Getting out on the land is a way of life in the North. Hunting, fishing, gathering, and eating country foods provides nourishment. It’s also an integral part of Inuit identity and culture, and contributes to self-sustainable communities. It’s out on the land that traditional practices and knowledge of animals is passed on to younger generations - a practice that has kept communities alive for millennia.
Across the territory and in communities such as Arctic Bay, it is common for families to invite friends, neighbours and even strangers to share a meal. Community feasts ensure no one goes hungry and everyone is able to enjoy the bounty of healthy food. This is especially significant for families who may not have the equipment or skills to hunt themselves. They still get a chance to give their children the nutritional benefits of traditional foods.
Nunavut may be a feast for the eyes, but it’s also a feast for the stomach and heart. Though fewer people today completely live off the land, many still supplement their diet with country food. Here’s a look at dishes that you should try when you’re in the territory.
What is country food?
Country food is a term that describes foods supplied by the land. This includes game meats, fish and foraged fruits. Savoury and rich with nutrients, country food has kept communities healthy and self-sustainable. Historically, meats with a higher fat content were relied on as a main source of food because of the nutrients offered.
Muktuk (or maktaaq)
Maktaaq is a well-known country food consumed by locals and sought after by travellers. In Inuktitut, it refers to whale skin and blubber. Typically, maktaaq comes from Bowhead whales, but it can also refer to the meat from Narwhals and Beluga whales. Maktaaq can be fried, boiled, fermented or eaten raw. Often described as rich and nutty, many people prefer to eat maktaaq raw and thinly sliced with soya sauce. Except for the blubber, maktaaq is an excellent source of protein, iron, and vitamin A and C. It’s said that one serving provides more than seven times the amount of vitamin A your body needs.
Prized for its delicate taste, high protein content and leaner meat, caribou is a staple in Nunavut. Although caribou is game meat it is lighter and more versatile. Typically, the meat is cooked in a stew or soup, raw, fermented or dried. If you’re a fan of beef jerky, you’ll want to try Mikku (dried caribou), a similar taste and texture to jerky.
If you’re looking to try comfort food, go for bannock. Bannock is a staple in the diet of many Indigenous Peoples. Baked, fried or cooked over a fire, the doughy can be slathered with butter or topped with sweet or savoury jam of choice. Although bannock can be found throughout the territory, it’s best made at home. Try your hand and make bannock yourself with our recipe.
Like its name suggests, Arctic Char is found in Canada’s northernmost freshwater, and in particular Nunavut. Its flavour is a blend between a full-bodied salmon with the lighter sweetness of freshwater trout. Depending on the community and liking, char can be prepared in various ways. A common practice and favourite is sun-dried arctic char called pipsi. After capturing the fish, it’s cut horizontally, salted and hung on a drying rack to be dried by the sun.
Larger char would be gutted with the head removed and hung upside down to dry in its own skin. In the Pond Inlet region this is called siriaktaq. Another common practice is eating Arctic Char raw.
Cloudberries, also called Aqpik, are small reddish-orange berries that closely resemble the texture of blackberries. In August, Nunavummiut forage for these delicious berries and bring them home to freeze. Packed with an intense sweet but tart flavour, cloudberries are best served in jams, or used in pies and desserts.