Talkin' Tuesday: How to Speak Like an Alaskan

Akutaq                                 [a-goo-duck]

noun:  a common food in western Alaska, usually made with ingredients such as Crisco or animal oil, berries, sugar, and fish.  Yupik word for “something mixed.”  Also known as Eskimo ice cream.

Example: “That Akutaq was so tasty, I’m still grinnin’ like a possum eatin’ a sweet tater.”

I first tasted akutaq in Kotzebue, north of the Arctic Circle.  I was at a public event, and a young girl approached me with an old shoebox full of small paper cups, each packed to the brim.  “Would you like some Eskimo ice cream?” she asked.  Famished, I said, “Yes, please,” and took the fullest cup.  This Southern woman never turns down ice cream.

It was then explained to me that the variation of ice cream I was so eager to spoon into my mouth was actually a combination seal oil, salmon, Crisco, loose snow, salmonberries, blueberries, and sugar.  Since trying akutaq with an open mind was the respectful thing to do, I did my usual countdown… 3-2-1… and BOOM!  Flavor explosion!  Rich, gooey, bitter, tart, saccharine, indescribable texture, and unexpectedly pleasing to the palate.  

Try it.  You just might like it.

My first cup of akutaq in Kotzebue, north of the Arctic Circle.

The tentatively first taste.

A box full o' akutaq at the 2012 Alaska Federation of Natives in Anchorage, Alaska.

Potluck, Alaska Style

One of the first things I noticed about Alaskans is they take pride in their foods. At my first potluck back in 2009, I was surprised and impressed to see the majority of food on the table was harvested right here in Alaska, and mostly from folks’ own backyards.

Today’s potluck was no exception. We feasted on muskox chili, moose roast, halibut lasagna, king salmon chowder, halibut and shrimp gumbo, venison chili mac, halibut and prawn chowder, venison roast, pheasant stew, and venison meatballs with blueberry jam.  Needless to say, there were no leftovers, and the only thing missing was the Arctic delicacy, kiviak.

Being raised in a big Southern city, I’ve had a longstanding aversion to bizarre foods – until I moved North.  Living here in the Last Frontier has taught me these unique Alaska foods aren’t really all that bizarre. They might be considered strange to some, but they are a valuable part of culture, customary usage, and age-old tradition. I love the fact that Alaskans make the most of what nature serves up and that subsistence is a way of life here. Whether visiting or living here, you've got to at least try everything once! Even beaver ball sack tea.