Blubber with garlic
October 21, 2010 10:31 PM   Subscribe

Eskimo cooking has been discussed before. But The Eskimo Cookbook still hasn't made me hungry for oogruk flippers and Eskimo ice cream. I still prefer Norwegian whale meat recipes.
posted by twoleftfeet (48 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
The village where the Eskimo Cookbook came out of will be be under the ocean before long, though they are trying to move it further inland.

But anyway, the best way to eat whale meat is fresh and raw so you get a bit of vitamins in a vegetable scarce land.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:45 PM on October 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

You need a flashy marketing site for proper whale recipes (all in Norwegian). These guys also have a big trailer that they park outside of local grocery stores promoting the use of whale meat as a substitute for beef in many recipes.

(In case you're curious, whale tastes like slightly fishy roast beef).
posted by grajohnt at 10:49 PM on October 21, 2010

grajohnt writes: "whale tastes like slightly fishy roast beef"

That's a pretty good description. IMO however, it's absolutely foul.
posted by bardic at 10:59 PM on October 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've had muktuk - the Western Arctic name for raw whale blubber. It is exactly like eating a cold pink eraser.
posted by ZaphodB at 10:59 PM on October 21, 2010 [5 favorites]

If you're not into akutak (Eskimo Ice Cream), I suggest Baked Alaska. :)
posted by nickyskye at 11:02 PM on October 21, 2010

Nickyskye, that hurts me to watch. The original recipes involve fish and seal and reindeer fats. It hurts me to watch somebody carry on a tradition - "like Grandma used to do" - with Crisco and mashed potatoes and sugar.
posted by twoleftfeet at 11:12 PM on October 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

How would one separate the oil/fat from the seal/reindeer?

(serious question)
posted by Senor Cardgage at 11:57 PM on October 21, 2010

You will find the most wonderful stories about Esquimaux in The Curiosities of Food: Or the Dainties and Delicacies of Different Nations Obtained from the Animal Kingdom, written in 1859 by Peter Lund Simmonds.

Their food culture is one of the most extreme I've ever read about. The fact that they eat 20 pounds of flesh and oil DAILY. Think about this folks, DAILY. Their fondness of fat and blubber is illustrated in the anecdote that if an Esquimaux girl is presented a candle as a gift, she will eat it. Apart from fat and blubber, they eat anything that moves, alive or not, rotting or not. This also includes their sledges.

We've been trying to get Mrs. Ouke to work on het Esquimaux table manners, but somehow she seems reluctant. "One of the ordinary acts of hospitality and civility on the part of Esquimaux ladies, is to take a bird or piece of seal-flesh, chew it up very nicely and hand it to the visitor, who is expected to be overcome with gratitude, and finish the operation of chewing and digesting the delicate morsel."

Whenever I ask her to perform this task (I didn't marry her for nothing, after all) she moves her face close to mine and whispers "go eat a fucking sledge".
posted by ouke at 11:59 PM on October 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

How would one separate the oil/fat from the seal/reindeer?

That would be the ulu, which exists in the lower 48 mainly for crossword puzzles.
posted by twoleftfeet at 12:03 AM on October 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


Ok so. I'm assuming that the fat is just below the skin and scraped off?

This is fascinating and ..... Eww.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 12:10 AM on October 22, 2010

Mmmm...It was just hvaluka (whale week) in Oslo as part of the annual food festival.

So good and so fresh. I feel bad for the sea shepard guys not being to indulge in traditional foods.
posted by Funmonkey1 at 12:36 AM on October 22, 2010

How would one separate the oil/fat from the seal/reindeer?

Traditionally, if I remember my eighth grade social studies correctly, first with one's mouth and teeth, and only then a knife, because the animal was frozen solid by the time you got it home.
posted by Ahab at 12:38 AM on October 22, 2010

But all seriousness aside, whales are for fighting, not eating. Landlubbers.
posted by Ahab at 12:44 AM on October 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

It hurts me to watch somebody carry on a tradition - "like Grandma used to do" - with Crisco and mashed potatoes and sugar

Really? Because I imagine they're ecstatic to be able to move from non-rendered fat and berries. But hey, let's keep things grueling and harsh in order to maintain your Nanook Rockwell vision for them.

