Monday, March 11, 2013

Asian food in the Arctic

Even though Wikipedia takes the time to point out specifically that there are no Koreans in Iqaluit there are, contrary to what you might believe, Asians in the north. Most famously, there's Sandy Lee, who was the first Korean-Canadian to be elected to a legislature when she served as an MLA in Yellowknife. I also heard a rumour that there's a "Chinatown" in one of the northern communities here, named after the one Chinese family living in that particular neighbourhood. Perhaps Cambridge Bay will now have a Koreatown out in the east end.

Sometime I will write about what it's like being Asian in the Arctic, much like the way I wrote about being Asian in Namibia. Somewhat like post-apartheid Africa, there are subtle politics about me looking like the above photo when you're in a place where there is a noticeable class division that often runs along racial lines. But that will be another time. Today I'll answer an important related question: How do you get Asian food in the Arctic?

I've already written about food politics in Nunavut in terms of pricing, but seeing the range of what is available is also interesting. Cambridge Bay does not have a local Chinese food takeout restaurant run by an endearing Chinese family. The local grocery stores do however have an surprisingly adequate supply of some of the basics that you can cook on your own: spring rolls, thai curry sauce, soya sauce, ginger. Notably, however, neither grocery store carries sesame oil, a key ingredient in Korean cooking, which makes me glad that we brought up our own supply of sesame oil.

and, pretty much every other key ingredient in Korean cooking.

So in short, you gotta make your own. We've been having fun experimenting with different fusions of my heritage and local cuisine. For example, muskox ma po tofu:

Ma po tofu is one of my favourite Chinese dishes, and substituting the ground meat for ground muskox was easy, delicious, and possibly even healthier, given the fact the muskox meat is much leaner than beef or pork.

We also have been having fun with Arctic char sushi maki rolls.

okay, so I might have to work on presentation a bit more

Arctic char is a yummy delicacy that trendy restaurants in, say, Manhattan, will pay top dollar for. If you see Arctic char on the meny at your local fancy restaurant, chances are it came from the meat plant here in Cambridge Bay. For these sushi rolls I used Arctic char jerky, which gave it a distinctive salty taste. I'm going to try raw char next time, maybe soaked in a little vodka, if I can ever get my hands on vodka.

But hold on, you say. How do you get a steady supply of the most important dish in Korean cuisine? That is, of course, kimchi. It's not like you can find nappa cabbage growing around these parts, right? And unfortunately, we didn't have a chance to get the family recipe for kimchi-making from my grandmother before we moved up north. The answer? Canned kimchi.

Yes, canned kimchi really does exist, and you can buy it from Asian grocery stores in Toronto, and ship them up. It doesn't taste anything like my grandmother's stuff, but it'll do. As an extra bonus, the cans come with nutritional info which just goes to show how awesome kimchi is. A source of vitamin A, C, calcium and iron, and if you eat the entire can (if your mouth is strong enough to take the heat), it's still only 10 calories. I love kimchi.

And of course, we can pack our leftovers in our Korean specialty Glasslock tupperware container.