I can hardly wait to find out what food culture there is to be found in Greenland. I of course know a bit about seals, fish and that kind of thing, but how is it today, when the internet is available, and flights from Denmark land every day and can bring food and other imports from all over the world? Are there still fish and seals on the menu? And how is it here, inland – what do they eat here?
Outside the hotel stands Adam Lyberth, who is our guide and is waiting for us. His appearance immediately reveals that he works in the outdoors. He simply looks so healthy.
His well-maintained, blue Land Cruiser starts, and we drive to the left. Indeed, there are not so many options, despite the fact that this is Greenland’s longest road. It is 70 km long and stretches from the inland ice and out along the fjord.
We are driven around the local area, and Adam tells us about all of the things we see. Both the natural surroundings, but also all the buildings that the Americans left behind when they gave up the area as a base.
I am becoming so full of impressions from this nature that eventually I can’t take in any more, and it must wait until tomorrow. So I begin to ask a bit about the food culture in the area. I find out that it is, perhaps surprisingly, still based on what you can hunt and catch in the area: snow hare, reindeer, musk ox and birds. There are also many who fish in the fjord. In the winter this is done by drilling a hole in the ice and fishing through it. In the summer, there are many people who have their own dinghies and who sail out and fish.
Actually, Anne has arranged for us to go out fishing through a hole in the ice a couple of days later, and I tell Adam this. He explains that this is something he also likes to do. We talk a bit more about what you can catch if you’re lucky. Primarily it’s Greenland Cod, a slightly smaller codfish, regular cod, Atlantic wolffish, and, if you’re really lucky, halibut.
Adam has already started telling an anecdote about one of the biggest fish he has caught out on the ice: an Atlantic wolffish weighing 26 kg! I interrupt halfway to turn to the back seat and tell the others that this is a bit of a scary fish. It has a very strong jaw and big, spiky teeth. Even those weighing 5-6 kg, that you get in the restaurant kitchens at home in Denmark, are scary. I don’t dare to think about what to do with one that is so big…and alive…
Adam laughs and preempts my question: “I shot it with 243 caliber hunting cartridges.”
There is a roar of impressed laughter in the blue car, which by now has made it back into town.
Adam drives us back to the hotel, where we can relax for half an hour before we are picked up by Nini, who has invited us to a Greenlandic dinner.
Food in Greenland
The Greenlandic food culture is closely linked to the Greenlandic feeling of identity. If you want to feel like a genuine Greenlander eat like the locals!
This will give you a unique insight into a food culture that has traditionally been dependent on what can be caught in the wild. There are as many ways to eat Kalaalimernit as there are people, but here is a guide that will help you through some of the Greenlandic delicacies that you are likely to come across during your trip.
Just across the street from the hotel is the shop By Heart. It is Nini’s shop, where she sells Greenlandic handicrafts – including the sought-after musk ox wool which she produces herself from the skins that her husband brings home when he has been out hunting these big animals.
These, we still have to see.
It was here that we met Adam earlier in the day, and it is here we will meet Nini.
We just manage to breathe in a bit more of the cold and unbelievably fresh air, before Nini arrives in her car.
She and her husband have made dinner for us. It is nearly too much, since we are already so full of experiences and we started the day in Bornholm at 1am Greenlandic time. But at the same time it will be very exciting both to taste the food, but also to hear about the food culture, from people who are our contemporaries.
Nini and her husband Jens live together with their daughter on the other side of the airport. On the stove there is already a pot boiling.
I can’t stop looking at it.
The contents looks like something I have seen many times before as a chef – a lot of pieces of meat and some carrots. There is fat floating on the top. I’m guessing that this is our dinner.
Nini comes over and tells us that this is musk ox soup – a dish that they have only recently begun making.
“We found out that you can easily eat the tougher bits of meat from the musk ox, you just have to cook it longer. It gets really tender,” she explains enthusiastically.
“And look…,” she continues, “…we’ve put carrots in. That’s mostly for you, because we don’t eat so many vegetables. They’re usually quite bad quality and very expensive. ⅛ garlic costs 20 kroner and a watermelon 80 kroner,” explains our charming hostess, obviously slightly annoyed at this.
“Nini…,” I ask curiously, “…how do you make sure that your daughter gets all of the vitamins and minerals she needs, if you rarely eat vegetables?”
She explains that in the summer she collects berries and herbs, which she dries, freezes down and makes into jam.
“And then we take care of the rest with a vitamin pill,” she smiles and exposes her white teeth.
It’s time to eat, and the pot is placed in the middle of the table. I should mention that this is not a normal pot. It is very large. I would guess 10 – 15 litres.
Jens serves our food while he tells us about the local beer he is about to open.
“It’s not completely local, because it’s brewed in Nuuk, but it’s Greenlandic,” he smiles.
Nini tells us that they mostly eat meat that Jens has hunted, but also rice and a lot of potatoes.
The soup is warm, very warm. It is probably because the bits of fat kind of stick in the mouth. The meat of this big animal tastes a bit wild, but more like beef that is full of umami flavour.
Jens explains that the musk ox is a basic element in the food culture around here. This, as well as reindeer, snow hare and grouse, are the typical kinds of meat that you can get your hands on in the area.
Of course you can get some expensive and boring pork from Denmark in the shop, but everyone around this table is completely in agreement that it would be crazy to pay a small fortune for meat that is markedly worse than the delicious wild and self-caught meat we are eating right now. It is Jens himself that goes hunting, when he doesn’t have guided hikes with tourists.
He tells us that at the start of the winter he takes a little sled, his two dogs and a tent, walks out into the mountains and sets the tent up as a kind of base for the winter hunt. He comes back here a few times over the course of the cold season, preferably for three days at a time, where he hunts, cuts up the meat and packs skins for Nini, so she can make yarn out of the warm undercoat.
Now the conversation takes a different turn; I have just come to think that eating meat less regularly, or being fully vegetarian, must be almost impossible around here.
“There’s simply almost nobody who can afford to,” explains Nini: “…vegetables are too expensive, and there is also a question about how many vitamins are left in them, when they have been shipped such a long way?”
Nini and I talk a bit about which wild herbs and berries you can find in the summer. She tells me that it’s primarily crowberries and juniper berries that she finds and picks, but also angelica, wild thyme, Labrador Tea, and the Greenlandic rhododendron, known locally as grønlandspost.
This one I don’t know at all, but Nini explains quickly that you can use the leaves of the shrub as spices, and you can also use them for liquor. It can be quite bitter if you’re not careful to take the leaves out of the drink quite quickly.
Nini mostly uses grønlandspost as a spice for her dishes with reindeer and musk ox, and this makes sense, because it’s also something that features in the animals’ natural food, she says.
There are many people who use grønlandspost as a medicinal plant. It is supposed to have a good effect on psoriasis, among other things.
We say goodbye, and I hope that I don’t fall asleep during the five minute long drive back to the hotel.
Thanks for dinner, Nini.