One thing you learn quickly when visiting small Arctic indigenous communities, is how important subsistence hunting is to the residents.
Literally the food they hunt, kill, and prepare gets people through a very long, and very cold winter.
Many villages in the Arctic have one way in, and one way out — airplanes.
So, having food shipped to the few grocery stores in the area is really expensive. For example, a bag of apples $10, cereal- $14, and a gallon of mile is more than $12. For many all the meat they eat —comes from the land.
We visited James and Maureen Pokiak in Tuktoyaktuk. It is a town of about 900 – located on the Beaufort Sea at the top of Canada’s Northwest Territories.
Maureen moved to Tuk, as it is called 40 years ago and shortly thereafter married James. He’s Inuvialuit, and makes a living as a hunting guide. Maureen had to learn to live, and cook the way the region’s indigenous population does.
She treated me to a feast of local items —including Beluga whale, Bipsy (salted fish), Caribou, and Musk Ox stew.
First for the whale — Beluga is a smallish whale, and white. Maureen showed me a freezer where she keeps whale meat that is harvested during the Spring. In the lower 48, we would call ‘harvesting’ —killing and cleaning.
Sampling the food of the Arctic - Whale Oil
Whale, is called Muktuk, and Beluga is really pretty good —very much like a real oily —thick meaty fish. The blubber, didn’t taste like fat and I found the skin pretty tasty. Maureen warned me not to eat to much because people who aren’t indigenous often have trouble digesting Muktuk. I was one of those who had trouble.
Bipsy, I really enjoyed. Bipsy, Maureen says —it not a kind of fish, it is the name given to fish prepared that way. Dry, salty, and flavorful. You break little cubes away from the skin it is easy to eat and great!
Sampling the food of the Arctic- Bipsy
I had eaten Musk Ox before, but the stew was really great. I imagine after a day out in the elements that would really hit the spot. Caribou —I could eat all day. We had some Caribou jerky and fresh Caribou stir-fried. Maureen is an excellent cook and was just great.
In Barrow, Alaska, I also ate Bowhead whale. Bowhead’s are huge mammals. They can live to be 150 (villagers tell me they have found antique harpoon tips in old whales) and have really, really thick black skin.
Bowhead —is an acquired taste. The ‘chunk’ I was offered was at least three inches thick —much of that skin. It was incredibly hard to chew. I was told to try it with some kim-chee. I can say I really enjoyed the kimchee, but Bowhead —was tough.