Alaska is home to many wonderful local cuisines. Drawing from the land and cultural history, they reflect their natural surroundings in a way few North American culinary cultures do. While you’re working in Alaska, make sure to try at least one of them, to get a taste for what the state has to offer.
Native Alaskans were masters at carving a life from the land, but people today might not be as interested in their traditional meals. They relied on staples like whale or walrus blubber to keep them fed during the cold months, and also lived on certain kinds of barks and mosses. Fermentation was also used to preserve food—like salmon head and fermented herring. Since Native Alaskans often had to go extended periods of time without fresh fruits or veggies, they relied on things like seal liver or salmon eyes for nutrients. Another traditional food you might try if you’re feeling adventurous is Akutaq, a combination of whipped animal fat, wild berries and snow.
You don’t have to dive into those kinds of meals to appreciate what Alaska has to offer, though. Here are six local dishes to try while you’re working in Alaska that might be more appealing if you’re not feeling incredibly adventurous.
Salmon, which is key to the Alaska lifestyle and livelihood, is an absolute must-try meal for any visitor. And smoked salmon might be the most enjoyable, traditional way to enjoy it. Since Native Alaskans cured and preserved meats, dining on smoked salmon is a way to sample something reflecting traditions. Try it as a standalone dish or in a breakfast hash at the Canyon Steakhouse at the Westmark McKinley Chalet resort.
Sourdough’s history was traced as far back as ancient Egypt, and it played an essential role in the diets of early miners in Alaska. In fact, some Alaska folks reportedly earned the nickname “Sourdough” because they would keep their sensitive sourdough starters close to their bodies for warmth during cold winters. Sampling a slice of warm, tangy fresh-baked sourdough might be one of the most enjoyable ways to experience a bit of a gold miner’s life, which otherwise was likely somewhat crude and difficult.
King Crab Legs
Few things say Alaska like king crab does. The short—and very dangerous—king crab fishing season makes them practically a delicacy. A famous one, though, since they’re shipped all over the world. And while you might see everything from crab casserole to crab cakes, good old-fashioned, simple crab legs with garlic butter and a squeeze of lemon might be the best way to enjoy them.
Native Alaskans have been preserving game meats all along, though reindeer were introduced—they’re not native. However, reindeer meat, and spicy reindeer sausage has found its way into the Alaska culinary lexicon. Usually seasoned and smoked and sometimes combined with other meats, reindeer sausages hit the spot in a bun on a warm summer day.
Now considered gourmet, fiddlehead ferns symbolize the types of plants native Alaskans would gather as part of their diets. They’re young fern plants that grow in wet areas like stream banks. About the size of a quarter, they taste somewhere between asparagus and spinach. Boiled or steamed and buttered, they’re a tender, nutritious treat.
Alaska is certainly famous for its berries. From familiar blueberries to the more unusual cloudberries and lingonberries, they make for lip-smacking treats that you can pick yourself if you know what you’re looking for. But if you’ve gathered a couple of pints—or have the good fortune to visit a restaurant or café who has—then a cobbler might be the best way to savor them. With a cake-like cover and caramelized sugar on top, you might find yourself ordering it more than once.
While not all of Alaska’s culinary traditions sound savory now, some modern techniques make use of the local foods and traditions and make them delectable. Whether you’re experimenting in your kitchen or visiting restaurants, a dive into the local food scene is the perfect way to experience more of the state.