Regular readers of Nation Plates may have noticed that I skipped a letter in Round One.
This project ain’t perfect – but it’s going to be good, and I’m trying hard. So I skipped Iceland in Round One because I couldn’t come across some hakarl, the rotten shark meat that is foisted upon tourists as the national dish of Iceland.
There are going to be countries I skip until I can get them done – I still haven’t tackled The Bahamas because I can’t find the conch meat, for example. I may have to skip Nauru on this round because I have yet to find a single local recipe from that island of 9,300 residents.
With Iceland, it was finding the source of hakarl. I finally ordered some online in early January. It got here in February, and now, on a sunny, warm spring weekend, it was time to eat it.
My friend Juan Carlos Ocaña joined me at Bloomington Park to participate in the joy of eating hakarl. Some other friends came by, but got one whiff of the vacuum-sealed rotten shark and decided to take a pass. My lovely (and five months pregnant) wife Emily also declined but did record video.
My cross-town blogger friends were also invited. They told me if I bought the hakarl, they’d eat it – and then didn’t respond when I actually acquired the shark. But crickets once the hakarl actually showed up.
This dish haunted me. I had nightmares about eating it, even before actually opening the bag of food. Every time I looked at it, I started to psyche myself out more. By the time eat-day arrived, I was considering taking an anxiety pill just to get me through it, though I worried anti-anxiety medicine might make it easier to throw up later. Nobody wants to throw up. I was so nervous, I gave Juan Carlos a “prost” instead of a “skol” before we dug in.
The hakarl was bad. There’s no sugar-coating that. Its flavor started as something akin to fish-jerky, and its consistency was bearable at first. The flavor didn’t really hit until it got to my throat, coating the back of my tongue and my uvula and god-knows-what-else in an awful rotten fish flavor.
Even after a shot of aquavit, the flavor didn’t go away. It took two sticks of gum to get it out. Nearly two hours later, I’m eating a grilled cheese for lunch – not because that’s what I wanted, but because I figured that wouldn’t be awful to heave in the off chance that I wind up puking up the hakarl tonight.
But I made it through it. And, not to get all end-of-South-Park sappy here, but I feel like I learned something. Hakarl was an invention of necessity. People needed food they could eat in the dead of winter. You make do with what you got, no matter where you are, whether Oregon or Iceland.
I’m just glad we got more than hakarl, because I don’t need to have it again.
If you want to buy some, check out namme.is for your own little package of culinary “adventure.”