Aaah--sentenced to generations of of subsistence survival because a cozy armchair anthropologist wants to keep them that way. Such is The White Man's Burden.
posted by sourwookie at 1:24 AM on October 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

I made some fries (in my new deep-fryer*), some stir-fried cauliflower with scallions and Moose steak tonight. I was kind of wishing I had squirrel too just to go all "Boris and Natasha"
OK I'm done. The moose was thin cut and just fine on the grill after being marinaded in oil with salt and pepper only. I've never cooked moose before so I didn't want Terriyaki Moose or Jerk Moose or Moose Satay. I wanted to taste the mooseness. I'm not sure why but I think it was a "he" so I say he was yummy and I felt a bit closer to my food because he was killed and butchered by a friend.

*get one, you can make egg rolls and someone will love you.
posted by vapidave at 1:33 AM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

But hey, let's keep things grueling and harsh in order to maintain your Nanook Rockwell vision for them.

Oh yes, of course. fully-hydrogenated Crisco is obviously superior to the food sources these people have used for hundreds of years.

Thank you for clearing that up.
posted by twoleftfeet at 1:57 AM on October 22, 2010

Just popping back in to say this is the series of films that we watched in year 8 social studies. The films were shot in the last years (early to mid 60s) that the Netsilik Inuit lived a traditional lifestyle. They don't appear to be available online, but the 15 part youtube series People of the Seal (part 1, and just click onwards from there) incorporates parts of that original series, and parts of a later one filmed after they'd moved to Pelly Bay.

Part 15 is from the original series, and shows why it's possible to eat a sledge.
posted by Ahab at 2:02 AM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is a total aside, but amusing: After abandoning the names "Krispo" and "Cryst" for trademark and religious reasons, this product became known as Crisco. (from Wiki)

Cryst almighty!
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:15 AM on October 22, 2010

Ahab! thanx you made my day! And since everybody from the MeFi Esquimaux Cuisine appreciation society is gathering in this thread, you'll probably forgive me for derailing: what is a place where I can learn more about the kitchen utensils (like the ulu) they used? Also: where can I buystuff like that. Is there such a thing as a curiosity shop that sells them?
posted by ouke at 2:50 AM on October 22, 2010

"Intelligent food for intelligent people", as they say here.
posted by grajohnt at 3:40 AM on October 22, 2010

Metafilter: Nanook Rockwell
posted by benzenedream at 3:50 AM on October 22, 2010

Ouke, no worries! Just a couple of off the cuff ideas re learning about and buying traditional tools:

Firstly, the Netsilik were themselves trading traditionally made handicrafts and tools for money and essentials once they'd settled in the seventies (there's some mention of it in the videos, and I think also on the wiki site). I'd guess that might still be happening. Other groups might be doing the same. Maybe just try googling "Inuit artifacts".

But secondly (and very indirectly), I know there's a number of kayaking communities out there who specialize in traditional skin boats. Some of them are super serious about their research and cultural authenticity. I'd think some of the individuals involved would be able to help you. I've found them in the past via this links site (the building, clubs and reference sections are good). There's at least one other good links site out there. And I've also found some by searching directly for (eg) "baidarka", "qajak" and "greenland skin boat".
posted by Ahab at 4:24 AM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ahab - I'm thinking of transforming myself in a gorgeous young woman, ask you to marry me and I will carry your child. In weekends we go out kayaking and I will chew blubber for you with all the love I've got. This will take some time, since I am a grumpy old man, but when the moment is there, I will let you know, thanks!
posted by ouke at 5:09 AM on October 22, 2010

Ouke, I fear I'm a grumpy old man as well, and before you go transforming yourself, I have a whale to catch..

I had a more sensible search idea than chasing down kayakers a moment ago - the Smithsonian has a fantastic search feature for themselves and their affiliates.

This was one result of many in a search for "Inuit".
posted by Ahab at 5:26 AM on October 22, 2010

I am probably one of few people on this site who has eaten all of this, and more. Akutak is a hunter's best friend, a block of solid fat and protein that keeps in your pocket for days and provides so much pure energy that one bite makes me start sweating at 20 below.

But my favorite delicacy, which was once prepared for me by an elder (as a test, Eskimos are big on testing) is the middle lining of the intestine of a young seal, which has to be carefully (very carefully) peeled apart from the dirty inner layer and the tough outer layer, chopped and eaten raw. MM. Also delicious: raw frozen Caribou stomach sliced thin, still full of the half digested tundra grass in his stomach when he died. It's like injecting arugala into your veins.

