Posts Tagged ‘brennivin’

Icelandic Braveheart

Top left to right: dried fish, Brennivín, hákarl

On our recent trip to Iceland, one delicacy I wanted to try was Hákarl, or fermented Greenland Shark.  In Reykjavik, the capital, we found Café Loki, which serves traditional Icelandic dishes including hákarl.  We ordered it as part of a couple of taster plates, the Icelandic Plate II and Icelandic Braveheart.  Both dishes included some combination of rye and flatbreads, dried fish, mashed fish and smoked lamb (all very tasty).  The Braveheart was accompanied by a shot of caraway-flavoured Icelandic schnapps, called Brennivín.  The innocent-looking hákarl looked like three small cubes of slightly shiny cheese on toothpicks.  We took a whiff.  A strong ammonia smell burned our nostrils, and we should’ve ended it right there, but we hoped it tasted better than it smelled, like some strong cheese.

Well, sad to say, it didn’t.  It has got to be the most vile, disgusting thing I have ever eaten that was supposed to be food.  The first bite was not as horrible as we imagined, with a slightly rubbery texture, but by the time we got to the third, the smell and taste of ammonia was overpowering our palates.  Thank goodness for the Brennivín to wash it down.  On the up side, we didn’t get sick afterward, although we fully expected to.

Icelandic Plate II

Clockwise, from top right: smoked trout, smoked lamb, mashed fish, dried fish and in the middle, hákarl

Hákarl is prepared by beheading and gutting the shark and letting it ferment in a pit full of sand and then hanging it to dry, the entire process taking several months.  This is done so that the poisonous trimethylamine oxide and urea in the flesh are converted into ammonia… infinitely more palatable, right?

And so the question is, why would anybody want to eat something that smells and tastes like household cleaner?  We asked several Icelanders during our trip if they liked it, and none of them did.  But they dutifully ate it once a year, during the midwinter festival called Þorrablót which is a celebration of their heritage.

Those Icelanders sure are tough!


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