Food in Greenland isn’t about fine-dining; it’s about survival. Here’s a look at the Greenland cuisine including some traditional Greenlandic dishes.
Food in Greenland is undergoing a revolution at the moment.
In the past, eating has been a major part of survival in this hard a barren climate. Something you endured as opposed to enjoyed. You hunted, you ate, because if you didn’t you’d die. That’s the stark reality of living somewhere like Greenland.
However, all of that is changing. Greenland cuisine has a new face, someone who says you can enjoy your food, someone who says it doesn’t just have to be fuel for your body.
While I was in Nuuk, I met up with Anne Nivíka Grødem, a native Greenlander originally from Ilulissat and now living in the small capital.
Not only does she run a purely Greenlandic Instagram feed and blog Greenlandic Food Lover, she is well on her way to becoming “Greenland’s Jamie Oliver” having started her own food revolution. Everyone knows her and she has become a real champion for eating healthily with a twist on traditional recipes.
What do people in Greenland eat?
I caught up with Anne Nivíka and spoke to her all about Greenland foods and what people can expect. Here’s what she had to say:
“Everyone here in Greenland knows how to make a reindeer stew. It’s the common thing. But I wanted to show people you can eat vegetables in Greenland… even if it’s frozen, it doesn’t have to be boring,” says Grødem.
She has partnered with Brugseni, a local supermarket chain, to develop a brand of frozen vegetables in order to get people cooking with more varied ingredients as opposed to meat and a bit of veg on the side.
She is adamant that there is a balance between health and taste, history and the future.
“Sometimes Greenlanders are just so stuck in our traditions that we’re not going anywhere. Food doesn’t have to be boring but it should be a celebration of our culture. Yes, that’s food like whale, muskox and reindeer, but it can be cooked in a different way.”
A taste of Greenland
While the cuisine isn’t for everyone, I actually really enjoyed all the food in Greenland. At times it seems simple – muskox with rice and carrots, or home-reared lamb with potatoes – but there’s pleasure in that simplicity too.
There were three Greenland dishes that really stood out for me.
The first was a traditional bbq on the beach. Using stones as a make-shift bbq and local heather as kindling, we cooked fish, muskox, seal, and controversially whale and whale blubber.
I say controversially because in the Western world the idea of eating whale is horrific – in Greenland, it is life. If you don’t eat animals like seal and whale, then you don’t eat. There aren’t many alternatives and it was fascinating learning all about Greenlandic food in a beautiful setting while on the beach. This is what traditional Greenland food is all about.
The second meal that really hammered home the Greenlandic cuisine was where I caught my own fish for dinner. I kid you not, there are so many fish in Greenland that you only need to stick out your rod for five minutes before you catch something. The best bit is the food doesn’t come any fresher than this.
One popular restaurant we want to you bring you own fish, and then they cook it for you. It’s called ‘fish & dish‘ where you’ll catch your fish first on a boat tour just outside of Nuuk before going onto the restaurant. Honestly, it is in the most beautiful setting too.
And finally, I ate at Sarfalik, a restaurant that really highlighted how Greenlandic gastronomy is changing, at how it could be elevated to new heights. Make sure you click on the link and read all about my experience at Sarfalik, but it was as good as any Michelin-starred restaurant I’ve been to in the UK.
Traditional Greenland food
Anne Nivíka learned to hunt and fish at a very young age, going out with her father. She even showed us a picture of her aged 8 with her first hunted grouse. The only thing I was doing aged 8 was cycling my bike around the village at a million miles an hour!
However, while using local meat is a staple of the diet in Greenland (there really aren’t any vegetarians here), the food blogger and mother now sees opportunity to bridge the gap between entrenched traditions and modern cuisine.
“I think we have to be humble with the traditions when it comes to food because it’s such a big part of our history and our culture and our traditions… I have to take small steps to change people’s perceptions because people don’t like too much change.”
“There are some Greenlandic people who might think that what I’m doing is too modern or that’s not the way to cook. But I like sticking to tradition as much as possible by bringing alive recipes in Greenland.”
What is the national dish in Greenland?
One of the most popular things to eat in Greenland is seal.
This is something that the people here have been eating for thousands of years and it’s one of the main basic ingredients in Inuit cooking.
In fact, the national dish of Greenland is Suaasat. This is a thick broth often made of seal meat which also has barley and onions through it. One way of cooking it is with rice instead of barley, but it’s a very filling dish supposed to keep you going for hours.
I also ate some grilled seal while I was here – the taste definitely takes some getting used to! It’s very musty (if that’s the way of describing it), but I can see why Greenlandics love it.
Creating a food community for everyone
Anne Nivíka’s goal is to create an accessible, healthy food community in Nuuk (and beyond) and it got me thinking; how does this exist in our culture?
In the Western world, we have the luxury of finding any ingredient we need to cook with at the supermarket no matter the time of year. We have access to fresh vegetables and fruits wherever we look. When it comes down to it, we can cook what we want, whenever we want, and that choice is overwhelming sometimes.
More often than not, we’re not even cooking: rather buying prepared foods that are quick, easy and lack nutrients. It also means we can buy single serving meals, eat them alone and toss out the evidence.
A different way to look at food
I’m currently finishing up a 30 day “program” called the Whole30, which has really changed the way I look at food.
It’s forced me to cook every meal, most of the time from scratch and ideally, use seasonal ingredients to do so. While this has been trying at times (all I want is a doughnut), and a time, money and energy commitment, it has also been incredibly rewarding.
I’ve developed a loving relationship with food and a ritual of preparing and cooking food that is good for me.
What Anne Nivíka is doing is making it easier for Greenlanders to be a part of a community that care about what they’re putting in their body.
Greenland food recipes that go up on the blog are based on what Anne Nivíka has seen at the super market that week, sometimes even highlighting what’s on sale.
There is a strong sense of community in Greenland, with gatherings like the Kaffemik bringing people together. The kaffemik is a strong tradition; a celebration where neighbours open their doors to welcome whomever appears with coffee, treats and conversation.
And so the food revolution has started
Now, Anne Nivíka is bringing together the Greenland food culture and a “modern way of looking at food and health.”
She is working with the government to create a healthy food festival for kids and plans on creating a community space where families can come together to cook; to try new recipes and then eat together.
While she is slowly doing so with her recipes (things like Red Fish from the Fjord, fried leeks, edamame, mushrooms, potatoes with basil hollandaise and date balsamic – YUM), Anne Nivíka is quickly becoming and important figure in the country.
So, while food in Greenland traditionally used to be fuel for survival, over the past few years it has slowly been evolving into something new and beautiful. And after trying it for myself, it’s delicious too.
What do you think of Greenlandic food? Are there any Greenland recipes you’ve heard that you’d like to try? Let me know in the comments below!
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