“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?
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.
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.