10 Mar 2023


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Atlas Obscura:

For many in northwest Greenland, the iconic flavor of winter is that of fermented meat, perhaps most iconically kiviaq, a dish made by packing 300 to 500 whole dovekies—beaks, feathers, and all—into the hollowed-out carcass of a seal, snitching it up and sealing it with fat, then burying it under rocks for a few months to ferment. Once it’s dug up and opened, people skin and eat the birds one at a time.

Plates of these small fermented seabirds are a staple at many kaffemiit—big communal gatherings celebrating anything from holidays to birthdays—during the winter, especially among the Inughuit, a distinct Inuit culture indigenous to the region.

“Kiviaq is a special dish to the Inughuit,” Hivshu, an Inuguhit culture keeper, tells me. Originally from Siorapaluk, one of the major towns in Greenland’s northwestern Qaanaaq area—and the island’s northernmost permanent settlement—Hivshu grew up hunting local game and practicing Inughuit foodways. In fact, he’s not aware of any other Inuit cultures with a longstanding history of making kiviaq.

But beyond Greenland, kiviaq is notorious as an object of disgust and ridicule. Just over a decade ago, it became a staple of the world’s “weirdest” or “most repulsive” food lists. A few articles also suggest it’s dangerous, noting that kiviaq may have killed famed Inuit-Danish explorer Knud Rasmussen in 1933, and that botulism linked to a bad batch definitely killed two locals in 2013. …

Kiviaq can challenge the palate of anyone unfamiliar with the potent flavors of fermented meats. (Mike Keen, a chef-adventurer based in the United Kingdom and big kiviaq fan, describes its taste as akin to a strong blue cheese with salami or parma ham notes—and as “a good smash in the mouth.”)


4 Feedbacks on "Kiviaq"


In 1974 I moved to Alaska and while looking for a house to buy the realtor gave us a tour of a house that was rented by Eskimos. Yeah they don’t all live in Indian villages. When we went inside four adults were sitting at the table eating something and the smell was really difficult to deal with without gagging. We had a very quick tour and left. I asked the realtor what they were eating and she said it appeared to be whale blubber. Not fresh kill whale blubber but old stuff unrefrigerated. I always suspected it was a ploy by the renters to keep the house from being sold.


You’d think they would have access to enough ice and snow that they wouldn’t have to rely on fermentation to store and save meat. I mean, really, don’t they live on the permafrost?


That makes eating bugs and worms seem palatable; almost.

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Mentioning the reliance on local game demonstrates the connection between the Inughuit and their environment. Kiviaq reflects their adaptation to the harsh Arctic conditions and their utilization of readily available resources.


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