Arriving back in Reykjavik from a day trip of Iceland’s Golden Circle, there was no question as to the evening’s activities – this was my chance to sample a few Icelandic foods I couldn’t miss. One in particular was something I wouldn’t miss trying even if the thought of it caused more than a little bit of apprehension.
Hákarl. The shark.
I chose Islenski Barinn in Reykjavik for this experience because they have a unique way of serving tastes of many Icelandic foods – in small mason jars – giving you the chance to try a number of different items. Putting aside the menu, I knew the first thing I was going to try – the hákarl.
Hákarl is shark which has been cured via a fermentation process (about 6-12 weeks depending on the season). After that, it is hung to dry, then cut into small cubes for consumption. I’ve watched many a travel/food show where the host tries this then quickly starts to wretch. In polite circles, this is generally considered an acquired taste.
My experience starts when the friendly waitress takes the order and asks if I want a shot of Brennivín with it (it’s the tradition and I’m a bit of “when in Rome” kind of guy). She goes away and a few minutes later I’m presented with the bounty above. She lets me know that she had to personally cut these pieces off the shark they keep downstairs – something she’s not terribly fond of due to the smell. I open the mason jar and immediately my love twists up her face on account of the odor.
So, all anticipation and trepidation aside, here it is in all its gelatinous glory:
After the first couple of bites I’m struck with a very strong fishy flavour and the strange spongy texture. Two chews in and I’m thinking “hey, this isn’t actually that bad”. By the time I chew the cube for the third time, it takes a turn for the worse. I swallow, chase it with half of the Brennivín and stare at the second piece still in the jar. My love isn’t touching this, so there’s only one thing to do:
That’s right, time to eat the second piece. I get that piece down, and I’ve grown pretty proud of myself. Maybe it was the expectation, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought. It’s bad. Just not deathly horrible. To celebrate, it’s time to finish the rest of the Brennivín:
Before continuing the story of the rest of this meal, I must fast forward to the next day. We are sitting in the airport awaiting our flight home and it hits me. Hákarl…. the day after. One burp and my entire head is filled with a rotten ammonia-like aura. My love happens to look at me in that instant and she immediately asks what’s wrong. The shark is getting a moment of revenge on me. Although it passes in a couple of minutes, it’s a horrible reminder of the previous evening’s conquest.
Back to our last evening in Reykjavik and our Icelandic meal…. Hákarl conquered, it’s on to puffin. Served here with potato puree and blueberry jam, it’s very tasty. My first impression of the taste was a cross between seafood and a gamey meat (moose, deer). It tastes of the sea, looks like red meat and doesn’t really taste like anything I’ve ever tried that can fly:
Easily one of the most interesting and unique meals I’ve ever had. The experiences from earlier in the day touring outside the city, the heady feeling of having stared down the hákarl and lived to tell the story and the Viking beers sent me out into a perfectly crisp Reykjavik evening with my head swimming the way only a perfect travel day can.