Thursday, October 4, 2007

And the Winner Is...

Only a few brave souls dared to cast their vote in the traditional Eskimo foods poll. Well...seven, to be exact. Now the poll is closed. The opportunity has passed. No more clicks will be accepted. I can almost hear an audible sigh of disappointment out there in cyberspace. Okay, I'm kidding about the audible sigh thing.

I must admit, though, in all seriousness, I was somewhat surprised by the outcome of the poll. I truly expected that frozen maktak would be the hands-down favorite. And I was really surprised that anyone ventured a vote for mikigaq. Come on, fermented whale meat? I didn't think that would even receive a nod. Apparently, there is a small, underground faction out there in support of fermentation. Hmm.

It's obvious that I am rather out-of-touch with public sentiment regarding culinary preferences because the overwhelming winner turned out to be...uunaalik! Boiled whale blubber beat out the frozen variety and even eked past the fermented meat/blubber combination. I guess that shouldn't be so surprising. Clearly, the fact that uunaalik is actually cooked appealed to more voters. In fact, students polled in my classroom designated uunaalik as their unanimous favorite as well. And they've actually eaten it!

When I asked one vocal student why she liked uunaalik the best, she replied rather matter-of-factly, "Because. It's the bomb."

Huh.

Uunaalik is the bomb.

I really don't think I knew that.



Unfortunately, I don't have photos of uunaalik. So, I'll share some photos of maktak...the frozen stuff that nobody voted for. These were taken during a community feast a few years ago.

Box of Maktak

Some of you may already be familiar with the knife that is being used to cut the maktak. In Inupiat culture it is called an ulu. I'll probably share a little more about ulus in a later post. I have a special connection with this little utensil that I'd like to explain.

Cutting Maktak with Ulu

In my mind, this event qualifies as an arctic anomaly. It's a maktak-eating contest! Every year, in the spring, our school hosts an Inupiat celebration. This contest is one of the most popular events of the day. These are parents competing for the honor of being the supreme maktak eater. As you can see, there weren't enough ulus to go around.

Maktak eating contest3

These contestants are high school students. Yes, they cut the maktak for themselves. Although all Inupiat children are accustomed to using ulus on a daily basis, the younger students compete by eating pre-cut slices. It's safer and it ensures that the contest can be completed within the confines of a regular school day (the little ones are slow at cutting).

Maktak eating contest2

2 comments:

Steve said...

In the photos of the meat in question, some of it is pink with a black layer on one side, and some of it is pink with black on both sides. What's happening there?

Kimberlee said...

You know, Steve, I'm glad you asked that question! I meant to explain it a little more in the picture caption, but forgot. The pieces of maktak that are shown in the pictures are only about four or five inch cubes taken from MUCH larger chunks. The thickness of the blubber often depends on where it originated (which part of the animal). The pink part is the blubber and the black is the skin. The pieces with two sides of skin would have come from a fluke or flipper. Both the skin and blubber are eaten in thin slices and both are extremely rubbery. When I tried it, I have to admit, that I didn't chew much. And I had a big glass of iced tea in my hand, on the ready! Although whales are mammals, they do live on fish and ocean creatures, so their fat tastes very fishy (the meat not-so-much). Not being much of a fish eater, this isn't a food I would ever enjoy. But it IS an important subsistence food source for the Inupiat and they receive it with a great deal of pleasure and thankfulness.