Hakarl - Icelandic Traditional Delicacy

Updated: Nov 9, 2020

The uniqueness of Iceland can be seen in various aspects. Not only the uniqueness of the country as a tourist destination because of its natural wonders. It can also be found in its history, culture, and cuisine. Let’s focus on that last one today, shall we?

Icelandic cuisine

Icelandic food is based primarily on simple and very easily accessible products. Its ingredients are not very sophisticated. This is due to the country’s history. In the past, Icelanders had to face the low availability of food due to the geographical location and harsh weather conditions. Moreover, in order for their food to stay fresh during the winter period, it had to be prepared in a specific way. This is why the fish and meat were dried, smoked, or salted to keep it fresh as long as possible. However, this also gave the meals a unique flavor. Some of those became traditional and somehow typical dishes in Iceland. There are some very distinctive ones that you should definitely try during your road trip in Iceland. One of them is Hakarl- the Icelandic fermented shark.

Hakarl Icelandic fermented shark is a traditional dish you must try

What is Hakarl?

Long story short, Hakarl, in Icelandic, is a plate made of the meat of fermented shark. To be exact, it is the meat of the Greenland shark. The meat however has to be first subjected to appropriate processing to make it possible for people to eat. Otherwise, it can be toxic to human beings. The meat of the Greenland shark cannot be directly eaten due to the presence of a large amount of trimethylamine oxide, which is responsible for poisoning people and dogs when they happen to eat it. The shark meat is toxic because this shark has no kidneys and the deposition of ammonia and similar substances go directly into the meat. This is why the right preparation of the meat is so important, otherwise, it would be poisoning.

How is shark meat processed in Iceland?

The traditional way to prepare this plate involves cleaning the meat properly and removing the unnecessary parts. Traditionally, it is all placed in a sand or gravel pit, however, it is more common to use plastic boxes nowadays. Once stored, it is left undisturbed for slow fermentation. The time that the meat has to be left in the box depends on the season of the year. During the summer it is usually between six and seven weeks while during the winter it would be from two to three months. When the fermentation process is over, the meat is then hanged in some special wooden bars to dry. This process can take even four months, depending on the weather conditions in Iceland. When the drying process is finished, the meat is removed from the shed and cut into small cubes (usually) before serving it.