Country Foods

A taste of the Arctic

Country food it is like a well-kept secret of the Inuit, rarely found on menus in Nunavut other than caribou and char. As a culinary traveler and enthusiast, it was a main point of interest for me that I wanted to uncover.

It is a cuisine like few others left in the world.

A meat based diet, it is a cuisine of simplicity and nourishment where hunting and foraging are still widely practiced. Living off what the land has to offer and using every part of an animal is so deeply engrained in the Inuit. 

Like many cultures, the best food experiences come from sharing with locals. My first time in Nunavut in 2015, working in Arctic Bay, I chatted about Nunavut's country foods with our guides, they knew how interested I was, almost desperate to have a taste of their country foods.

Arctic Char, the most widely known food from the north, was in abundance. I ate it frozen and raw as I was taught how to make an Inuit favorite, Pitti or pipsi, air and sun dried fish. It reminded me of a fish flavoured jujube. Chewy and slightly sweetened from the drying process.

As my time in Arctic Bay started to come to an end I had accepted my departure on an empty stomach and it was then, I was gifted with some seal meat. Rib meat, liver and blubber. I was ecstatic as the guides slurped back the raw liver and blubber with me, while cutting nuggets of meat from the rib bones.

I offered to pay, but that is not how it works here.

Inuit have an amazing sense of community in which sharing is engrained in tradition. When hunters "bring home the bacon", so to speak, it is shared between family, friends and neighbours. Sharing a meal,as in many cultures is vital.

Upon my return in 2016, I continued to want to try country but different ones this time. , with different country foods. This time in Pond Inlet, the guides quickly knew my interest. Our guide happily offered me a taste of his personal portion of Mataaq, the frozen blubber/skin of the narwhal.

Later I was gifted with a few recently gathered snow goose eggs, but yet again on my last day the real surprise came. I was called over, and started sprinting when I realized one of our guides brought back a fresh seal. Cleaning it right on the ice, I got a taste of something that is prized among hunters. Inuit "ice cream" or "yogurt", depending on who you talked to. Raw seal brain chopped up like tartar with a touch of blubber. Creamy, nutty and metallic leaving my lips tingling, oddly wanting more.

I've barely breached the surface of what this land has to offer. As I continue to cook for guests on our Arctic Kingdom excursions, I'm hopeful to gather more tasty morsels. The country foods here are not only delicious, but a way to understand and respect another aspect of Inuit culture. Something that should be embraced wherever you go.

From an outsider looking in,

Jason Mullin
Chef at Arctic Kingdom, Writer at Edible Adventure Travel