew that I had to make a stop at the country’s epicenter of hákarl, The Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum, about 20 minutes west of Stykkishólmur on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

A large shark-shaped sign on road 54, points you down a long dirt road toward what at first glance appears to be a private farm along the rocky coast. But continue around the first building, and you’ll come across the front of the museum, an unassuming door with a simple sign saying “Come and taste the shark and see how its made.” Admission is 1.000 Icelandic krónur or about $8 U.S.

I was able to meet with the owner of the museum, the famous “Shark Man” Hildibrandur Bjarnason, a congenial white-haired man with a ruddy complexion, twinkling eyes, and an infectious smile. Hildibrandur spoke little English, but he gladly showed me around the room, filled with mementos of his family’s shark fishing business that dates back more than 400 years. A wooden fishing boat, built in 1860, dominated the center of the room, surrounded by vintage fishing equipment, historic family photos, and taxidermied birds and sea life.

A video, in Icelandic, showed how the hákarl is made. Printed materials were available in Icelandic and English for a better understanding.

“This is the Greenland shark,” said Hildibrandur, his wife translating for him. “We can’t eat this shark fresh. It is toxic fresh. There is a lot of ammonia [urea] inside of it.” This urea, along with other toxins, acts as an antifreeze when the shark is alive, allowing it to live in the cold arctic waters.

Hildibrandur no longer fishes for shark like his ancestors did. He purchases 50 to 60 sharks annually. An average Greenland shark weighs about 1,100 pounds and is about 13 feet long.

The shark meat is placed in large containers and weighted down for about six weeks. As the meat decomposes, it oozes toxic ammonia. Afterwards, it is hung in an outdoor drying shed—Hildibrandur’s is located behind the museum—for about four to six months to complete the breakdown process. During the drying process, the toxins form a thick brown crust on the meat, which is then cut off, revealing an edible rubbery white flesh.

“We eat the shark at special times,” said Hildibrandur. “It’s for when friends come together, family comes together. We eat it like a snack.” Hákarl is also a signature dish of the Thorrablot midwinter festival. And it is washed down with another Icelandic tradition: Brennivin, a clear schnapps made from fermented potato mash and flavored with caraway, cumin, and angelica.

It was soon time to taste the hákarl. I took a piece of dark rye bread and a small cube of shark meat. I sniffed it. There’s no kind way of saying this: It smelled like cat pee. Luckily, the smell is much worse than the taste. The shark was chewy and fishy, with a strange, rather unpleasant, ammonia aftertaste. I downed a shot of Brennivin.

Known as the Black Death, 80-proof Brennivin tastes similar to vodka, with a slight herbal aroma. Many people I met in Iceland said it tasted heavily of caraway others leaned more toward the cumin. To me, it was sharp, burning, and flavorless—the perfect follow-up to cut through the fatty film left behind in my mouth from the shark.

Overall, the experience of eating hákarl was not as bad as I was expecting. As I finished my sample, Hildibrandur stood by, a large grin on his face. He was clearly pleased.

“We are the favorite [hákarl producer],” he said proudly. “People like the shark from here.”

If you’d like to try some hákarl, it is available through some online shops. But if you’re ever in Iceland, be sure to stop by the Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum and try some of Hildibrandur’s famous family recipe. Until then, you can learn about the museum at www.bjarnarhofn.is.

Have you been to Iceland and sampled the hákarl? What did you think of it? Or, was there another local “delicacy” that you tried but wished you hadn’t? I’d love to hear your experiences.