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Hákarl or kæstur hákarl (Icelandic for "fermented shark") is a food from Iceland. It is a Greenland or basking shark which has been cured with a particular fermentation process and hung to dry for 4-5 months. Hákarl has a very particular ammonia-rich smell and fishy taste, similar to Jewish deli whitefish or very strong cheese. It is an acquired taste and many Icelanders never eat it.

Left: Hákarl in a store.

The shark itself is poisonous when fresh due to a high content of uric acid and trimethylamine oxide, but may be consumed after being processed. It has a particular ammonia smell, not too dissimilar from many cleaning products. It is often served in cubes on toothpicks.

Hákarl is hardcore food and not for beginners. Those new to it will usually gag involuntarily on the first attempt to eat it due to the high ammonia content. First-timers are sometimes advised to pinch their nose while taking the first bite as the smell is much stronger than the taste. It is often eaten with a shot of the local spirit, a type of akvavit, called brennivin.

It comes in two varieties; chewy and reddish glerhákarl (lit. "glassy shark") from the belly, and white and soft skyrhákarl (lit. "skyr shark") from the body.

Hákarl is traditionally prepared by gutting and beheading a Greenland or basking shark and placing it in a shallow hole dug in gravelly-sand, with the now-cleaned cavity resting on a slight hill. The shark is then covered with sand and gravel, and stones are then placed on top of the sand in order to press the shark. The fluids from the shark are in this way pressed out of the body. The shark ferments for 6-12 weeks depending on the season in this fashion.

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Following this curing period, the shark is then cut into strips and hung to dry for several months. During this drying period a brown crust will develop, which is removed prior to cutting the shark into small pieces and serving. The modern method is just to press the shark's meat in a large drained plastic container.

Left: Hákarl up for drying in Iceland.



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