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Ever had your lunch frozen, a little furry, and on a piece of cardboard before? Well let me tell you, it is DELICIOUS. A little salt, soy sauce, or even some onions in butter, and you have yourself a scrumptious meal ready to be butchered into chunks. If this sounds like your ideal dinner date, or just a typical Tuesday with a twist, read on.
The great and vast North is home to many arctic animals, including the ever-tasty and useful caribou; which in Inuktitut is called "tuktu" or "tuttu." Whether it's eaten frozen, raw, stewed, or fried, it is beyond delicious and will leave you wanting more.
Speaking from the perspective of someone in Canada who lived in an Inuit community called Iglulik, it is considered almost a delicacy in some northern communities as there are less caribou in those areas. But don't worry, they are not going extinct at all! A lot of herds are just located in other areas—whether due to climate changes, land changes, or industrialization.
Tuktu is a key animal in the survival of the North, as it not only provides food, but also clothing, tools, and art.
Caribou Is Everything
While many communities have access to commercial products that are shipped up from the South, caribou and other arctic animals remain vital to their lives. The meat is clean and unprocessed, which feeds many families and even their dogs. And the fur is used to make pualuuk (mitts), jaapa (coats), sijjipa (snow pants), and kamiks (boots) that are able to contain body heat better to help survive the harsh weather. Many times the antlers and bones are used by carvers who create beautiful masterpieces, which they sell to make an income.
Now I bet you wouldn't expect to eat lunch with a hammer! But when that meat is frozen, and your ulu (Inuit knife) just won't cut through, you need to hammer chunks! It's a lot of fun, I promise. If at first it seems daunting, have no fear, because a four year old Inuk (person who is Inuit) will probably come and do it for you.
One of the first times I had eaten tuktu was at my friend's parents house. The whole family had gathered for lunch for some boiled tuktu and nanuq (POLAR BEAR), and I had sat on the floor next to an eight year old student of mine. Even though meat was falling off the bones and the chunks were all piled up on the trays, she knew exactly which piece I was eating. She could identify the animal parts like a pro!
My favorite way to eat tuktu is frozen or as jerky... okay, and also raw. It's just so yummy and flavourful!
Frozen is easy because you just store the meat outside on your porch (its like -31 degrees Celsius). The jerky or "Nipku/Mikku" is made by slicing off pieces like bacon, and then drying it out on a rack somewhere warmer in the home for three to four days. You can season it, smoke the meat, or use a dehydrator too. Either way, it is delicious and addicting! It's so great eating meat that is truly organic and fresh.
What's even better, is that hunters will bring back the meat, and it will be distributed first to the elders of the community, and then people can just come over to someone's home to eat. Sometimes the community will hold a feast, and there will be tons of fish too, and lots to take home as well.
Inuit have a protein and omega-3 rich diet, and everything tastes great, which is even better! In the picture above, the hamlet had purchased lots of arctic char and caribou to make stews, as well as for people to take frozen fish home. It was a great night with a lot of good energy.
Tip: Remember that nice chunk of meat at the top of this post? Slice off pieces of it and fry them on a pan with chili flakes and onions to experience magic. I highly recommend if you're not into frozen/raw meat.