I have never felt more energetic or healthier than when I am eating the nearly all meat, mostly raw, traditional diet of the Iñupiaq people, especially maktak and tuttu quaq (raw whale blubber and raw frozen caribou). Advocates for Iñuit peoples are acutely aware of the awful contrast between the perfectly evolved traditional diet and the disaster that a western diet of sugar, starch, and saturated fat has caused for the people.

I'm just about to head up there for thanksgiving. They have a turkey. And lots of raw meat too.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:29 AM on October 22, 2010 [7 favorites]

Oh, and that is natchik, the small gray seal, not uguruk, the large (400+ pounds) bearded seal.

I've seen it done but not braved it myself: while butchering caribou (a bloody, labor intensive business when you've got 12 or 14 to butcher in one afternoon) you pop a raw eyeball in your mouth. Mmmmmm.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:32 AM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Whale is not foul. And it does not taste "fishy." It is mammal meat. Bowhead whales eat krill, not fish (Bowheads are the main species eaten in the arctic, along with some Beluga). Raw maktak is Eskimo soul food, but the very first time I tried it I *loved* the taste, and now I can't live without getting some every few months.

Properly prepared maktak melts in your mouth practically (the fat, the skin is quite chewy). Eskimos like to put salt, soy sauce, or Worcester sauce on it, and they also love wasabi as a condiment on whale meat.

When I get back from Alaska, the dogs in my building go nuts around me for several days until I've done laundry at least twice and sweated all that good meat out of me.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:35 AM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, and the basic fact people need to understand before you turn up your nose or get appalled at eating whales is that *almost nothing edible grows above the Arctic circle.* A plant-based diet is not an option, other than a few berries in summer (Salmon berries, mmmm -- every Eskimo woman has her own recipe for Akpik berry pie, usually involving Crisco and lots of sugar, because they are very tart berries). Tundra grasses can't be digested by humans unless they are first partially digested by a caribou. Your options are to eat meat or starve, or they were. And starvation was always the immediate, imminent, most pressing threat for Inuits until very recently in their history, which is also why they developed an extraordinary commitment to sharing food which any outsider becomes the beneficiary of immediately.

Over thanksgiving, my whaling crew (the families I hunt and eat with) will distribute several tons of this fall's catch of whale and caribou to the entire community, as will other successful crews. It's how they practice the meaning of thanksgiving. I go every year to help, and it's the best few days of my year.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:42 AM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ah. The ulu has also been featured here before, and some of the links appear to be to sites where you can buy them. A search for inuit here on the blue also produces some interesting results.

(My apologies for the overposting. I shall haul my umiak off this shore for now.)
posted by Ahab at 5:47 AM on October 22, 2010

I'll post one more comment and then back off, hard because this subject is so close to me.

If you as an outsider ("Tanik" if you're white) want to try this food, I cannot recommend enough that you visit Barrow, Alaska in late June during Naluqatak season, when successful whaling crews distribute their *spring* harvest to the community. It's a festival that lasts for days (until the meat is all given away) with games, music, dancing, socializing, praying, everyone together on an open ground (the beach if it's nice out). Tourists who enter the naluqatak grounds are always welcomed and given shares of whatever is being distributed, and it is impolite to refuse it, and in fact impolite not to immediately try some of whatever you are given. I have watched a hundred times as an awkward Italian or German tourist is handed a large piece of caribou meat or a bag of maktak. They always try to refuse it first, and an hour later it's like they were a member of the family, face greasy with whale fat.

Once in your life, go. Find out what makes Inuit culture so amazing and generous. Inuits pride themselves above all on their hospitality to strangers who become friends in the process. I have benefited enormously from this cultural attitude as an outsider. It's a day of travel from anywhere in the US to get there, and a r/t ticket from NYC is about $1500. They have a couple of hotels, a few regular restaurants (you would correctly guess that they are big fans of sushi, so there are three good sushi places in Barrow, run by Koreans). In June it's generally between 40 and 70 degrees, so perfectly tolerable (as opposed to February, when it hits 60 below!).
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:53 AM on October 22, 2010 [5 favorites]

Whoops, I transposed the consonants in Nalukataq, properly spelled. Some anthropologist I am.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:12 AM on October 22, 2010

ouke, I've had this ulu and chopping bowl for several years, and I highly recommend it. They come up on eBay sometimes.
posted by padraigin at 6:34 AM on October 22, 2010

For those who can't stomach the idea of raw maktak, an equally beloved delicacy is unalluq, boiled maktak. So soft it can be swallowed in large chunks, mmmmmmmm. It's what you do when you have too much maktak and some of it is turning tough.

