Icelandic Food|The Fermented shark

Icelandic Food|The Fermented shark


Text by: April Smaradottir

What is a fermented shark? Where can I try it and is it as bad as they say?

Six days of the week, we get the privilege to host 2-3 groups each day of hungry travelers on The Reykjavik Food Walk. We believe we have the best job in the world. What is more fun than eating, chatting and getting to know new people? Nothing, if you ask us! We absolutely LOVE sharing our knowledge on Icelandic cuisines! Almost on every single tour, someone asks about the forever famous delicacy that is the Fermented shark. Obviously. It’s fermented shark. It’s weird and super exotic.

Do we serve fermented shark on our Food Walk? You ask. Well, hate to break your heart but the answer is no. And the reason is simple: It’s not a part of our daily cuisine, anymore. Thank the Lord. Also, it leaves suuccchhh a strong smell on you and a weird taste in your mouth. Having that in the beginning of the tour, will affect the rest of the walk. So we skip it!

But we love talking about it, though. That’s why we decided to write this little blog on fermented shark. What so special about it? Why do we do this to our food and, above all- where can you try some??

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Looooong time ago  (Not so long time ago though, my grandmother ate this. She also lived in a turf house. It’s a very young country), people had to think of how to make food survive our harsh winters, which could last for months. So we buried our food, dried it, smoked it and picked it, left it out to dry for weeks and soaked it in all kinds of stuff and more. Access to food was also limited, that’s why we ate every single part of the sheep (Head, intestines, testicles etc.)  and we also ate horses and even cute little puffins. Vikings man, crazy people.

What does “Fermented Shark” mean?

Fermenting a shark means soaking it in urine and burying it in the ground for weeks until it rots. Do we still do that? No. We don’t use urine anymore and it doesn’t rot, it ferments! Then we hang it up for dry and ferment for months.  We have different methods on doing this today (As in, skipping the urine) but you will get the same thing. It’s still weird. Apparently, because there is so much urea in the meat itself, it’s poisonous when raw. But after being cured, it’s not poisonous anymore.

Like I said before, it’s not a part of our daily cuisine anymore. Most local don’t eat it on a daily basis and many haven’t even tried it! The elderly though, many enjoy it very much. If you’re used to all kinds of cheese then you might think its quite alright. It has been called the worst food in the world by many. But we encourage people to try themselves, as we think its definitely not the worst thing in the world. It has a  SUPER STRONG ammonia smell to it, but the actual taste is  very different from the smell! Just try it!

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Where Can I get fermented shark?

Today, you don’t have to bury your own shark to have some. There are many restaurants and venues where you can easily get this delicacy. It’s not difficult to access at all. You can get it in almost every big grocery store.  They’ve packed away nicely to cover the smell,  just be sure to be outside or something when you open the bag so you don’t take the bad smell back home with you, ha!

There are also few restaurants and venues where you can try fermented shark. Islenski Barinn on Ingólfstræti serves shark tastings  and also does Café Loki on Lokastígur. If you wish to go for a fancier restaurant, you should visit Þrír Frakkar Baldursgata, but there you can also get Whale and Puffin!

The Icelandic cuisine is unique and holds strongly to our traditions. Even though some of it might sound strange or odd, we encourage you to be adventurous and try at least one traditional tasting. Not everything is off!  If you would like to get to know our beautiful city Reykjavik and try as many daily Icelandic cuisines possible in only one day, I highly recommend you to read more on our Reykjavik Food Walk! Hope to see you soon :)

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