Alaska, British Columbia, and the Yukon region are the domain of the indigenous Tlingit people. And being near the sea, these people have developed delectable, unique cuisine that is based on seafood. The sea holds countless bounty, so much so that the Tlingit people created sayings that reflect the abundance of seafood. So don’t be surprised when locals tell you that “when the tide goes out, the table is set” or “you have to be an idiot to starve.” Indeed, seafood such as shellfish, molluscs, crabs, and urchins can be readily harvested on the beaches; they call this “beach food.” Beach food is normally cooked by boiling or through an open fire.
No Beach Food?
Strangely though, the Tlingit once considered people eating nothing but “beach food” as poverty-stricken although such food can offer a relatively healthy and varied diet. In fact, in the old times, shamans and their families abstained from eating food that is harvested from the beach, believing that such “poor” food can weaken them physically, mentally, and spiritually. Of course, in these contemporary times, most locals have discarded that tradition.
Balancing the Tlingit Diet
The Tlingit consumes vast amounts of protein and iodine from saltwater life. However, essential nutrients such as vitamins and calcium are lacking in the meat of fish and other sea creatures. Thus, the Tlingit consume almost all parts of the sea life they harvest to extract these nutrients. For instance, chefs boil fish bones to create stock that is rich in calcium. Livers are cooked and eaten to obtain Vitamin A. Dishes made of stomachs and intestines are prepared; they are rich in Vitamin E and B. Vitamin C is obtained from berries, wild crab apples, and other edible plants that grow near the shore.
The Tlingit are also seafarers and hunters. Thus, aside from fish, they also consume meat from seals and dolphins. Unlike most other indigenous people in the North Pacific, however, the Tlingit do not hunt or eat whales. That’s because they believe whales carry the spirits of deceased loved ones, and eating whales is considered cannibalism.
Aside from Beach Food
As transportation and communication improved in the Alaskan region, the Tlingit were introduced to foodstuff from the outside world. In most cases, they eat imported staples such as packaged beef, pork, chicken, and dairy. Canned or packed cattle products are highly priced since most types of cattle cannot survive in the harsh Alaskan climate.
Beyond the Sea
The wilderness beyond the sea provides the Tlingits an abundance of game food. In moderation, Tlingit hunt for rabbits, beavers, mountain goats, Sitka deer, and even the occasional black bear for meat.
If you are in Alaska or in the Yukon area, try to befriend and visit a Tlingit. For sure, his family will prepare you a delectable, traditional, and unique meal that you can aptly call a dish of the wild.