From salmon to blueberries, you’ll eat well in the wildest state.
When you’re planning the ultimate Alaskan getaway, don’t forget it takes energy to trek across glaciers, snap the perfect picture of a bald eagle, and stay awake all night under the midnight sun. Sure, it’s possible to fuel those adventures with burgers and fries, but why not pair the wilds of the Last Frontier with an equally grand menu? From fresh seafood harvested in the state’s bountiful waters to cold treats the Inupiat have been enjoying for centuries, there’s a rich breadth of culinary possibilities in Alaska. Here are a few worth trying.
Alaska is famous for its world-class salmon runs, and when the wild-caught fish is filleted and smoked, it makes for a quintessential Alaskan snack. Native Americans living along the Pacific Northwest coast used to smoke salmon in order preserve it throughout the year until the runs returned in the spring. The method has been honed by curators all over Alaska who smoke the salmon and preserve its oily content, so the finished product will be dry enough for packing, but still moist and flavorful. Pair with crackers, cheese, or fruit.
Freshly caught halibut is a must-eat in Alaska, and those in the know will seek out the cheeks for a delicate, sweet treat. Cut from the head of the halibut, the cheeks are small, oval-shaped, and often compared to scallops in appearance and texture. Try them breaded or sautéed with a little garlic and butter.
Alaskans take berry-picking seriously. Not only do people have to compete with each other for the best spots during the state’s short growing season, but humans also yield to hungry bears, who suck down berries by the hundreds in their quest to bulk up for the winter. If you can’t go berry-picking, look for options like gooseberry pie, wild berry cobbler, and blueberry French toast on menus.
The craft beer craze has made it to Alaska, and now dozens of microbreweries scattered across the state provide ample tasting opportunities for beer-lovers. Try creations that make use of the native bounty, like beers brewed with spruce tips, an Alaskan specialty since Captain Cook made his first voyage here.
These domesticated cousins of caribou were first brought over to Alaska from Siberia and have since become a popular Alaskan protein. Reindeer store their fat on the outside of their muscles, which results in a lean cut of meat free from the marbling found in other red meats. Pair a side of reindeer sausage with breakfast or savor reindeer meatloaf or burgers at dinner.
A fungus with a lumpy charcoal outside and light brown interior, chaga can be found growing on birch trees throughout the northern hemisphere. It may not look like much, but its fans tout its impressive health benefits. It’s said to be packed with antioxidants and other compounds that help maintain a healthy immune system, and its subtle flavor complements coffees and teas.
Black cod may be overshadowed by more famous Alaskan seafood like salmon and halibut, but it’s still one of the most delicious fresh fishes you can sample here. So oily it’s also known as butterfish, black cod is a rich and succulent choice found on many menus throughout the state.
Don’t leave Alaska without experiencing its rich indigenous culture and sampling foods that locals have been eating here for centuries. Sometimes called Eskimo ice cream, akutaq is a dessert traditionally made from whipped animal fat and berries. Today, the dish is often made with Crisco, sugar, and berries.
Kelp has been on the menu for Native people along Alaska’s southern coast for centuries. Luckily for gourmands, interest has been sparked again and local companies like Barnacle Foods are harvesting and selling it in a variety of forms, including kelp pickles, salsa, and spice mix. Pick some up from any Alaskan grocery store.
Whether it’s Dungeness, snow, or king, you’ll find crab in any seaside Alaskan town, freshly caught from places like the Aleutian Islands. Get ready to crack open a crab leg and dip the succulent meat in melted butter, one of the most memorable, and tastiest, Alaskan culinary experiences. Be sure to wear a bib, or at least have plenty of napkins.