Sarp Kizir is Ottawa’s riotous merry-making everywhere culture man. He is a food writer and opinions columnist for Apartment613. Follow him on twitter: @RoughChopOttawa.
What is Inuit food you ask? Inuit food is foraging. It is hunting, fishing, respecting the land, the animals and the scarcity of resources in a way that still leaves nature and an existence of a culture undisturbed. It is about putting your life in the hands of the elements to harvest, prepare, preserve, store, transport and feed oneself and others for joy and for nourishment. It is about fire, heat, warmth and comfort as much as it is about snow, wind, seawater and ice.
As settlers who have been hung up on stagnating colonial bistro menus for so long, we boast of the frequent flyer miles that our palates have accumulated, but rarely does that ever include a trip up north.
How has popular Canadian culinary culture come to such a point where it has so much to offer from other parts of the world, with so little indigenous representation? What is Canadian food when you really think about it? Can you even begin to define that with a confederation that is merely 152 years old? Why is New Zealand lamb more accessible than northern Canadian country seal meat? To put things into perspective, there are zero indigenous restaurants in a city that has almost 2,200 food establishments.
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The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans patronizingly uses the phrase: “Ensuring the seal harvest is humane” as a header on a website that provides information about seal hunting regulations—misleading in itself. The context leaves the reader presuming that without self-imposed government authority on colonized lands, the harvest would be inhumane, when it has been humane for centuries, without destroying the planet.
Fortunately, within Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) there is Nuluaq, which is an Inuit community-based food initiative that exists to face these challenges of cultural and economic food insecurity. According to ITK, “For Inuit, the impacts of food insecurity also extend to cultural well-being because of the continued importance of country foods such as seal, whale, and fish harvested from the local environment”.
I hope that by shedding light on this event and these initiatives that you the reader will take it upon yourselves to become educated and familiarized with the amazing work that this organization is doing. The next chapter in the story of Canadian food should include the country food of Inuit peoples, period.
I attended a Taste of the Arctic media preview lunch hosted by ITK on May 1st because I was craving a real, visceral take on comfort food and the harvested northern country delicacies that come with it. I was honoured to be in the company of a Executive Chef Sheila Flaherty, an Inuit chef who hunted and harvested ingredients for this lunch herself.
I was also in the presence of some of my favourite people in the Ottawa food and social media world, all of whom will be in attendance at the official A Taste of the Arctic dinner happening on May 15th at the National Arts Centre.
In collaboration with the NAC’s Chef Kenton Leier, the menu consisted of the following dishes
- Natsiq (ring seal) sliders with a balsamic onion reduction on fried palaugaaq
- Maktaaq (narwhal) chowder
- Scallops infused with Labrador tea
- Pipsi (dried arctic char)
- Aqiggiq (ptarmigan) with mirepoix and mushrooms
- A charcuterie board of umingmak (muskox) pepperoni, whitefish jerky, tutku (caribou) pepperoni, hot smoked maple iqaluk (Arctic char), aqpik (cloudberry)/kimminnaqutiit (cranberry) jam
- Paurngaaq (crowberry) cheesecake bites
As I noted in between mmmmms and aaaaaahs: if you thought foie gras was fancy and comforting, wait until you try maktaaq (narwhal) chowder. Foie gras has nothing on Maktaaq, and there is no force feeding involved either.
As I write this, I am learning that A Taste of the Arctic has officially sold out! But I urge everyone to check for it next year because you won’t want to miss it. I invite all chefs, food purveyors, educators and curious food minds to show up and enjoy this life changing experience.
In the meantime be sure to follow the hashtag #ATOTA and also @gunuyung @inuittapiriitkanatami @sarainfox @roughchopottawa @bytown.bites on Instagram to view highlights of the event as it happens on May 15.
Nakurmiik (thank you).
Your friend in food and culture,