Wednesday, September 06, 2023

Iceland - The Food Tour - Hákarl!

Next stop on the food tour we stopped at Icelandic Street Food for the ultimate tourist-in-Iceland challenge.

We started off with a light codfish and potato salad and more Icelandic bread.

Very tasty.

Icelandic food is typically very heavy on fish as the volcanic soil tends to not be very fertile, and for years starvation was a very real possibility which led to a constant search for protein.

Enter the Greenland shark.

The Greenland shark is native to the waters around Iceland, it's an interesting shark that is an apex predator in the north. Full of protein it sounds like an excellent food source for protein-hungry Icelanders.

There's a problem though.

The flesh of the Greenland shark is toxic, packed with Trimethylamine N-oxide.

The Icelanders, needing the protein to survive, figured out that the shark carcass can be fermented. Historically this was done with the carcass being buried underground and then after fermenting it can be safely eaten and that protein accessed. 

Now they do a different technique to get the toxins out rather than burying it but the result is much the same, and the poisonous Trimethylamine N-oxide gets turned into trimethylamine.

The result of the fermentation looks like this and is called Hákarl:

And it smells like concentrated ammonia.  Lots of ammonia. As in sniffing an open bottle of ammonia.

The challenge for tourists is to eat it and keep it down.

Hot tip:  Don't inhale as you bring it to your mouth.

Overall impression:

First bite, not bad, kinda firm, relatively chewy and kinda like a fish jerky, rather pleasant.

Second chew:  Well, the ammonia is certainly coming through.

Third chew: My, that's a lot of ammonia.

Fourth chew: Oh, that's a heckuva lot of ammonia.

Everyone kept it down, although one tourist at the table was turning a tad green.

Most of us of legal age then followed it up with a chilled shot of Brennivín, Iceland's native aquavit. 

That helped with the ammonia aftertaste immeasurably. 

Brennivín is mighty tasty stuff and was a welcome chaser to the Hákarl.


So we all survived the Hákarl challenge, and I daresay it was tastier and far more pleasant than eating durian

Having our mettle suitably tested, the guide took us on to our next stop that offered a far more pleasant and tasty bit of sustenance.


chris said...

Interesting side note regarding the Greenland shark. They are known to live up to 300 years. Maybe that’s why they taste so bad LOL

Old NFO said...

Those are two DEFINITE no's for me...LOL I've had that pulled on me before.

Aaron said...

chris: Yep, that could add to the flavor, that's for sure.

Old NFO: It was an experience worth trying, but I wouldn't make a regular meal out of it.