Food in Alaska has a certain magic. If it comes from nature – like blueberries, herring roe, moose meat or salmon – it is tied to the vast and wild place. If it comes from elsewhere, like almost all store-bought food, it has a novelty and, often, mysterious origins. If prepared in a method from a homeland thousands of miles away, it is full of nostalgia and nostalgia. Alaska Natives who haven’t traveled to their rural hometown in a long time tell how eating wild foods, like seal oil sent by relatives, is a heartwarming reminder of who they are .
When you visit, if you pay attention, you might realize what I mean, how one bite of something delicious eaten in such a wild place can feel like a miracle. Maybe it will hit you when you bite into a warm, fluffy donut while standing in an abandoned house-turned-restaurant in Adak, or bite into a Funyun lying face down in the tundra of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or, if you I’m lucky when someone opens a jar of smoked salmon before dinner and pulls out a spread with saltines, cream cheese and chives from their garden.
There is no greater influence on Alaskan food culture than subsistence, the Native tradition of living off the land, which makes environmental stewardship, food harvesting and sharing the main channels of transmission of culture and knowledge from one generation to the next. This attitude toward food has a halo effect, as many Alaskans view sharing and stewardship as tied to community survival. Maybe that’s also why, if you live here, you’re not surprised when a neighbor comes over with a filet of sockeye salmon or a plate of lumpia. That’s how you do it – you share and take care of your neighbor, because you never know when the tables might turn.
When eating wild foods in Alaska, know that the state’s wild foods, and the traditions and industries built on their beats, are increasingly challenged by climate change. The chinook and sockeye salmon fisheries outside Bristol Bay have seen historically poor returns in recent years. Bering Sea crab stocks are declining. One of the largest caribou herds in the state is steadily declining. Even when the berries ripen has changed. Although Alaskans have adapted in many ways to these changes, the experience of eating wild foods has become all the more valuable to us.
If you are a visitor to this state, you may not be lucky enough to eat our wild harvest like maktak or even bramble, but you can still find delicious local dishes tucked away in city malls. Alaska is known for its scallops, oysters, and black cod, as well as its super-sweet cruciferous vegetables, root vegetables, and strawberries, which concentrate sugars more than elsewhere due to day-to-night temperature fluctuations. .
Be on the lookout for international cuisine. Over the past 20 years, a demographic shift in the state has intensified some longstanding influences and brought in others — particularly from the Filipino, Korean, Mexican, South Asian and Pacific Islander diasporas. It’s inspired all kinds of uniquely Alaskan fusions – from wild game adobo to caribou sausage musubi to poke bowls with raw salmon and kimchi.
Like many places, there are customs in Alaska when it comes to food. If you’re traveling to a rural location, where groceries are expensive and produce is scarce, bring a crate of oranges or a mesh bag of avocados for your host. When someone offers you food – a can of salmon or a homemade sausage – understand that you are receiving an important gift and treat it as such. And, if someone invites you to eat at their table, always say yes. -Julia O’Malley