And the crown jewel of Eskimo cuisine is Mikiuk, fermented whale blubber and blood. Not for everyone, but Eskimo kids love it (and I find it tastes a lot like chocolate).
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:40 AM on October 22, 2010

I've posted this before, but for anyone interested in the traditional life of the North, this is an invaluable, fascinating, exciting, gruesome and heart-breaking account of life at the time of first contact from the perspective of a sympathetic Englishman: Thomas Hearne's "A Journey from Prince of Wales Fort in Hudson's Bay to the Northern Ocean (PDF). It does not contain as much on the Inuit as it mostly describes life with the more nomadic Athabaskan bands, but does depict some of the dietary habits, including the fresh caribou stomach contents mentioned above. It was a tough life, especially for women.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 7:28 AM on October 22, 2010

I lived up in Inuvik, NWT for a year, running the bakery/deli of the local Northmart (aka Northwest Company, of Canadian history). I can attest to the food sharing. It seemed that any time an Elder was having a birthday, there was a town-wide feast and everyone was invited, even the 20 y/o southern girls who didn't know anyone and were vegetarian. We made an exception for traditional Inuit food. That's where I tried muktuk, whale (which is meaty, but does have a bit of a salty/fishy taste), muskrat (meaty and oily), caribou, bison, eskimo ice cream, and more.

For the record, caribou is the best meat on the planet. Hands down. Steak, roast, raw, there is nothing as good as caribou.

That's also where I learned about cultural shifts, when I saw bison lasagne, caribou sloppy joes, and HP sauce all over anything that had once moved.

And the ulu? If you can get your hands on one, don't pass it up. I left the north almost 10 years ago, and I still use my ulu at least once a week. The same ulu I bought 10 years ago, incidentally.
posted by arcticwoman at 8:07 AM on October 22, 2010

i grew up being told that eskimo was akin to nigger, in terms of racial slurs, has this changed, is it a usaian vs canuckistan thing, or was i told wrong (dad spent time in rankin and inuvik as kid)

posted by PinkMoose at 8:19 AM on October 22, 2010

I don't know the site's overall quality, but you can get some information on ulus just by mistyping on the way to Hulu, as I often do.

For content, I'm going to agree that reindeer is way up there on the delicious scale, and good reindeer sausage is something everyone (who isn't a vegetarian) should try to enjoy at least once.
posted by missix at 8:30 AM on October 22, 2010

Eskimo is a racist term, and is acknowledged as such in Canada, but not in the US. I am not surprised by this given the general difference in how each country relates to its "first nations" or, as the Americans continue to call them: "Indians".
posted by zenon at 8:40 AM on October 22, 2010

Sorry, that should be the proper title: "First Nations".
posted by zenon at 8:41 AM on October 22, 2010

Bit more background: Greenland also does not take kindly to the use of Eskimo, which like the far norther part of Canada, is populated by the Inuit nations. The Inuit label encompasses Inuit and the related Inuvialuit in Canada and Kalaallit, with the related Avanersuamiut and Tunumiit nations/communities in Greenland, but can broadly be spoken of as a single culture. They all have rejected for some time "Eskimo".

This is important because Alaska also has an Inuit nation, the Inupiat, but also the Yupik and their cousin the Aleut, which are very different than the Inuit nations in both language and culture. These two groups are also not fond of Eskimo - but there is no common or popular term that the white population has adopted to describe these two groups. Which is a little ridiculous, its not like ink is expensive, and saying Yupik and Inuit Ice Cream isn't so much more difficult than Eskimo Ice Cream, but doesn't have quite the same ring of to it.
posted by zenon at 8:53 AM on October 22, 2010

The use of the term "Eskimo," like "Indian," is more complicated than a simple racist/non-racist binary. It has a racist history, to be sure, but has been re-appropriated as a term of identity. Most Iñupiaq folks I know refer to themselves as "Iñupiaq Eskimo."
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:57 AM on October 22, 2010

It's not that complicated - I am firmly convinced that Eskimo is a racist and derogatory term, and at best is used out of ignorance with no particular ill will towards the people described, like in this case here. I am not in the business of re-appropriating historically racists words, in large part because what right do I have in defining an identity for a minority group. Given historical race relations, its a little rich that here we are debating the merits of a word that whites applied to these nations - Eskimo isn't an Eskimo word (it's likely derived from Cree), an issue that should be (US) and has been (Canada & Greenland) decided entirely within the First Nation communities supposedly represented by the term.

