THE BLOG

WTF Is Hakarl?

03/24/2014 02:37 pm ET | Updated May 24, 2014

When your mother's biscuits and gravy have nightmares, they are imagining Hakarl.

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Photo by: Spey2008

Iceland is a place of many wonders. The Northern Lights, insane rivers, unique inhabitants, and platefuls of the strangest food to ever hit your tastebuds. From puffin eggs to whole sheeps heads, the people of Iceland know a thing or two about grossing you out to the max, and hakarl is at the top of the funky spectrum. Your nose will reject it before your mouth ever agrees to taste it.

Stink Fish
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Photo by: Daria

In the north Atlantic, there exists a species of particularly raunchy shark called the Greenland shark, which cannot be eaten due to its high level of urea (yep, the stuff in your piss) and trimethylamine oxide, which prevents it from freezing in the frigid waters it calls home. In both life and death it reeks of what you use to clean your toilet. All these chemical defenses make it lethal and a few raw bites of it will lead to one's death. But that fact has in no way stopped people from finding a way around the stringent rules of nature.

Taking the Death Out

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Photo by: Chris 73

When Icelandic fisherman catch one of these sharks, they do with it what we do to grandma after she hasn't moved in a few days: bury it in the ground. Then, three months later, unwilling to let the poor sea creature's soul rest in peace, they exhume the rotted carcass and hang it upside down for nine months. Then, they straight up eat it. The path of consumption has lead to hakarl, objectively the most disgusting dish of ill-begotten cuisine on the planet.

Ha, Karl Actually Ate It!

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Photo by: Moohaha

HÁkarl, as it's known in Icelandic, or "fermented shark" as we anglophones know it, does not taste like shit. Its flavor is far more complex and overpoweringly pungent than anything your dog is dumping on Mrs. Baker's front lawn. People from all over the world travel to Iceland to gag and vomit up this dish. Even those obsessed with the idea of being cultured -- like people from Portland who want nothing more than to love exotic foods and have meaningful moments with Buddhist monks in Cambodia -- will find themselves running to the bathroom screaming, "WHY? OH WHY THE HELL!" It's the sort of flavor that lingers on your fingers and remains in your clothes and haunts your nightmares.

That Bad? Yes!

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Photo by: Michael Jessen

Even a fair amount of Icelandic people crinkle their noses when you ask them whether or not they like it. The ones who do like it have discovered the most potent cockblock on the planet. No one with less than 60 piercings and five complexes wants to kiss your face of death, and no amount of vigorous teeth brushing is going to get the stench of overripe coffin off your breath.

Don't believe anything anyone else says: Hakarl is rotten flesh that even a necrophiliac might think twice about putting in their mouth. It is death, it tastes like death, and despite this warning, you are probably going to try it anyway. We love your sense of culinary adventure. Just don't be mad when your attempt at open-mouth kissing us results in a swift kick to the jaw.

Written by: Luke Armstrong