The Icelandic “Delicacy”: Hákarl

Crystal A. Walker

It is — by far — the worst thing I have ever tasted in my life.

I’m game to try about any food at least once and have been pleasantly surprised by some dishes that many consider disgusting. For instance, I had no idea that I would enjoy raw oysters, escargot, and chicken gizzards. However, some dishes I swore I would never try again include my husband’s meatloaf and Limburger cheese. To this day, I swear it that it smells like a bag of hot garbage, and I can’t even be in the same room with it. However, all of the items that I have had, hákarl is the absolute worse.

(Hákarl: a Greenland shark often served in Iceland that has been fermented and hung to dry for several months.)

I was introduced to this “delicacy” one day while I was living in Iceland and thought I’d visit the capital, Reykjavík. I was provided with several recommendations of items to try to include Skyr (yogurt), Harðfiskur (fish jerky and seen in the image below), Brennivín (aka “Black Death” alcohol), Svið (smoked sheep’s head), and Hákarl (fermented shark).

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=0aLhdx_0bkRnRwZ00
Image captured by the author Crystal A. WalkerCrystal A. Walker

This particular afternoon, I was starving and stopped at the Viking Village restaurant. I wasn’t sure what I wanted, so I thought I’d try a little bit of everything. To my surprise, a few of the “delicacies” I heard of were on the menu:

  • Brennivín (“Black Death”)
  • Harðfiskur (dried fish jerky)
  • Hákarl (fermented shark)

I figured, “What the heck. YOLO!”

First, I devoured the chowder and found myself nearly licking the bottom of the bowl. Next, I tried the dried fish. It was super flakey, and I thought, “Meh. I prefer beef jerky.”

Then the tastebud nightmare began: Hákarl.

I plucked one of the toothpicks off the plate with the Icelandic flag on it that a cube of hákarl on end. As I pulled it closer to my nose, I was overwhelmed by the strong scent of ammonia it had and reminded me of the smell of nail polish remover. Plugging my nose, I popped it in my mouth. As I chewed, I could not help but think, “Oh God! Get it out!”

I wasn’t sure if I would offend the locals if I spit it out, so I put on a brave face, skipped any chewing that remained, and swallowed. To get the taste of the fermented shark out of my mouth, I chased it with a shot of Black Death: an insanely strong alcohol with flavors of licorice and cumin. That was so bad that I chased it with a beer and then a glass of water.

Holding back my attempts to gag, I could tell my stomach was about to erupt like Mount Hekla. Officially losing my appetite, I could still smell the scent of nail polish burning my sinus cavity.

“Who in the could think of making such a dish was a great idea?” I thought.

I got a good smack on the back from one of the Viking waiters to give his approval. Politely paying my bill, I walked out and went to the nearest vendor to get a lamb dog. Devouring it, I could not help but feel proud of my achievement because I could officially mark a few “delicacies” off my bucket list.

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Top Writer in Humor and Travel on Medium. Self-published fiction author on Amazon and serialized writer on Kindle Vella. A long-time resident of the Gulf Coast & Full-Time RVer who enjoys covering local and unique topics.

Pensacola, FL
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