The Nations of the Inuit: Northern Life and Arctic Cuisine
The Inuit are distinctively different from other First Peoples in the sense that they have a unique appearance and culture that revolves around the survival and adaptation of their people. The Inuit were the last of the natives to arrive to North America, so they settled in the Arctic as it was the only portion of land that was not taken up by other Native Americans as the north had the harshest climates.
The Inuit can be found across Northern Canada, Alaska, Greenland and Siberia and historically were separated into eight groups. These included: Labrador (Atlantic Coast), New Quebec (Hudson Strait and East Coast of Hudson Bay), Baffin Island, Igloolik (Western Baffin Island), Caribou (West of Hudson Bay), Netsilik (Arctic Coast of Canada), Copper (Victoria Islands/Central Arctic) and Western Artic Inuit (Mackenzie River Valley). In addition to being broken into eight groupings, the languages were also divided into the Eastern and Western branches which can then be broken down into dialects. However, the different languages do come from one main language, that being the Inuit-Aleut or Eskimaleut.
Inuit Cuisine Facts and History
According to archeological research and findings, the Inuit first originated out of north-western Alaska where they lived both on the tundra and the coast. Here they created their distinct cuisine out of what they could hunt, which is why Inuit food is mostly made up of meat like whale, seals, walrus, caribou and fish. The meat was able to provide them with a diet high in nutrients and fat to help them live in the harsh climates. The Inuit chose to move across Arctic Canada towards the east, migrating in smaller parties, as they wanted to look for a higher quality of life. This lead them to the rich whaling grounds around Baffin Island and the coastal areas where seals, fish and caribou were aplenty. They continued to move east, entering Greenland by AD1250 where they came into contact with the Norse. The Norse colonies ended up disappearing as the cold climates got progressively worse around the 1300s. In order to survive the climates, the Inuit began building houses made out of blocks of snow as these were easier to construct and could be built anywhere, allowing the Inuit to move to available food sources.
Inuit Cuisine Menu
• Cereal Bread,
• Baked Beans,
• Cinnamon Buns,
• Rye Bread,
• Raw meat (whale, caribou, seabirds, seafood, etc),
• Macaroni Salad,
• Baked Beans,
• Wild Rice,
• Lentil Soup,
• Rabbit Stew,
• Venison Stew,
• Corn Soup
• Saskatoon Berry Mix,
• Cheese stuffed trout,
• Orange codfish,
• Veal/Chicken parmesan,
• Vegetables and meat balls,
• Rabbit stew,
• Moose stew,
• Wild Rice,
• Hamburger soup,
• Sweet and sour moose ribs,
• Roast Grouse,
• Lentil Soup
• Crème Caramel (Caramel Custard),
• Rhubarb Pie,
• Crumble and Crisp (made with fruit),
• Banana loaf
Drinks: Traditional Inuit drinks may include
• Burdock root tea,
• Dandelion tea,
• Elderberry tea,
• Alcohol (Whiskey, Rum, Vodka).
A traditional Inuit Christmas dinner may have the following on their table:
• Caribou (legs, stew),
• Bannock (bread),
• Muktuk (often dipped in soy sauce),
• Raw arctic char,
• Seal meat,
• Fish (Trout).
In addition to the above, Inuit may also bring coleslaw, potato salad and other “non-country foods” to the communal dinner from their city’s co-op. The co-op is a place where dry foods are shipped to from the Southern areas of Canada.
A traditional Inuit Easter dinner may have the following on their table:
• Wild Rice Cakes,
• Wild Rice,
• Man-O-Min (Ojibwa Wild Rice).
Most Popular Dishes
Popular dishes among the Inuit that are considered “country-food” (traditional) include:
• Muktuk: whale blubber and skin that is diced and dipped in soy sauce.
• Kiviak: Auks are sealed into the belly of a seal and left for a few months before being served straight from within the seal.
• Mattak: strip of whale skin with blubber (tastes like coconut but can’t be chewed).
• Bannock: flatbread that is baked in an oven or over an open fire.
• Raw blubber fat is often mixed with berries and enjoyed.
Most Used Ingredients
Meat/Fish: Walrus, Ringed & Bearded Seal, Bowhead & Beluga Whale, Caribou, Polar Bear, Muskox, Sculpin, Arctic Cod, Arctic Salmon, Arctic Char, Capelin, Trout, Arctic Fox, Arctic Hare, Black bear, Pheasant, Pickerel, Smelt, Bass, Duck, Deer, Quail, Goose, Beaver, Perch, Musk Oxen and Seabirds. Seafood: scallops, mussels, clams, crabs, and sea cucumber.
Vegetables: Tuberous Spring Beauty, Sweet Vetch, Seaweed, Herbaceous plants, Tubers and Stems, Fireweed, Mountain Sorrel, Willows, Beans, Potatoes, Corn, Squash.
Fruits: Crowberries, Cloudberries, Blueberries, Cranberries, Gooseberries, Baffin berries, Strawberries, Blackberries and Raspberries.
Other: Bannock (Flatbread), Whale’s Bone, Akutaq (berries mixed with fat), Tea, Barley, Oatmeal, Hickory nuts.
What to Eat When You Travel to the North American Arctic
If you’re planning on travelling to the northern sections of Canada, Alaska, Greenland or Siberia then you’re definitely going to have to put a few traditional foods on your list to try. Keep in mind that everything you do eat that is traditional will be very different than what you are used to and most do have an acquired taste needed. The bannock is probably going to be the easiest thing to try if you are hesitant about trying out the foods as all it is, is a flatbread. But if you are feeling a little more adventurous, then definitely think about trying Mattak and Muktuk. Mattak is a strip of whale skin that may have blubber with it and Muktuk is whale blubber that is diced. Other foods that you should think about trying include: seal, whale, caribou, and the raw arctic hare or char.
Now if you don’t want to be crazy adventurous in your food tastes, you can always visit a co-op and see what they have for more southerly foods as these are shipped up to the co-ops throughout the year. You may find things like Sunny D, cookies, chips, canned foods, and other processed foods that are more familiar and to your tasting.
Are you from Inuit lands? Maybe you visited there? Please feel free to comment and add your own thoughts on Inuit ethnic food.
Kalaallisut (Ann Smith)