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
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
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.
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.