Recently, the BBC asked whether Norway’s rakfisk, trout sprinkled with salt and fermented in water for up to a year, was the world’s smelliest fish.
“Take a selection of over-ripe cheeses. Place them in the midst of a pile of dirty, wet soccer kit. Leave for a week. Now you have the nose-numbing smell of rakfisk, one of the great Norwegian delicacies,” the description read.
If swallowed down with a glass of aquavit, it is “not unlike a slice of sushi that has been on rather a long bus journey.”
Rakfisk developed during the days of pre-refrigeration, soaked in barrels of water and salt.
Hákarl is fermented shark known for its ammonia-rich smell. The fish, much like its Norwegian rival developed during poorer times, is commonly eaten during the mid-winter festival of þorrablót.
Like rakfisk, it is immediately followed by a shot of schnapps, or brennivín as the local version is called.
It’s smell is the subject of a constant stream of jokes by visitors to Iceland (in case you’re interested, it can be bought in Reykjavík at the Kolaportið flea market on weekends, as well as in restaurants, supermarkets and the duty free store at the airport). But, as I hear again and again, it doesn’t taste as bad as it smells.
I’ve never gotten that far, though, and one thing I do know is, boy does it smell.
Last year, while studying in the U.S. as an exchange student, I was asked by my classmates, naturally curious about Iceland, whether I could arrange to have some sent so we could try it.
So, I asked my friend to kindly pack some of that smelly fish (just a really small container of bite-sized pieces) when he came to visit from Iceland. Yes, I had warned my classmates, but still they were not prepared—and nor was I.
I presented it to them but there was no “thank you.” Instead, I got a couple of screams and looks of utter disgust. Well, that’s one way to clear a room.
Convinced that I’d stunk out the whole building—yes, it was that bad—and evident that there would be no one game enough to try the ‘delicacy,’ I had to find a place to dispose of it, and fast.
I found a bin outside and dumped the shark. I’m sure the campus police and their dogs would find it soon, wondering what kind of dead animal they’d found.
Maybe next time, I’ll stick to some tried and tested Appóló lakkrís.
Zoë Robert – firstname.lastname@example.org