Canadian Cuisine: Northwest Territories

Muskoxen, Northwest Territories

Yellowknife has become multicultural and the influences from seasoning to saucing reflect that. There is international representation in the dining scene from Ethiopian to Vietnamese. “There are a lot of foodies up here from all over the world,” says Allison Gordon (Bullock’s Bistro), “so if a restaurant isn’t good, it doesn’t last.” Bullock’s has become an institution. Fresh fish like white trout, Great Slave Lake trout and cod arrive daily and are grilled, pan-fried or deep-fried. Chowder and Buffalo stew are hearty nourishment.

In the hinterlands of the territories there are several First Nations communities where transportation is limited. Summer is short. Food must be stored for the long winter. Traditionally, the diet is low-carb, high protein and iron, and cuisine reflects the game and aquaculture available, which, in the absence of firewood, is eaten raw or frozen. Big game meats like bison, muskox, caribou, moose, grizzly bear and polar bear, and smaller game like muskrat, beaver, rabbit, Arctic hare, goose, duck, grouse, and ground squirrel are all hunted and gathered. Depending on the season, meat is boiled or dried, and sometimes smoked. Most parts of a caribou can be consumed, including the blood, and are also made into jerky, sausage, roasts and steak. Hunting and fishing are how locals keep active and healthy. Wild greens like Arctic willow, netted willow, mountain sorrel, fireweed and seabeach sandwort are foraged along with blueberries, gooseberries, crowberries and cranberries, and are eaten with seal or walrus blubber. Fish in the Arctic, like Arctic char, are among the meatiest, fattest and tastiest in Canada. Every part of the fish can be consumed including the bones. There is a range of seafood and seaweed that is eaten raw or dried and dipped in boiled seal meat broth. Beluga, narwhal, seal and walrus can be eaten raw, frozen, dried, smoked or fermented. The traditional method of fermenting walrus, for example, is burying it under gravel to allow for controlled cool airflow. Blubber and skin are also consumed raw, fermented or boiled in soup or stew, and the tusks are used for carving. Necessity is the mother of invention.

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