The Arctic diet is certainly under great scrutiny these days! Comedian Ellen DeGeneres is publicly combating seal hunting, President Barack Obama is urging Iceland to cease its whaling practices, and the official Instagram feed of National Geographic is blowing up with negative comments in response to sneak peek shots from Matthieu Paley’s “Evolution of Diet” story (many of which come from the village Isortoq in East Greenland).
Food in Greenland is not all about seal hunting and whale hunting. Here is one Greenlander (@hannekirkegaard83) who makes my mouth water every single day with her pictures of delicious and nutritious homemade food one would never guess exists in Greenland!
Arugula salad with bell peppers, cranberries, sunflower seeds, fresh basil and basil oil.
Homemade fish soup with fresh parsley.
If these shots whet your palate, just wait until you see @hannekirkegaard83‘s homemade desserts!
For a bite-size lesson on the Greenlandic diet, read about food in Greenland and challenges with Greenland’s food industry below.
What does one eat in Greenland?
The diet in Greenland is a mixture of native Greenlandic foods and imported Danish & international foods.
From Greenland, there are 3 main categories of foods, and they are all protein. Their most common preparations are drying and smoking.
- Land species. Primarily reindeer and muskox. Also lamb, snow hare, ptarmigan, and many bird species.
- Sea mammals. Primarily seal and certain species of small whales. Polar bear is also eaten, but its consumption is much more regional than other sea mammals.
- Seafood (Fish & Shellfish). SO many choices like halibut, redfish, trout, cod, Arctic char, salmon, capelin, snow crab, shrimp, mussels, scallops, and even caviar (lumpfish roe).
One’s best bet for tasting many Greenlandic foods is to eat at a Greenlandic buffet or try a Greenlandic tasting menu. The selection will be wide, so one can try as much or as little as they want, and the presentation is usually quite impressive. For example, here is smoked muskox, juniper steamed fjord trout, whale carpaccio, and shrimp salad at the Sunday Buffet at Restaurant Roklubben in Kangerlussuaq.
From Denmark and elsewhere, there are all the foods you could find in any grocery store in the world. (But, availability and variety are related to town size. Nuuk [the capital city] and other towns like Sisimiut, Ilulissat, and Qaqortoq are very well stocked. As you get into the smaller towns and villages, the selection becomes more limited.)
- Carbohydrates & Grains. Especially dark rye bread (rugbrød), baguettes, buns, full grain cereals, müsli, and many others.
- Fruits & Vegetables. It’s all imported, but you can find pretty much anything you want, save a few items. I’m not sure I have ever found an avocado?
- Saturated fats like cured meats, sausages, tons of cheeses, and paté.
- Dairy. Yogurt, milk, cheese. Even Icelandic Skyr 🙂
- Sweets. Think of any dessert you have ever dreamed of, and it is here, but especially Danish pastries and anything with marzipan filling! And literally 30 varieties of Haribo candy 🙂
What are the challenges with the food industry in Greenland?
- Agriculture is virtually non-existent. There is very little arable soil in Greenland, so Greenland relies heavily on imported goods. The suitable soil that does exist is all in South Greenland, and farms are working toward growing fruit & vegetable crops for domestic distribution (like potatoes, strawberries, and lettuces, and there is even small-batch honey being made)! BUT at this time, there is not enough yield to support even the small Greenland population of 57,000 or the 60,000 annual tourists, so imports remain the largest food source.
- Greenland is an island. Every item that Greenland imports must come in via airplane or container ship.
- There is no domestic ground transportation. With no roads between towns and villages, every item that Greenland imports must also be distributed throughout the country via airplane or container ship. There are over 70 inhabited areas in Greenland, and many of them are inaccessible by boat for part of the year due to a frozen sea. For example, the East Greenland town of Ittoqqortoormiit (population: 444) receives only a few shipments by boat a year; the rest of the deliveries must be made by air. By the end of winter, you can imagine the residents are in dire need of variety and freshness! Nuuk’s shipment situation is not so drastic, but the wish for fresh ingredients remains. Check out my friend’s excitement to receive a bag of fresh lettuce as a housewarming gift!
- Food is expensive… because of #1-3. Not to mention, Greenland’s food imports are coming primarily from Denmark and Scandinavia, widely known as some of the most expensive countries in the world.