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Hákarl or kæstur hákarl (Icelandic pronunciation: [ˈhauːkʰadl̥]) (Icelandic for "shark") is a food from Iceland consisting of a Greenland shark or sleeper shark (Somniosus microcephalus) which has been cured with a particular fermentation process and hung to dry for four to five months. Hákarl is often referred to as an acquired taste and has a very particular ammonia-rich smell and fishy taste, similar to very strong cheese slathered in ammonia.
The Greenland shark itself is poisonous when fresh due to a high content of urea and trimethylamine oxide, but may be consumed after being processed (see below). It has a particular ammonia smell, similar to many cleaning products. It is often served in cubes on toothpicks. Those new to it will usually gag involuntarily on the first attempt to eat it due to the high ammonia content. First-timers are sometimes advised to pinch their nose while taking the first bite as the smell is much stronger than the taste. It is often eaten with a shot of the local spirit, a type of akvavit, called brennivín. Eating hákarl is often associated with hardiness and strength.
It comes in two varieties; chewy and reddish glerhákarl (lit. "glassy shark") from the belly, and white and soft skyrhákarl (lit. "skyr shark") from the body.
Hákarl is traditionally prepared by gutting and beheading a Greenland or basking shark and placing it in a shallow hole dug in gravelly sand, with the now-cleaned cavity resting on a slight hill. The shark is then covered with sand and gravel, and stones are then placed on top of the sand in order to press the shark. The fluids from the shark are in this way pressed out of the body. The shark ferments in this fashion for 6–12 weeks depending on the season.
Following this curing period, the shark is then cut into strips and hung to dry for several months. During this drying period a brown crust will develop, which is removed prior to cutting the shark into small pieces and serving. The modern method is just to press the shark's meat in a large drained plastic container.
Chef Anthony Bourdain, who has travelled extensively throughout the world sampling local cuisine for his Travel Channel show No Reservations, has described hákarl as "the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing" he has ever eaten.
Chef Gordon Ramsay challenged journalist James May to sample three "delicacies" (Laotian snake whiskey, bull penis, and hákarl) on The F Word; after eating hákarl, Ramsay spat it out, although May kept his down. May's only reaction was, "You disappoint me, Ramsay."
On season 2's Iceland episode of Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, Andrew Zimmern described the smell as reminding him of "some of the most horrific things I've ever breathed in my life," but said the taste was not nearly as bad as the smell. Nonetheless, he did note that hákarl was "hardcore food" and "not for beginners."
See also 
- Herz, Rachel (28 January 2012). "You eat that?". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 30 January 2012.
- Wheatley, Gale (20 September 2010). "Iceland's Wild Culinary Traditions: Hákarl and Brennivín".
- "Gordon Ramsay vs. James May", The F-Word
- Jo's Icelandic Recipes: How to prepare "Rotten" Shark: How to Prepare Rotten Shark, Retrieved Sept. 14, 2006.