I visited Greenland to experience an Arctic spring, sail between the icebergs in Ilulissat, bounce along the waves in Nuuk harbour, and discover Greenlandic culture and history - but when I encourage people to visit the country (as I find myself doing frequently), it’s often the food I highlight.
"When I encourage people to visit the country, it’s the food I highlight."
"Almost everyone has a favourite cooking method for reindeer, knows how to salt their own fish, and boil their own jam."
As visitors increasingly want to enjoy “authentic” experiences and the interest in farm-to-plate (which would be more appropriately called ocean-to-plate in Greenland) offerings only grows, restaurants in the capital and elsewhere have responded by incorporating local Greenlandic ingredients into modern, internationally-inspired dishes.
This is a nation where food preparation from scratch still permeates everyday life (who can afford all that imported frozen pizza anyway?). Almost everyone has a favourite cooking method for reindeer, knows how to salt their own fish, and boil their own jam.
Don’t forget to sample these delights:
Whaling is an important part of the Greenlandic lifestyle, and whale meat, skin or fat features on most menus. The most surprising is perhaps the varieties of ways to serve mattak, or blubber, the thick, nutrient-rich layer of fat and skin that insulates the mammal from the chilly North Atlantic waters. My favourite were the ribbons of delicately boiled mattak served with red sorrel, lemon and celery at Restaurant Ulo in Hotel Arctic, Ilulissat.
If you are fortunate enough to be in Greenland during lumpfish roe season, as I was, you’ll be served these tiny, delicate coral spheres at almost every meal. More attractive to the eye and less salty than their Caspian caviar cousins, the roe can be mixed with salads, or even paired with frozen yogurt, as I had it at Sarfalik in Hotel Hans Egede, Nuuk.
You can enjoy Greenland’s unique cuisine at any time of year, although certain dishes like the lumpfish roe are best enjoyed seasonally. Aside from the restaurants, for a taste of traditional food, try to get an invite to a kaffemik, a gathering of friends and family to celebrate life’s special occasions (birthday, graduation, first day of school), or simply to enjoy each other’s company.
"Nipisa restaurant in Nuuk is a perfect example of local source, global format."
Berries and herbs
On an island where it’s difficult to cultivate even potatoes, the vitamins supplied by foraging for berries and herbs are vital to both good health and good flavour in dishes. You’ll find angelica, sorrel, Arctic thyme, and more. In season, rhubarb is also ubiquitous.
The muskox carpaccio I enjoyed at the now-closed Nipisa restaurant in Nuuk is a perfect example of local source, global format. But this rich meat is also served in burgers, delicately grilled fillets, or slowly braised.
… And to drink
Nuuk is home to the Godthaab micro brewery, which produces a variety of delicious ales. North of the Arctic Circle, stop by Mamartut in Ilulissat, where owner Kim Sander Pedersen famously offers a range of homemade schnapps-style liqueurs, each flavoured with local herbs … or even ptarmigan crop!