Eating Shark and Going Berserk in West Iceland

I did it. I tried the delicacy known as hakarl: fermented shark meat.

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I visited a farm that makes it. The family has been doing this since the 1800s and still does. But they’ve also found a way to attract the tourists with a little museum and hakarl samples. So of course I had to try some!!

Hakarl is made from Greenland shark that’s been fermented for six weeks or so and then hung outside for five months.

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When it’s ready, it’s cut up into chunks.

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Very small chunks for the tourists.

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The family that runs the place is great. The husband must be in his seventies and doesn’t speak a word of English but is completely charming! His wife does speak some and told me she doesn’t do any of the work on the sharks but she does knit beautiful sweaters out of Icelandic wool. (I bought one.)

I wandered around the quirky little museum, filled with a century’s worth of family antiques…

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…and lots of shark paraphernalia.

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But I was just delaying the inevitable moment when I’d have to put that stuff in my mouth and swallow.

The verdict? I’m sure it’s an acquired taste. Not one I’m likely to be acquiring anytime soon. But it wasn’t revolting. It tastes like fishy blue cheese with a chaser of ammonia. The ammonia’s really the only truly nasty part. I feel like it got stuck up in my nostrils somewhere and I’m still sniffing it.

But this was another thing I was desperate to do in Iceland so I’m very glad I got to try it in a place like this, instead of buying it at the grocery store and eating it in my car!

I rewarded myself though, with a dinner that’s more my style: local mussels and an Icelandic microbrew.

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The shark place is right on the edge of this truly bizarre landscape called the Berserkjahraun, or Berserkers Lava Field.

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It’s full of twisted lava formations partially covered by incredibly springy moss.

Named after the fearsome Norse warriors called the Berserkers, it features in one of the Icelandic sagas. Two Berserkers were ordered to clear a path through this contorted landscape in exchange for one of them winning the hand of the farmer they worked for (I think they were actually his slaves). He never thought they’d succeed, but of course they did. So he killed them.

The sagas are not all that cheerful.

Tomorrow I’m exploring this peninsula more so I’ll share more about the place I’m traveling in then.

But I’ll leave you with two images. One captured through the window of the museum, and the other of the town I’m in, Stykkisholmur, from a hill above town as dusk descended and the clouds rolled in.

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4 Responses to Eating Shark and Going Berserk in West Iceland

  1. Greg says:

    Had I not been following The Common Wanderer I might never have known that Husqvarna makes or used to make sewing machines. Around Vermont, they’re much better known for chainsaws, of course. And I’m still ratcheting Iceland up a notch or two on my must-visit list, notwithstanding the fermented shark meat.

  2. Jo Woolf says:

    Well done! Loving your photos too!

  3. The last two photos have a wonderful perspective … not sure how you’re doing it, but I know I like them very much.

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