I brought up the differences between Canada and the US regarding this topic, because the Inuit in Canada have made it clear that Eskimo is racist, a position I entirely agree with. I can't imagine why any white or non-native American would seek out a position on the issue of the appropriateness of using the word Eskimo. I don't use the word nigger just cause I know a couple blacks who use it, but Indian or Eskimo is ok for me to use cause I've heard a couple of them use it?
posted by zenon at 10:00 AM on October 22, 2010

Most Iñupiaq folks I know refer to themselves as "Iñupiaq Eskimo."

True enough, but the quickest way to an angry hour-long lecture is to call a Yukpik elder an "eskimo", as I saw an Alaskan State regulator do once. He was quite charmed, on the other hand, to be called a "First Nations" as I mistakenly did at the same dinner.
posted by bonehead at 12:19 PM on October 22, 2010

Actually, the problem in the Canadian north is similarly complicated. There are many tribes ("nations" in Canadianese). Some natives are quite insulted if you call them Eskimo, but those reasons can be either that they are Inuit and think it's racist or that they are Dené and you're calling them the racist slur for their traditional enemies, or perhaps they are Cree and just dislike it on general principles. In any case, in Canada, Eskimo is a word with freight similar to "nigger" in the US.

Most northern aborigionals are pretty understanding with ignorant southerners, but god help you if you're acting in some kind of official capacity.
posted by bonehead at 12:28 PM on October 22, 2010

Oh, and even one more wrinkle, the Inuit don't see themselves as "First Nations" either, as that refers to those peoples whe were previously defined as "Indians" in the Canadian constitution. It's both sharp a legal difference and a cultural one. The Dené and Cree are First Nations, the Inuit are Inuit and all of them collectively are aborignials (in Canadianese).
posted by bonehead at 12:36 PM on October 22, 2010

In Canada the word "Aboriginal" is widely accepted to encompass the three major groups: First Nations, Metis, and Inuit. FNMI (acronym for those three groups) is also coming into parlance as an inclusive term to refer to all Canadian indigenous peoples.

I use the term Inuit, although I did say "Eskimo ice cream," I think because that's what the Inuit people who served it to me called it. The terminology is complicated, as others have noticed. Many Elders who I met called themselves "Eskimo" and explained that's because that's the word they grew up with and they didn't have a problem with it. Younger folks preferred Inuit or the more specific Inuvialuit (which is the major group in Inuvik).

Early in my stay in Inuvik, a coworker came to me seething at something someone else had said to her.
"Do I look native?" she asked me.
"Of course you do," I said.
"No. Do I look native?"
"Yes. Of course you look native."
"No! Do I look NATIVE or do I look INUIT."

I got it then. She looked Inuit, of course, and I told her so. That was when I really understood that "native" wasn't a monolithic group, and that members of all the cultures that other people lumped under that one title might not be so happy with that categorization.
posted by arcticwoman at 4:15 PM on October 22, 2010

The Dené and Cree are First Nations, the Inuit are Inuit and all of them collectively are aborignials (in Canadianese)

And as another wrinkle for you, there are many groups within Inuit (analogous to Cree and Dene within First Nations). The Inuvik is home to the Inuvialuit people, but there are many other cultural and linguistic groups within that umbrella term.

And one more: don't forget the Metis, who are also culturally and linguistically unique from other groups in Canada. They aren't just half Aboriginal and half French, as many people believe, they are a distinct population.

posted by arcticwoman at 4:19 PM on October 22, 2010

Geez people, it's not *that* hard to render fat. I do it all the time and it takes me about 30 minutes. I scrape off as much fat as I can, stick it in a crockpot on low, and when I get home my roommates are angry about the strange smell and I also have some tasty tallow/lard!
posted by melissam at 10:03 AM on October 23, 2010

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