Country Food in Nunavut: The Original Raw Food Diet
Country food in Nunavut is traditional and delicious. Photo by Sara Statham.
I moved from Toronto to Iqaluit almost a year ago, and though I was staying within my own country, I still applied my motto for integrating into a new place:
1) Eat the food
2) Dance to the music
As it turns out, this was a smart move. In my last post, I described some of the factors that make Nunavut unique. Regional cuisine is no exception.
“Country food” is an umbrella term for traditional Inuit foods, namely items that have been harvested by northern peoples for generations. There is a wide variety of nutrient-rich country food available to Nunavummiut (if you know how to hunt and forage for it, that is), and, as the title suggests, most of it is eaten raw. Here are a few examples, followed by my recipe for my favourite country food, tuktu (caribou).
Maaktaq is the Inuktitut word for whale skin and blubber. Often, maaktaq comes from Bowhead whales, though it can also refer to the meat from Narwhal and Beluga whales. To me, maaktaq tastes like butter with a faint fish flavor. It can be quite chewy, so it is best when diced up finely.
Like whales, there are several types of seal in the arctic. Seal meat is one of the most commonly consumed country foods due to the animal’s abundance. Seal meat can be eaten raw, though it is also served boiled (or pan-seared in duck fat with cherries if you’re feeling fancy). The flesh has a deep red colour and a rich flavour, oily and salty like the sea.
Similar to both salmon and lake trout, arctic char is another very common type of country food and plentiful in Nunavut’s rivers and lakes. I love it sashimi style, baked, grilled, lightly pickled, or dried (called pitsiq or pitsi in Inuktitut).
Moving on to land foods, Labrador tea is the colloquial name for a low-lying shrub that grows on the tundra. It has a mild herbal flavour and is said to have medicinal properties. As its name suggests, Labrador tea can be brewed into a tea or used to marinate tough or gamey meats. And it smells wonderful!
Image from flickr.com.
Tuktu is the Inuktitut word for caribou or reindeer. Meaty but lean, it is similar in taste and texture to other game meats like elk. Caribou meat can be ground to make burgers or chili or dried to make caribou jerky. Tuktu is also delightful when served raw and frozen with a side of soy sauce, though my favourite way to prepare it is braised in red wine (see recipe below).
As a lover of food, it excites me to know that Canada’s cuisine is varied and delicious. It has been a great pleasure to experience Nunavut’s northern culture through food, especially because so many of the options were new for me. And my old adage about eating your way into a different culture has held true; now all I need to do is learn how to drum dance.
1 (2-3 pound) caribou roast
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
4-5 garlic cloves, diced
2 tablespoons flour
1-1½ cups red wine
1 cup beef broth
2 tablespoons herbs de Provence
Preheat oven to 275F.
Heat oil in an over-safe pot that is big enough to fit the roast. Pat the caribou dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Brown the meat on all sides (2-3 minutes per side) and transfer to a plate.
Sautee the onion, carrot, and celery until vegetables are slightly softened (about 5 minutes). Add the garlic and half of the herbs de Provence; sautee again for a few minutes.
Add the caribou back to the pot (along with any juices that escaped onto the plate) and pour in the red wine and beef broth. Sprinkle the flour over the liquids and stir lightly to partially dissolve. Spread the rest of the herbs de Provence over the meat. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven on the middle rack. Roast for 2½-3 hours or until the gravy is thickened.
Serve the braised tuktu and gravy over polenta and enjoy!