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Food & Drink

When Anthony Bourdain visited Iceland to eat the worst food he'd ever taste

By Staff

  • Never again Anthony Bourdain said that one bite of fermented shark was enough, he would never again taste this Icelandic "delicacy". Photo/Getty, Imag

In 2014 th American TV chef Anthony Bourdain visited Iceland to film an episode in season one of his hit series No Reservations. Since Bourdain was visiting during the season of Þorri, he was invited to taste traditional þorramatur delicacies. One of the highlights of the episode is when Bourdain is offered traditional cured Icelandic shark, an experience which apparently ranks among the worst food-related experiences the world-famous chef has had the misfortune of suffering.

Read more: Iceland’s Ark of Taste: some of the flavours will seriously challenge your tastebuds

In an interview with Time Magazine Anthony was asked what foods he would never again taste. In addition to airline food he lists Icelandic fermented shark as the most disgusting thing he had ever tasted, alongside Namibian warthog rectum. 

You can watch the Icelandic No Reservation episode below.

Cultural reception in Iceland
The episode is certainly entertaining, it has plenty of nature and good fun; and offers a hilarious image of Icelanders as a nation of fermented shark-eating strongmen. Some fans consider it one of the best episode of the series.

But not all Icelanders were happy with the episode, and the image of Icelanders it paints. An article by cultural critic Björn Teitsson on the online magazine Lemúrinn in 2014 synthesized the criticism brilliantly. Björn did not fault Bourdain, but the Icelandic production team and the "twisted" image they had provided Bourdain with. Björn argued that the image of Iceland which appears in the episode is "one monumental screw-up from start to finish."

One of the examples Björn uses to point out how the episode misrepresents Icelanders' customs is the fermented shark. The episode seems to suggest its part of Icelanders everyday diet he argues, when in fact Icelanders might taste it once every year at Þorrablót feasts. 

More than strongmen and rotten shark
Björn also criticizes the exuberance in the Inspired by Iceland promotional videos, produced by the Icelandic tourism bureau during the first years of the tourism boom. In these videos people are seen dancing in Icelandic nature, "Inspired by Iceland". (see below) However, it is not excessively joyful advertisements Björn is criticizing. What he is ultimately attacking it is Icelanders' urge to create fantasy images about the nation: The constant emphasis on strongmen, Vikings and beauty queens. Iceland, and Icelandic culture has plenty more to offer. 

"The episode is a good reminder to us Icelanders that we should come to the door as we are dressed when meeting foreign visitors - rather than creating some fanciful images of the nation. Whether or not that involves break-dancing in Icelandic nature or myths about every Icelander loving Þorramatur."

Anthony Bourdain - No Reservations - S01E02... by james-oliver

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