An encounter on the wharf in Upernavik town with one of Cpt Bob’s friends led to a very kind invitation for a traditional Greenlandic Dinner. Jens Hansen, a Greenlander and First Mate on the Royal Arctic Shipping Line, lives with his wife Rasmine in a beautiful house high up on a hill overlooking the town and its ice-berg strewn bay.
Upon arrival, we were impressed with the amount and variety of foods carefully laid out on their large dinner table. As you can imagine, Greenland being mostly under ice, there is virtually no local produce (vegetables, dairy, red meat, etc.) with most supermarket items imported from Denmark. Consequently, apart from the very occasional musk-ox or polar bear, all traditional Greenlandic food comes from the sea.
Jens explains the story behind Amershuk, the fish that saved Greenland
Mattak is the skin and blubber of the Narwhal, and we were served it both boiled and raw. When served raw it is quite chewy, but otherwise fairly digestible! Narwhal are regularly hunted under permit, although the trading and sale of Narwhal tusk itself is prohibited in Greenland.
Seal meat is dark, rich, not particularly fishy—maybe halfway between beef steak and liver—and surprisingly tasty. The dark meat is connected to chunks of fat or blubber, not unlike biltong fat. Jens explained the taste differs according to the age, species and habitat of the seal. He prefers the fish-eating seals of Northern Greenland over their shrimp-eating brethren in the south.
Whale was served in a soup, cut in strips (half meat, half blubber). It tasted quite pleasant, and not too strong. The local residents have a license to catch a limited number of whales every year. Jens was not sure of the English name of the whale at dinner, only that it was very big and had a blubbery chin!
Amershuk is a small dried fish known fondly as ‘the fish that saved Greenland’. Jens explained that in the long cold winter months, the dried fish can be eaten when all other food sources are exhausted. We were served amershuk with raw seal blubber (the red packet on the right in the image below) to add a bit of moisture and it tasted surprisingly good!
More familiar foods such as shrimp, king crab, halibut and a few varieties of dried fish were also served and were quite delicious after our diet of British tinned food.
Toward the end of our meal, Jens remarked that in normal circumstance a meal would consist of just one of the seven or so dishes on the table. Had we just eaten through a weeks worth of food? Hopefully not! We did do a good job working through a mountain of sea food. Clinton deserves special mention for his fine effort, especially on the blubber front.
Once again, we have been impressed by the kind and generous nature of the Greenlanders. They really are a special group.