Rishi Sankar: Ah Trini Travelogue

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Kirkjubæjarklaustur – Höfn

Posted by Rishiray on May 28, 2009

I can’t tell you how many people were tickled by our attempts to pronounce the name of this town. It was ridiculous and I think that while travelling through Iceland, the two trickiest town names that we tried were Kirkjubæjarklaustur and Höfn.
Trying to pronounce Höfn is like trying to inhale and speak at the same time, and there doesn’t seem to be a firm rule on how it should be pronounced. Its seriously pronounced like you hiccup and get startled at the sametime. Another blogger described pronouncing Höfn somewhere between “hep” and “hup”, with a glottal stop. I always wonder about how people come up with this stuff… the same question comes up when I think about the rotting shark dish : Hákarl or kæstur hákarl. Who exactly decided that they would eat this stuff??

I found a receipe on how to prepare “rotten” shark but the awesome thing about this webpage was the warning that you shouldn’t try this at home unless you know what the end product is supposed to taste like and that Putrefied shark can become spoiled. WHAT!?!?!? How can something that is rotting become more spoiled?? It is like a dead person being more dead – you dont have more than one type of “DEAD”. Dead is always dead! Yanno!!!

So quoting from http://www.simnet.is/gullis/jo/shark.htm

I read in a book that fresh shark is unsuitable for eating because there is uremic acid in the flesh. This I am inclined to believe, considering that cured shark smells like stagnant urine or ammonia. It has also been claimed that that there is cyanic acid in shark meat. Fresh shark meat is said to have caused people to vomit blood. The curing process removes the acid from the flesh and makes it easier to digest. Connoisseurs of strong cheese generally like cured shark on the first bite. Others find it to be an aquired taste…

Traditional method:
Take one large shark, gut and discard the innards, the cartilage and the head. Cut flesh into large pieces.Wash in running water to get all slime and blood off. Dig a large hole in coarse gravel, preferably down by the sea and far from the nearest inhabited house – this is to make sure the smell doesn’t bother anybody. Put in the shark pieces, and press them well together. It’s best to do this when the weather is fairly warm (but not hot), as it hastens the curing process. Cover with more gravel and put heavy rocks on top to press down. Leave for 6-7 weeks (in summer) to 2-3 months (in winter). During this time, fluid will drain from the shark flesh, and putrefication will set in. 

When the shark is soft and smells like ammonia, remove from the gravel, wash, and hang in a drying shack. This is a shack or shed with plenty of holes to let the wind in, but enough shade to prevent the sun from shining directly on the shark. Let it hang until it is firm and fairly dry: 2-4 months. Warm, windy and dry weather will hasten the process, while cold, damp and still weather will delay it.

Slice off the brown crust, cut the whitish flesh into small pieces and serve, preferably with a shot of ice-cold brennivín.
The modern method for curing shark relies on putting it into a large container with a drainage hole, and letting it cure as it does when buried in gravel.

Like seriously! Who figured this stuff out??? How does that first person figure out that they can eat this stuff??? It still amazes me!!! The Icelanders have a festival in which the goal is to eat the most crap. Its called Þorramatur and this consists of many different foods. The only thing in the list that I would even consider eating would be the dry bread.

It includes:

Kæstur hákarl, putrefied Greenland shark
Súrsaðir hrútspungar, the testicles of rams pressed in blocks, boiled and cured in lactic acid.
Svið, singed and boiled sheep heads, sometimes cured in lactic acid
Sviðasulta, head cheese or brawn made from svið, sometimes cured in lactic acid
Lifrarpylsa (liver sausage), a sausage made from the offal and liver of sheep kneaded with rye flour
Blóðmör (blood-fat; also known as slátur, meaning slaughter), a type of blood pudding, which is prepared like lifrarpylsa without the liver and adding blood.
Harðfiskur, wind-dried fish (often cod, haddock or seawolf), served with butter
Rúgbrauð (rye bread), traditional Icelandic rye bread
Hangikjot, (hung meat), smoked and boiled lamb or sheep meat
Lundabaggi, sheep’s loins wrapped in the meat from the sides, pressed and cured in lactic acid
Selshreifar, seal’s flippers cured in lactic acid


No Responses Yet to “Kirkjubæjarklaustur – Höfn”

  1. Marco said

    I just got back from Iceland and I asked a guy in a shop about putrified shark: He said that the sharks typically found off Greenland don’t urinate externally, they urinate into their bodies! Hence, the meat is slightly poisonous as its saturated with pee (enough to give you a bad stomach ache), unless it’s treated by letting it season and then pickling it!

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