Road Trips & Travel

The Lighter Side: When in Reykjavik …

Mark Kearney
Written by Mark Kearney


I drew the line at putrefied shark.

Okay, I drew the line at eating puffin and foal, too.

I’m no vegan, but if you’re travelling in Iceland you’re going to face a few dining decisions.

For the most part, the food was delicious during the 10-day hiking holiday my wife and I took there. We enthusiastically enjoyed the variety of terrific veggie and meat soups, the excellent bread, several, shall we say, less adventurous fish dishes like haddock and good local beer to wash it all down. Tourism has become the leading industry in Iceland, and the country has responded well in providing good food choices for their visitors.

But they have this thing about putrefied shark. It’s a national delicacy. This shark meat can be dangerous if eaten fresh, so Icelanders have come up with a solution of letting it rot as the way to get rid of any of the poisonous features that can make you seriously ill. Listen, “dangerous when eaten fresh” is enough incentive for me to avoid it. Really, Icelanders, you don’t need to feel obligated in any way to find a method that will make it palatable.

Our hiking guide, Dorothea, was keen to have us taste it and several on the trip did so. My wife took a bite and said it tasted like a marathon runner’s 10-year-old sneaker. Icelanders say it’s best to have it with some cold Brennivin — the local aquavit. I was fine to sip my Brennivin sans shark rot, thank you very much.

And why didn’t I eat the puffin and foal? I’m not going to give you some deep, philosophical reasons about why I couldn’t bring myself to eat either. I’m not going to argue that killing species for the sake of dazzling our taste buds is wrong. I eat chicken; I eat beef. But I just couldn’t tuck into puffin and foal because, well… they’re cute!

I have lots of photos of puffins that were nesting in cliffs by the seaside. They can be boisterous birds and they have such nice colouring. I’d just rather watch them than munch them. As for foal, well, it’s not like I eat horse meat anyway, so why start when the plane touches down in Reykjavik?

Granted, the aforementioned Dorothea did catch us by surprise when she announced that the appetizer one night was going to be foal. I thought maybe we’d misheard her because of her accent and she’d said “sole” or “mole.” Or “vole.” But, no, it was indeed baby horse.

Again, a few on our trip tried it, describing it as kind of a spicy ham. And Dorothea chided us slightly the next day when she mentioned that lamb would be main course for dinner that night. “Now, lamb, in case you don’t know, is a baby sheep,” she said, dryly.

She had me there. I thoroughly enjoyed the lamb, even though I think they’re cute too. Maybe I felt a bit guilty that night or at least hypocritical.

Now, had it been putrefied lamb, I would have gone with the salad option. No matter how cute the lettuce was.

Mark Kearney has been a journalist for more than 35 years and has been published in nearly 80 publications in North America. He teaches writing and journalism at Western University.

About the author

Mark Kearney

Mark Kearney

Mark Kearney has been a journalist for more than 35 years and has been published in nearly 80 publications in North America. He teaches writing and journalism at Western University.

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