Yummy was not the word in mind when I first heard about eating rotten shark in Iceland called hakarl. Indeed the thought made my stomach squirm, especially having heard descriptions from people who had eaten it.

One friend described hakarl as eating slimy chicken that is 4 weeks out of date.

Hakarl is a shark that is fermented and then dried out over several months, and is a national dish of Iceland. Basically it is rotten shark.

Heading to the market by the old harbour in Reykjavik (the capital), I prepared myself. Finding the small fish stall I asked for the fermented shark, and a little grin came over the face of the lady. Yes, they were used to tourists coming in for a taste, and was most likely a form of entertainment for them!

Selling shark in Iceland

The fish stall sells its evil wares!

Passing over a container of small cut up chunks off rotten shark, the first thing that gets you is the absolute horrendous smell. It is hard to describe, but I will try my best.

Imagine a shark is left on the beach and a hundred fish come and massage themselves all over it, before collectively throwing up. Then a group of 50 cats come along and piss all over it, before buying it in the ground for several months.

Yep that’s about it, and it’s the biggest obstacle too actually trying the thing! Some people just couldn’t get past the smell.

rotten shark in Iceland

The container of rotten shark awaits!


Eating Rotten Shark in Iceland

Now the taste of the hakarl.

Hakarl just sounds too innocent. I prefer to call it – “Seriously, wtf, why”!

Holding ones breath and shoving a small piece into my mouth I started chewing. First impressions were that it was not as bad as I thought it would be, although still very bad.

eating hakarl

Come on Jonny, you’ve eaten monkey, you can do this!

The taste was kind of like the most disgusting strong french cheese you can imagine, and then throw in a sickly fishy flavour as well.

The rotten shark is very chewy, so there is no quick swallow. After several seconds a different taste exploded in my mouth that I can not really describe, but (excuse the language) fuck it was bad!

eating rotten shark hakarl in Iceland.

The fish stall lady was taking pictures of me as I tried it. This is a genuine, not for the camera expression. IT WAS BAD!

I really, really wanted this to be over now, and had to force swallow. Thank goodness. I remember seeing chef Gordon Ramsay spitting this out when he tried it, so I was pretty chuffed I kept it down.

Putting me to shame though was a boy of around 7 who was happily munching away piece after piece next to me. The father said he loves it, as did the fish stall lady.

I guess when you grow up with something you get used to the taste. Indeed many cultures all over the world eat their own specialities that may seem disgusting to others, yet is perfectly normal to their taste buds.

Indeed that’s what makes trying different foods from all over the world fun. And you never know, you may even discover something you really like.

For me though, rotten fermented shark in Iceland is not something I would happily try again!

Part of the fun after is to take the remaining chunks of rotten shark back to your hostel/hotel and offer it up for other travellers too try.

Watching the expressions on their faces as they smell and try it is priceless!

If you want some ideas on what to do in Reykjavik in one day then have a look at that post where I give some good recommendations after spending a week there.

Would you try hakarl in Iceland?

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Jonny Duncan is a travel blogger and freelance photographer. He specialises in adventure and budget travel with over 20 years of experience. He started blogging in 2013 to give advice for other travellers. He has lived in Japan, Amsterdam, Kiev, and more.

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