Eskimo Ice Cream and the Appeal of the “Exotic”

“I want to shake off the dust of this one-horse town. I want to explore the world. I want to watch TV in a different time zone. I want to visit strange, exotic malls…I want to live, Marge! Won’t you let me live?” -Homer Simpson

I teach college English in this little one-horse town (or, should I say, one-moose town). I teach a World Literature course most semesters, and during a recent class discussion we monkeyed about with the idea of animals as symbols.  At some point we came around to the special case of dead animals as symbols, in other words, food as symbol.  And since we’re dealing with literature from many different cultures, most of my students were referring to the foods in question as “exotic food.”  But it isn’t exotic if you live there, is it?

This is diced raw whale skin and attached blubber. I found it tasty, like a savory chewing gum.

After having lived in Alaska for over 15 years, I’ve eaten a number of foods outsiders consider exotic or at the very least unusual: muktuk (diced, raw whale skin and blubber), aqutak (sometimes called “eskimo ice cream“, many variations but most made from animal fat, sugar, and wild berries), salmon cheesecake, fireweed honey, and even bear meat (which was just terrible).  None of these things are part of my main diet.  Fairbanks is as Westernized as any Alaska town can get, and I have wonderful access to almost any kind of foodstuffs I could ever want.  Except for figs. There are never any figs.  And oddly enough, we have 11 Thai food restaurants here.  11.  Foreign cuisine is actually somewhat plentiful, but one can only visit those 11 restaurants so many times until they too become as appealing as visiting the outhouse at forty below.

Growing up in the South, there were things we ate that outsiders to the Bible Belt might consider exotic: boiled peanuts (I would have given one or two of my toes to have had a batch of these while pregnant), collard greens, grits, a handful of salty peanuts thrown into a cold bottle of Coke, and all manner of pickled meats and meat byproducts (pig’s feet, calf’s brains, eggs).  But it’s a modern world, and honestly I can get all of these things, except for the boiled peanuts, at my local grocery store.

I would revel in my access to unusual Alaskan and Southern foods, but when you have regular access to these things, they lose some of their appeal.  My lust for travel, for novel experiences rages unabated most days.  It’s 10:30 a.m. right now and the sun has yet to make an appearance here.  My office window only reflects the indoors back at me; it isn’t light enough for a window to be a gateway, only a mirror.  I’m sick of seeing myself, sick of what I already know.

In honor of my boredom, I offer you a recipe for aqutak.  It’s a recipe one of my students from Chevak gave me over the summer, and she remarked that this is the “white” version of akutaq, claiming that real akutaq uses animal fat and seal oil, not anything store bought.

This is a nice mix of berries we gather every fall in Alaska.

Agutuk (or Akutaq) Eskimo Ice Cream

  • 1lb boiled, shredded halibut (or other white fish if you don’t regularly go halibut fishing in Homer, AK)
  • 3 pounds Crisco shortening
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 gallon of wild hand-picked berries from the arctic (or from your freezer section if you don’t live in Alaska)

Combine the shortening, oil, and sugar and whip into an exotic frenzy. Mix in the fish and berries and wear a parka while eating for authenticity.

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7 thoughts on “Eskimo Ice Cream and the Appeal of the “Exotic”

    • madarahill Post author

      You know, I’ve never really noticed a difference. It gets very dry here in the winter, so I think that may have some effect on baking, but I probably chalked any inconsistencies up to my own incompetence rather than the weather!

      • Madara Hill Post author

        Just made some shortbread the other night and noticed that it REALLY didn’t need as much flour as the recipe called for. I think in recipes where you don’t have eggs or other wet ingredients, the humidity may be a factor. It’s -40F and VERY dry these days.

  • Alisa

    Interesting to know about maktuk and this recipe for akutaq.I love berries.I came across your site from the foodieblogroll and I’d love to guide Foodista readers to your site. I hope you could add this raspberry widget at the end of this post so we could add you in our list of food bloggers who blogged about recipes with raspberry,Thanks!

  • Jean

    I was up in Iqualuit, Nunavut Canada a few yrs. ago and didn’t have the chance to try muktak. But I did drop by their only Chinese restaurant. Found out that the couple came from northern China. At least acclimatization wouldn’t be such a shock for them.

    As a cyclist, I wondered if their only 30 kms. one road out at edge of town would be enough for me. That tundra in winter is sure scary! Go to my very lst blog posting last year and you will some of my photos from the region.

    Still it is there still a frontier. My heart was greatest for the Inuit youth. We will read their words in English as more get published …within next 15-20 yrs. The future has yet to come.

    Stay healthy!!

    • Madara Hill Post author

      After reading your comment I had to go check your blog out and it’s well written and fun to read. Your food posts were drool-worthy. I actually have the privilege of working with Inupiaq and Yupi’k kids in the summer. They’ve taught me more about the world than most of the “wise” adults I know. They are tough and smart and funny. Oddly enough, the kids from Chevak, Alaska are all superb runners and routinely place in the local 5k in the summers. It’s usually the first race they’ve ever run.
      Thanks for sharing.