Increasingly, the NWT is learning to treasure its own local flavours and tastes. In small communities and at large festivals, bannock and soups or stews made with local ingredients are standard fare. In restaurants in the major centres, you will find chefs willing to work with local food traditions and unique items such as game and fresh local fish to create a truly NWT cuisine. For a sample of our local fare, join one of our festivals, or visit the local community gardeners market. There’s usually fresh cooked fish, dry fish or dry meat, bannock or bread and perhaps a home cooked stew.
The three to four month growing season lends itself to abundant crops of leafy vegetables, and in protected areas, early ripening tomatoes and root vegetables such as carrots and potatoes. Some community gardeners are experimenting with fruit trees. Just about everyone has a jealously guarded berry patch where they secretly harvest wild rasberries, blueberries and low bush cranberries to make into fabulous home grown jams and relishes.
There are farms near Hay River, and a local producer has recently begun selling eggs under the Polar Eggs brand. Norman Wells boasts a healthy potato farming operation, while Inuvik, Yellowknife, Fort Smith and others have very successful community garden programs that allow people to grow their own produce. One entrepreneur is taking advantage of our large crop of birch trees to create exotic birch syrup, a must have ingredient for gourmet cooks. Then there are wild teas, not the partying kind, but wilderness harvests. Local experts and those with traditional knowledge offer teas gathered on the land, sometimes available in local stores, at community fairs, or in gift shops.
Inuvialuit in coastal communities, Tuktoyaktuk and Ulukhaktok for example, still prepare traditional delicacies you can try: wild greens and berries, quok or frozen char, piffi or dried fish, mipku or dry meat, and maktak, edible whale or seal blubber.
The major centres all offer a wide variety of grocery shopping choices, with Yellowknife in particular home to supermarkets, a co-op, a high-end specialty butcher and a gourmet market, all featuring products from every nook and cranny of the globe. Fresh sushi take-out competes with fresh pizza and Chinese fare for the hearts of Yellowknife foodies. Each of the larger communities also has specialty food on offer. And if you can’t catch it yourself, commercial fishers offer fresh or frozen fish for sale on the wharf in Hay River and Yellowknife throughout the fishing season. Species include pickerel, whitefish, trout and ling cod. Char is available too, naturally fast frozen when pulled from nets set from the ice on the Arctic coast.
Depending on the year and your location, federally inspected and locally harvested muskox, bison and reindeer roasts, chops and ground meat may be available.
Food Truck season arrives in Yellowknife in late spring. The city’s already varied restaurant scene is expanded by a small fleet of street-side operators offering up Thai or Indian food, or exciting and adventurous takes on old standards, like hamburgers with homemade kimchi condiments and carefully prepared pork specialties. In the smaller communities a quick lunch or take out is available at the Northern Store. Choices might include fried chicken, pizza, fresh soup and doughnuts.
The larger communities offer a range of dining choices from brand name fast food to restaurants operated by internationally trained chefs. Some establishments in Yellowknife and Hay River pride themselves on extensive wine lists. In smaller communities the hotel often has a café, usually offering excellent value for lunch, and if demand warrants, dinner, for both locals and guests. Liquor may not be available if it is restricted in the community.
Theatre has always been a staple in Yellowknife, but small troupes are also taking to the roads and the air to bring northern and international artists to smaller communities. These events are always sold out quickly. The big screen finds a home in our larger communities. Cinemas across the north often show first run features as soon as they are released in southern centres.
Local bands and entertainers are a large part of the after hours scene in NWT towns like Hay River and Inuvik and in the city of Yellowknife. Our homegrown Juno and Aboriginal award nominee groups join eager young musicians in a lively music scene in restaurants, clubs and lounges.
Smaller communities host events that might include a feast prepared by volunteers, traditional fiddle music and jigging and dance music performed by the local band. Everyone is welcome, and if there’s food, it is always home cooked and delicious.