The World On A Plate


Iceland, Snaefellsnes, Rotted Shark


So begins my culinary tour of Iceland at a time when the locals are digging in for some of the least savoury cuisine of the year. Mid-winter is ‘Thorreblot’ time in Iceland, which roughly translates as the time to eat the animal parts which are otherwise forgotten about.

Rotting shark meat - hanging in more ways than one

Testicles, brains, cheeks and other innards make it onto the menu, but most infamous is Iceland’s putrefied or rotting shark meat. This food was personally singled out to me by a floppy haired TV chef whose name escapes me as ‘the worst thing I have ever eaten’ and it made Gordan Ramsey actually vomit. So it would be fair to say I was intimidated.

Incredible how adaptable the human nose

The place to eat rotted shark in Iceland is the prime (only) site of manufacture – a tiny small-holding to the north of the country which catches and rots the shark ready to eat.

You can smell the place long before you see it, and the aroma of rancid urine piques the nostrils if not the appetite at disturbingly heightening levels the closer you get. I met with the very accommodating owner, who took me to see the hanging meat, and cut me off a good size wedge fresh from the shark.

At the shark farm – ‘here’s one I caught earlier’

The meat is a beautiful white/yellow colour and looks so much like cheese you’d be forgiven for mistaking the two – with the exception, of course, of the ammonia vapours tunnelling up from the rotted flesh.

I took a small piece, swallowed rapidly, and found it really wasn’t that bad – like strong cheese. Emboldened I made for a larger piece. Big mistake. This bit was sizable enough to need chewing and the texture is of toughened plastic. Ammonia streamed up my nose, making my eyes water as I tried to choke the meat down. But it wasn’t bad enough to gag – Gordon was over-reacting. Or possibly, given his career, in ownership of a finer palate than mine.

Bjarnahöfn shark farm, on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, near Stykkishólmur. There are only three settlements in the north of the country so you won’t have a problem finding it – just ask a local and follow your nose. It’s about six hours drive from Reykjavik.

posted under Iceland

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