Fermented Shark; The Best Worst Food I've Ever Had
I went to Iceland, and yes, I ate the fermented shark.
It is also called “rotten” shark, but in this case I prefer the euphemism as it literally makes it easier to swallow. I first heard of fermented shark while watching an old episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations.” If you’ve read my previous posts, you know what an influence that man has had on me and my development, not only in recovery, but in what it means to be a human being…… aaaaannnnd I’m crying again. Where was I? Oh right, rotten shark.
So, Tony is sitting at a restaurant in Iceland and is offered the cured shark regional delicacy. His face contorts, and he calls it the “unspeakably nasty.” In an interview in 2018, he listed it among the top three worst things he’s ever eaten. Naturally, when it was offered at the Reykjavik Food Walk food tour, I jumped at the chance. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity, how could I pass that up?!
Our tour guide Ben, a saucy little Icelandic minx that I swear if I were single….. I’m sorry what was I saying? Oh yes, voluntarily eating rotten food, of course.
Ben gave us a bit of history before the shark arrived. It has been an Icelandic tradition for centuries, and began when fishermen would accidentally catch sharks in their nets while fishing for, you know, animals that taste good. They couldn’t afford to waste anything, so they fermented it. Sharks urinate through their skin, so the meat would be buried underground for seven to 9 months until the ammonia levels were no longer toxic (this is just what Ben told me, I’m not a scientist), but it does make for an incredibly pungent ammonia smell and taste, even after months of curing.
I ate it, it was by far the worst tasting thing I have ever consumed. It tasted like eating a big piece of dirty litter box. The photo above is my face trying to swallow it and also be brave for Ben and maybe even convince him that I didn’t hate it. That being said, it ranked among the top culinary experiences of my life. I wouldn’t take it back in a million years. It was an infamous food, a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I did it! I took a risk! I had an experience, I lived a little, I allowed food to be something other than a substance scheming against me to make me fat. Food took me on one hell of a journey, and I honestly feel as though passing on this opportunity would have been missing out on a part of Icelandic history. There was a lovely English couple at our table celebrating their anniversary. The husband actually went back for a second piece of shark, not because he liked it but because he wanted to eat the darkest, most pungent piece for bragging rights. His wife yelled, “He’s a nutter,” and for some reason, Zack and I both thought it was the funniest thing, and now we have a new inside joke. That’s always fun!
If you’re going to Iceland and have a strong stomach, try the shark. Ask for Ben, and be a nutter.