Exploratory Cooking: Sled Dogs » Explorersweb
During one of my visits to Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, I went to an outdoor market called Braedtet (The Plank) in search of my supper. Displayed on tables and piled on the ground, I saw dead seagulls, reindeer breasts, walrus aortas, dried whale meat, mikiaq (decaying seal heads) and various types of fish, as well as seals shot in the head skinned down to the nose and hung vertically from ropes.
Needless to say there were no carrots, cauliflower, asparagus or Brussels sprouts. Soon a petite woman with a sweet round face and rear-like shoulders tried to interest me in buying some qimmeq (dog). She gestured to light brown meat piled on a table.
« Qimmiaraq [puppy]I asked. Because I knew that sled dog puppies were sometimes strangled and their fur was used to stuff a child’s parka. Could a dead puppy without fur be sold as kitchen?
The woman shook her head, saying a word I didn’t understand – perhaps the local word for an adult dog that had become unmanageable or no longer useful as a sled animal, and whose sole purpose now was to be eaten. (Note: As the custom of using sled dogs has diminished in Greenland, so has the custom of eating them.)
Unlike explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson, who was reluctant to eat man’s best friend (woman’s best friend too), I had no qualms about doing it myself. Indeed, I was curious about the taste of an old sled dog. So I asked for about a pound of meat. After the woman took my crown, she handed me the meat saying, “Nerilluarisi! [Bon appetit!]”
Back at my tent, I cut the meat into chunks and cooked those chunks for a relatively long time on my Primus stove. Since I had no basil, dill, oregano, garlic, or thyme with my gear, I was forced to eat the meat unseasoned. But it at least gave me a good idea of how Greenlandic sleddog actually tastes.
How, in fact, did the meat taste? For starters, it was so chewy that I felt like I was eating mostly muscle and sinew, as you would expect from an animal that had spent its entire life pulling sleds. It also had a strong but rather generic animal flavor. Even though his main food was fish, the meat had no fishy flavor. If I wanted to be off-putting, I would say the taste is reminiscent of the smell of a wet dog. A nicer way to describe it would be to say it would have benefited from a little hot sauce.
Here’s perhaps an even kinder way to describe it: By dining on a Greenland sled dog, I was putting an animal that had dedicated its life to work for my species back to work.
About the Author
Lawrence Millman is a man who wears a variety of hats. As an explorer he traveled to the Arctic 35 times, but not once to Rome; as a mycologist, he has a fungal species named after him (Inonotus millmanii); and as a former prisoner of war in academia, he taught at Harvard, the University of New Hampshire, and best of all, the University of Iceland.
His 18 books include titles such as Last Places, Our Like Will Not Be There Again, Lost in the Arctic, A Kayak Full of Ghosts, Northern Latitudes, Hiking to Siberia, At the End of the World and Fungipedia. Bruce Chatwin called him “the master of the remote control” and environmentalist Paul Kingsnorth describes him as “a true original who takes no prisoners.
He maintains a post office in Cambridge, Massachusetts.