icelandic hakarl

National dish:

Kæstur hákarl

Fermented and hung dry Greenland or other sleeper shark. After fermentation, the shark is hung to dry for 4-5 months. This dish has a strong ammonia smell (like some cleaning products) and fishy taste. People trying hákarl for the first time are advised to pinch their nose before eating, as the ammonia smell is very strong. Hákarl comes in two varieties, chewy and reddish glerhákarl from the belly of the shark and white soft skyrhákarl from the body of the shark. It is most often served cut into cubes with a toothpick.

A brief history…

About Iceland’s national dish

Many young Icelandic people do not like this dish, but hákarl is a traditional and important part of Þorrablót, the Icelandic mid-winter festival honouring Iceland’s pagan gods from the past. Before Iceland was Christianised in 1000 AD, it was a pagan country where people honoured the norse gods Æsir. During this time, there were different festivals like Þorrablót. After Christianisation, these festivals were forbidden. However, in the 19th century, Iceland brought back Þorrablót as a way to honour the country’s past. Þorrablót is a holiday or festival where people eat, drink and are merry with their families and friends. It begins on the first Friday after January 19th, or the 13th week of winter. The table traditionally consists of hákarl, svið (a boiled sheep’s head), blóðmör (a type of blood pudding in a ram’s stomach) and Icelandic rye bread. This food is washed down with Brennivin, a clear schnapps made from potato and caraway.

Many people say hákarl tastes better than it smells. The meat itself can be quite sweet and soft however the aftertaste is strong. Greenland shark meat is actually poisonous if eaten raw. However, after processing it can be eaten. The ammonia smell comes from the breaking-down of the poison. Traditionally to prepare hákarl, the shark was beheaded, gutted and buried under sand and rocks. The rocks ensured that the fluids were pressed out of the meat. After about 6-12 weeks, the shark was dug up and hung to dry for about 4-5 months. The meat forms a brown outer layer that is later cut off before serving. However nowadays, the meat is prepared by curing and pressing in a large plastic container and then hung to dry.

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