Fermented shark meat drying in Iceland

Fermented Shark Meat

Like many folks, one of the things I love most about traveling is trying new foods—usually delightfully delicious ones, but also some more peculiar bites. I was disappointed last year when we went to Iceland and never found hákarl (fermented shark meat), a traditional Icelandic dish, on offer.

I later learned that it’s more of a seasonal offering, sometimes available during traditional celebrations, but not on menus, per se. When we decided to return to Iceland this year, I made sure to include a taste of hákarl on our itinerary.

Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum

Following our semi-disastrous stop at the Grábrók Crater, we continued our drive up to the Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum on the northern side of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. There we met the curator/owner whose family has been in the shark fishing business for the last 400 years. He showed us a brief video (we were the only visitors there at the time) about Greenland sharks and explained how the tradition of fermenting them had come to be (their meat is poisonous if eaten fresh, but fermentation neutralizes the toxin)… And then we got down to business…

Finally Tasting Hákarl

Brennivín (aka ‘black death’) schnapps is apparently often served as a chaser to the nibble on offer, but this time there was just some rye bread, the sweetness of which made the shark more tolerable, though we all (except for Addie) also tried it on its own—which mostly just smelled and tasted like ammonia.

The Sweet Smell of Hákarl

Although I was grateful to finally get a taste of the fermented shark meat I had learned about years ago courtesy of Andrew Zimmern over a decade ago, I was ultimately more fascinated by the drying process of the sharkmeat (now hung in the open air instead of buried in sand). The smell from the outdoor drying room is eye-wateringly potent if one is downwind from the strong breezes along the coast, but it sure made for an interesting pit stop. Bonus: we learned that hákarl is actually sold in some grocery stores, so if one is not in the neighborhood of the Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum (and really, not many folks are, even if one makes it to Iceland), you can still taste this traditional food—though I’d say the experience would fall a bit short without the additional olfactory impact of the drying room nearby.


Hey there! I’m Melanie. Originally from Brooklyn, home is now Charleston, SC--or wherever my three kids and husband are. Our family gap year will take us around the world, touching down on six continents over 12 months.
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