Our First Taste of Maqtaaq

Yesterday, we shared our experience with Annie, a Rankin Inlet elder who showed us how to light the qulliq.  After the lamp was lit, we ate.  We ate whale!

Yes, first up was maqtaaq.  Raw whale is a quintessential northern food, and while whales are not hunted as often as they used to be, those that are get distributed amongst numerous communities.  We were both excited to try it, though also somewhat hesitant; it just seemed so visceral.  The processing that much of our food goes through – especially meat and fish – means we’re often one step away from what our food actually looks like.  But this - this was just a big ol’ chunk uh’ narwhal, sitting on a piece of cardboard on the table.  Its skin looked like marble, and the flesh like a glistening piece of pink watermelon. 

Also, it was narwhal, so we were both aware of the fact we were essentially eating the unicorn of the ocean.

Veronica used an ulu to cut the maqtaaq into small squares, and Sarah provided a popular condiment to eat it with – soy sauce!  

Interestingly, the aroma I got from the maqtaaq was that of raw sunflower seeds, but the flavour was very mild (hence, the salty kick from the added sauce).  In fact, it is the texture that stands out in my memory - its chewiness, how the soft meat gave way easily, but the skin required some work to gnaw through.  It was pleasant enough that I had several pieces.

We also tried these:

No, they aren’t brownie cookies.  They’re whale sausage.  And no again - they’re not traditional.  There’s been some local momentum to create value added foods with northern ingredients, so the fisheries department has been working with recipe developers from the culinary institute on PEI to create whale sausage.  This test run was half successful – they liked the flavour, but the texture was a bit too dry.  Whale meat alone is too lean, so they figure they’ll add fat in one form or another to the next batch.  We wish them luck, and hope we can try the final version someday!

We washed it all down with tea made with northern greens, and little muffins Sarah made with tundra-foraged berries.  Thank you so much to Sarah, Annie, and Veronica for being so generous with their time, food, and knowledge.  This was certainly an afternoon (and meal) we'll never forget.