Cooking in the Arctic: Yum!

Food is a huge theme in Arctic exploration literature. Explorers like Bob Bartlett realized that food could make or break an expedition; with not enough carbs, you could starve; with too much protein, you could get sick; with plenty of victuals, you could enhance the crew’s morale. The import of food was was clear throughout the Canadian Arctic Expedition disaster of 1913-1914 as on many other Arctic expeditions.

cairbou soup

Eallu is the coolest (pun intended) cookbook I’ve ever come across. It’s got a long subtitle: Indigenous Youth, Arctic Change & Food Culture  ̶  Food, Knowledge and How We Have Thrived on the Margins and is a recent project of the Arctic Council. Eallu amply demonstrates the value and meaning attached to food in the Arctic today.

How does caribou soup sound? Or reindeer yogurt? Wild yellow potato? Blood sausage? These are all traditional dishes of the Inuit, the Even people of Siberia, the Dukha of Mongolia, the Evenki people of China, and other diverse Arctic and subarctic people. Eallu is the first book to provide an overview of the culinary world of Indigenous peoples throughout the Arctic region. The book is beautifully illustrated with compelling color photographs. One photo depicts Máret Buljo, a Saami in Norway, with her smiling baby on her back; another is a close-up of the flavourful and nutritious fat of a reindeer stomach. There are lots of pictures of reindeer and other animals and of people preparing food.


Eallu is about more than recipes; food traditions and food history are also a focus. The Dolgan believe the consumption of reindeer eyes improves their own eyesight. Eyes are important in Dolgan culture since hunters benefit from good vision. Eyes are often depicted on hunters’ hats and on Dolgan national dress. Reindeer eyes are cooked in a broth and then cut into 5 or 6 segments before they’re eaten.

Eallu contains numerous maps showing land cover (e.g. forest, agriculture, and so on), animal ranges, including those of wild and domestic reindeer, and Indigenous homelands, demonstrating that these homelands can overlap other Indigenous territories and cross national borders. Dukha, for instance, live in Mongolia as well as Russia.

There is certainly an emphasis on Eurasia in Eallu but Alaska, Canada, and Greenland feature as well. Bob Bartlett and other Arctic explorers would have enjoyed many of the meals featured in Eallu, including this one from Barrow, Alaska for caribou soup:

Tuttu (caribou soup by Eilene Adams, p. 119)

  • Boil the meat, preferably the brisket and hind quarter, til tender
  • Add 1 cup of rice and one onion and cook for about 10 minutes
  • Add ½ cup of flour and cook for another 10 minutes
  • Consider adding noodles, carrots or potatoes

Regular readers of this blog and those who’ve read Unchained Man, my new biography of Bartlett, will recall that the Barrow region was home to  Claude Kataktovick, who accompanied Bartlett from Wrangel Island to Alaska on a desperate rescue mission.

Tuttu is scrumptious paired with caribou meat gravy as made by Eallu contributor Chantal Gruben, an Inuk, from Tuktoyaktuk in Canada’s Northwest Territories:

  • Brown diced caribou meat on medium heat with oil
  • Stir in a handful of flour
  • Add one cup of water and desired spices or soup mix
  • Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally
  • Remove from the heat; the gravy will thicken as it stands

If you’re interested in other Arctic delicacies, their history, and their meaning, you can read Eallu free online.

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