Hákarl means shark in Icelandic, but in Iceland it means so much more – almost an edible national medal of honour. The shark in reference is the Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus, above), the northernmost shark species in the world. The fish is toxic to eat because its felsh is laced with heavy doses of trimethylamine oxide and urea, a cocktail that works like antifreeze in the shark’s body, allowing it to swim in Arctic waters as cold as -2 degrees C. To render it edible, Icelandic tradition advises burying the shark for at least two months to let it decompose. This releases the urea and the flesh begins to break down, after which the meat is hung up to cure for another four months. The half-year process makes the shark safe to eat, though safe does not mean good. Eating hákarl tastes like a lump of chewy, pungent blue cheese chased with a shot of ammonia….
Iceland’s national liquor is Brennivin which derives from the Icelandic verb “to burn.” Known as svarti dauđi (“black death”), the liquor is distilled from potatoes and caraway seeds, and is utterly repulsive.
— Andrew Evans, Iceland
Iceland’s marketing gurus may enjoy painting the nation’s traditional cuisine as replete with pickled ram’s testicles, sheep’s heads, putrefied shark, and spiced innards, but there is food originating from this little island that is delicious, flavour-packed, and cheap. And I don’t just mean hot dogs. Skyr is the quintessential Iceland dairy product. Some describe it as thick yoghurt, others as sour curds. It is high in protein and calcium and very low in fat (though some add a lot of sugar. Skyr has been mentioned from as early as the 11th century…[and] has found its uses into the 20th century. The last death sentence ever handed down by the Icelandic courts was in 1914 to a woman who was convicted of killing her brother by feeding him poisoned skyr.
— Eliza Reid, ibid.
map by Daniel Freher of freeworldmaps.net