Eating the Shark

Back Up

So that first night at the Hotel Natura we caught a cab -- a big van-type cab that would hold everybody -- and rode into downtown Reykjavik.  As we were boarding the cab a European tourist, middle-aged guy, asked to join us because he thought this was a hotel shuttle into town.  We explained the situation and when he tried to back away, we insisted he join us.  He sat up front with the driver and at first he seemed a bit embarrassed, but as we laughed and joked with him he became more comfortable.  He wanted to pay his part of the taxi ride, but we told him that wouldn't be necessary because we were all going to dinner and the bill would be on him.  That got a big laugh and we all had a good time riding into town.

We asked the driver to drop us off somewhere where we might find a good place to eat, and he let us out by a town square.  Across the street we spotted this place and it looked good enough, so we went inside.


It was a pleasant place.  Can we see a menu, please?


Hmmm...lotsa words we can't read.  But the "Jar City" section of the much bigger menu looks interesting.  Maybe we can order some jars of food as appetizers before we move along to another restaurant for a real dinner?  Now let's see...what shall we have?


Tammy says, "You guys can have all that fishy Icelandic stuff you want.  Leave me alone with my jar of French fries."  OK, what's in those other jars?


Mmmm...Langostine and...


Grapes with some kind of cheese and some sauce and ....


Ooooh...some yummy puffin.  You know what puffin is, don't you?


That's a puffin before he ends up in a jar.


Tammy says, "You all just go right ahead.  My French fries were delicious."


Wait a minute...what's that in Patty's hand?


Shark meat.  A hermetically sealed jar of fermented shark meat.  Patty's ready for a new taste sensation.  Well, pretty much ready.


First she needs a picture.


Then she listens to see if it's still alive.


Nope, it's seriously dead.  Smells dead, too.  Here's what Wikipedia has to say about Icelandic fermented shark:

Hákarl (Icelandic for "shark") is a food from Iceland consisting of a Greenland- or basking shark which has been cured with a particular fermentation process and hung to dry for four to five months. Hákarl is often referred to as an acquired taste and has a very particular ammonia-rich smell and fishy taste, similar to very strong cheese slathered in ammonia.  It is readily available in Icelandic stores and is eaten year round.

The Greenland shark itself is poisonous when fresh due to a high content of urea and trimethylamine oxide, but may be consumed after being processed. It has a particular ammonia smell, similar to many cleaning products. It is often served in cubes on toothpicks. 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 brennivín. Eating hákarl is often associated with hardiness and strength.

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 in this fashion for 6–12 weeks depending on the season.

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.


That's a basking shark before he ends up in a jar.


Patty is keeping the brennivin close by.


Have you ever seen a condemned person smile like that?


Mmmm...let's's not so....


Quick, the brennivin!


Now it's Marilyn's turn.


First she has to have a word with the stuff.


Now she munches.


Now she reacts.


She's gonna try wine instead of brennivin.


Oh dear.


Pass the brennivin!  (Actually, according those who tried it, the brennevin tasted worse than the shark, which is really saying something.)


There's only one cube left.


Greg tries a whiff.


But Bill plans to go all the way.


He pinches off just the right amount.


He concentrates on experiencing the full effect.


The full effect strikes.


Cindy is enjoying this.


Tammy is enjoying this entirely too much.


Patty, at least, survived.


And hey, we did a pretty good job on the jars.  Something must have been good.


Bill and Greg wanted to go to the British pub across the street to get some fish and chips.  The place had the Redskins game, but it didn't have food.


So we moved along to a much nicer place that did have fish and chips with real Icelandic cod.  It was OK, but after our previous experience it was something of a letdown.



Still, Cindy pronounces the evening a success.  And it was.  Even when Marilyn got her bank card stuck in an ATM out on the street things worked out OK.  Some helpful young Reykjavikers saw us in distress and fished Marilyn's card out of the machine.  This would not be our last encounter with accommodating, genuinely friendly Icelanders.  The natives helped make this trip delightful.

Back Up