Trying new foods, especially from a destination that is unlike your own, is one of the best parts about traveling as it will connect you to a sense of place and teach you about a distinct culture. Discover some of the various victuals that Alaska has to offer—like five different types of salmon or wild game or berries with names like crowberries, high-bush cranberries, or cloudberries—with this guide.
Freshly-caught salmon takes center stage on pretty much every menu in Alaska. From sea directly to plate, five different types of salmon—sockeye, silver, chinook, chum, and humpback—create a quintessential dish in this part of the country. The journey that wild salmon take is remarkable. They spend their early lives in rivers and then swim out to sea to live as adults, gaining most of their body mass. When they’re fully grown, they return to their natal rivers to spawn, then they die soon after and the life cycle continues with a new generation. The Alaska Salmon Bake is one of the oldest restaurants in Fairbanks, offering a traditional salmon dinner to go along with some live entertainment.
Whale blubber and skin, cut into cubes, frozen together, and consumed raw might be the most unusual oily delicacy that you can try in the great state of Alaska. Gather up your sense of culinary adventure and give this Neapolitan ice cream-looking fare, a Chukchi favorite, a taste.
Fish and Chips
Alaskan cuisine is seafood-forward so it’s no surprise that fish and chips dot many menus from the coast to the interior to the far northern reaches of the state. Alaska Fish & Chips Company, located on the Historic Merchants Wharf in the heart of downtown Juneau, is a great place to try this state specialty. Pair this Alaskan favorite with a cold brew from Alaskan Brewing Company, and you’ll be all set.
Alaskans have been preserving meat for a long time and reindeer sausage is a staple in many communities, eaten at all three meals of the day as well as in a jerky snack form. Try it with your hotel or lodge egg breakfast, add a side of reindeer chili to your lunch entrée, or order a sausage stir fry at dinner. A great place to try this specialty is on the Alaskan Railroad, served in the dining car.
Halibut—the largest of all the flatfishes weighing in at over 400 pounds in some cases—can be found in most of Alaska’s marine waters. Halibut fishing is a big business and travelers can catch their own fish (averaging 20 to 40 pounds) through tour companies like Crackerjack Sport Fishing in Seward, Alaska. Simon and Seafort’s in Anchorage is a seafood crowd-pleaser if you'd like someone else to do the fishing.
The fishing season for king crab is short and dangerous, as television shows like Discovery Channel’s "The Deadliest Catch" can confirm. While crab can be prepared in many different ways, from cakes to mashes to bisques to rolls to casseroles, dipping legs in garlic butter with a squeeze of lemon is a classic way to go. Visit The Bridge Seafood Restaurant in Anchorage or The Alaska Fish House in Ketchikan.
For street food, reindeer dogs, topped with onions and served in a sourdough bun, are popular throughout the state’s larger cities like Fairbanks, Anchorage, Juneau, and Ketchikan. Red Umbrella Reindeer, Tiki Pete’s Alaskan Grill, and Alaska Sausage and Seafood in Anchorage are all popular hot spots for acquiring reindeer meat in hot dog form.
Spruce tips, the lime green buds on the ends of spruce tree branches, are edible; high in Vitamin C, chlorophyll, and carotenoids; and they can be added to just about anything to bring out a distinct woodsy flavor. Alaskan Brewing Company has a spruce IPA, Skagway Brewing Company serves a spruce tip blonde ale, Wild Scoops in Anchorage offers spruce tip ice cream on their menu at their shop as well as at the South Anchorage Farmers Market (where you can also get spruce tip jam), and many restaurants have added spruce tips to stews, soups, and pastas.
Locals use the slang word “sourdough” to refer to an older local, stemming from the history of someone who has spent an entire winter north of the Arctic Circle, protecting their sourdough starter thorough the chilly months by keeping it on their person. Bread and bakeshops throughout Alaska make sourdough bread and most restaurants have it on hand as well. The Bake Shop in Girdwood, Alaska is known for its sourdough pancakes and loaves of bread and has been caring for its starter for more than 40 years.
Akutaq Ice Cream
Akutaq (also called Eskimo ice cream by some) is not like anything you’ve tried in the lower 48 states. “Akutaq” is a Yupik word, which means “mix it together.” Traditionally, this dessert is made from whipped animal fat, snow, and wild Alaskan berries. Nowadays, however, you can enjoy the sweet treat made from vegetable shortening and berries—but, if you’re intrepid, go for the authentic variety. The Festival of Native Arts in Fairbanks provides cultural education through native dance, arts, and music and you may be able to learn about this dish and its connection to culture through the free event. Or, learn how to make Akutaq Ice Cream on your own through a recipe from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the Alaska Native Knowledge Network.
To be honest, you can’t go wrong with any berry-filled treat that you indulge in while in Alaska. From cobblers to ice cream to pie to jam, wild berries are rich in flavor and varied in taste. Blueberries, raspberries, cranberries, salmonberries, cloudberries, crowberries, Russian berries, and even watermelon berries can be foraged or ordered.