Thursday Tidbits

Posted on November 25, 2021 under Thursday Tidbits with no comments yet

Country Food


“Food, glorious food,

Don’t care what it looks like.”

Food, Glorious Food – From “Oliver”

I love Sundays.

I was fully retired for nearly five years before I became unretired. Is that even a real word? It is now. Like most retirees, the weekends had just become other day of the week. Time kind of lost its meaning. No longer did hump day (Wednesday) cause my heart to quicken or was Friday as eagerly as anticipated as Christmas. When I was a working stiff, Saturday and Sunday just felt different. Saturday usually meant running around doing chores, going to the Farmer’s Market, going for an outing with the family and finishing of the day (in winter) catching a hockey game. Sunday was a day to gear down. Go to mass. Go for a walk. Watch some sports and begin dreading that Monday was but a few hours away.

In the fall of 2019, I resumed my working career and my mind easily slid back into its usual patterns. The weekends became cherished again.

This past Sunday, I was in serious chill mode. No. It wasn’t -40. I eased into the day sitting in my lounge chair with a coffee listening to Symphony Hall on Sirius radio. I did a load of laundry and watched an excellent movie called The Necessities of Life. (For rent or purchase on Youtube): . It is about TB back in the 50s, the story of an Inuit man forced to leave his home in the arctic to go to a sanitarium in Quebec City.

It was late morning and I was starting to think about a Sunday walk. There’s a group of teachers who routinely go walking, hiking, snowshoeing or cross country skiing on Sunday. My phone pinged and it was a message from my good friend Mary Arngak. “I’m inviting you for lunch at my house. We are going to have ammiruq – beluga tail and blubber that my husband and son harvested. For you to watch and learn. It is a tradition for the women to take part in the amirruq. For men there will be other food too.”

Never one to pass up a free meal and learn at the same time, I quickly agreed.

I was given a warm welcome by Mary and several members of her extended family. The youngest attendee was 11 months old and a few of us north of 70. Everyone was sitting on the floor as is the custom. There were two exceptions. I assured Mary that if I got down on the floor, I might not be able to get back up (Bad back, bruised ribs, weak mind…). The other was Mary’s husband, Lucasi who opted for a chair. On a long piece of cardboard, a large array of country food was laid out. Very often, fish and meat are frozen. The Inuit use an ulu, a very sharp, curved tool to cut up the food. I was told the reason for sitting on the floor had to do with physics. It is much easier cutting up frozen food when one is able to exert the full force of their body in the cutting action.

As we ate, the air was filled with conversation, much of which I didn’t understand but Mary (my teacher!) translated as we went along. I learned that two of the elders were brought up on the land. One was a summer baby, born in a tent while the other was born in the middle of winter in an igloo. I heard stories of forced relocation. Lucasi regaled me with hunting stories. I was fascinated to hear the process required to hunt the massive bowhead whale. All the while, we ate. I tried a bit of everything including small bites of frozen arctic char, inaluaq (sausage stuffed with beluga), and nikkuk (dried beluga meat). I think they made an exception and let me try the beluga tail and fin! As the meal was winding down, I made the fatal mistake of asking Mary if she ate the eyes of the char (like the eyes of the ptarmagin I had consumed last spring). Before I had a chance to reconsider my question, Mary presented me with iji, the eye of the char. Lucasi chirped in that the Inuit also love to eat raw seal liver just after it has been shot. The meal was finished off with coffee and Bannock.

There weren’t a lot of scraps leftover. I have discovered that nothing is wasted when it comes to the harvesting of animals and fish in the north. It seems that every part of the animal has a purpose and even the bones are kept to use for games. The few remaining pieces of the beluga were shared with the ravens.

Everything is shared. Nothing is wasted. The family already shared some of the beluga with community members as is the custom and they plan to send some to relatives in other communities.

We retired to the living room. Mary produced a guitar and a ukulele. Mary and the women sang some traditional songs. I sang a few of my own and we collaborated on a few spiritual songs. I would sing in English, and they would follow up in Inuktitut. It was the perfect ending to a lovely afternoon.

Later that day, I posted a few photos. Some people in the south often cringe when I tell them that I have eaten raw fish and meat and other body parts that seem to make people feel very squeamish, but the Inuit have been living and eating off the land and sea for centuries. I like to try new things and I have found, without fail, that there is nothing offensive or gross about eating animal parts not normally found in a southern grocery store, neatly packaged and processed to the hilt. I think if most people went to a hot dog or sausage factory, they would quickly change their tune.

I was very honoured to be invited to Mary and Lucasi’s home.

My education continues.

Have a great weekend.


Cutting the beluga fin with an ulu


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