When people think of the Northwest Territories, the term ‘culinary hotbed’ may not be the first thing that jumps to mind. But with some of the purest waters and least spoiled lands left on the planet, this vast territory is host to fresh plants and wild game that have inspired countless traditional recipes and many innovative chefs.
From caught-that-day fish to only-in-the North herbs and delicacies, here’s why the Northwest Territories should be on the list of destinations for any serious foodie.
This really is the comfort food of the Northwest Territories.
At its most basic, bannock is flour, water, baking soda and lard. It is consumed—nay, devoured!—around campfires and dinner tables, in cozy cabins and bush camps, at big family meals or during lunch breaks at work. Recipes will vary by community, by family, and by the ingredients you have on hand. Bannock can be haute cuisine. It can also be whipped together in a pinch. You can mix in berries, or smother it in butter and jam, or load it with salt or sugar. Bannock can be had for breakfast, or dessert, or a quick snack.
No matter how or where or when you decide to eat bannock, you can be sure that it will be one hearty, healthy and satisfying treat.
Where to get it? While most outdoor tours—including dogsledding, Aurora-viewing, cultural adventures and more—will offer guests some fresh-made bannock, it’s also the standout element in Birchwood Coffee Ko’s classic Bannock ‘n Egger breakfast sandwich in downtown Yellowknife.
Fresh fish. (Just take your pick)
Whitefish, Burbot, Walleye, Lake Trout, Northern Pike, Arctic Grayling or Arctic Char: We’ve got 'em all in the Northwest Territories.
Our waters teem with some of the tastiest, healthiest fish on the planet. There’s no better way to end a day spent fly-fishing for Arctic Grayling from the edge of a creek or trolling for Lake Trout out on a great lake than with a fresh fillet cooked whichever way you like.
Fresh fish is also on the menu of most restaurants. And guests to the Northwest Territories can book a tour with local fishing guides, who will treat them to their own special shore lunch—the unofficial meal of the NWT. (There’s a reason the Northwest Territories has hosted the World Shore Lunch Championships in the past.)
Where to get it? Bullock’s Bistro in Yellowknife is one obvious place to go for fish and chips. You can also order up fresh-fish tacos at Alestine’s in Inuvik, a cozy, rustic restaurant with an ambitious menu. But don’t discount the nuanced flavours that any number of fishing guides, like Chef Carlos from Yellowknife Outdoor Adventures, can conjure with their mouth-watering shore lunches.
Another bounty from the lakes and rivers. But this time, the fish is cleaned and then cut into strips or cubes that hang on the skin and slowly dry over a smoking fire. Dryfish is a true Northern delicacy.
Where to get it? When the MV Louis Cardinal ferry is running in the summer, taking Dempster Highway adventurers across the Peel and Arctic Red Rivers, people in the know keep an eye out for the dryfish stand outside Tsiigehtchic—a Gwich’in Dene community known for having some of the best dryfish in the North. Also in the running? The K’atl’odeeche First Nation, on the eastern shore of the Hay River across its namesake town. Sometimes, local makers will make it available at Hay River’s Saturday farmer's markets.
Walk around some towns in late August or early September and you might think they were deserted. The truth is, some communities in the Northwest Territories will nearly empty out as residents head out with bags, buckets and baskets to their top-secret cranberry picking spots.
Northerners take berry-picking very seriously, so consider it a show of trust or friendship if you are invited out to join someone at their tried-and-true berry troves.
Where to get it? Head out in the bush and get picking. If you don’t have time or the means, you can always order some Cabin Snacks and Chocolates’ delicious NWT-made Cranberry Sky chocolate bars, which incorporate hand-picked cranberries.
Aqpik (also called cloudberries or bakeapple, depending upon where you live in Canada) are plump, peach-coloured berries that are ripe for picking in late summer. Once you collect a basketful, aqpik can be boiled down into tasty jams or tart-and-sweet toppings for cakes or other baked goods.
Where to get it? Again, you won’t find many people volunteering their aqpik spots. But if you are feeling adventurous and up for a little treasure hunt, you’ll generally find these berries among Labrador Tea plants.
Muktuk, an Inuvialuit treat, encompasses the skin and blubber of the beluga whale. Muktuk is highly sought after along the Arctic Coast, as a food rich in Vitamins C and D—nutrients otherwise in short supply in the High Arctic diet. With an oily texture and a fishy taste, it can be eaten raw, boiled or dried.
Where to get it? Tundra North Tours in Inuvik gives guests a sample of this iconic Arctic fare during tours of a traditional summer whaling camp near Tuktoyaktuk or at its Igloo Village outside of Inuvik in the winter.
Each spring, the stoic spruce tree—ubiquitous in the forests of the Northwest Territories—undergoes a bit of a growth spurt. For a couple of weeks in May, lime-green sprouts that look almost like hops shoot out of the ends of the tree’s branches. These spruce tips are sought out by the culinary-minded because the pine-tasting tips pack a real punch. They can be eaten on their own, or used as a garnish to spruce up fish and meat dishes. Spruce tips are also pickled, or they can be used to flavour anything from scones and breads to syrups, tinctures, salad dressing, and cooking oils. Even beer.
Where to get it? Head out on the land to pick them in May. If that’s not possible, order some spruce tip tea or salt from Laughing Lichen, based in the NWT. Or grab a pint—or fill up your growler—with some Forager IPA, which uses NWT-harvested spruce tips, when it’s offered seasonally at the NWT Brewing Co. in Yellowknife.
Did you know that birch trees produce syrup? It’s true. Birch tapping is a springtime art that has been passed down by family members through generations in the NWT. The product, a bitter-yet-sweet caramel-tasting syrup, can be used in anything from puddings to meat glazes—or on your Saturday morning pancakes.
Where to get it? Sapsucker Birch Syrup—harvested from a picturesque stand of birch trees just off the Ingraham Trail near the Dene community of Dettah—is sold in bottles at stores and farmer’s markets across the territories.
Our signature spice
Famous across the North as a preferred rub for steaks and slow-cooked ribs, or as the perfect rim on a succulently salty Caesar, Back Eddy’s Seasoning is one of those secrets you learn about when you spend some time in the Northwest Territories.
Where to get it? From the source: the Back Eddy Cocktail Lounge and Restaurant in Hay River. Or pick it up from any number of NWT grocery stores or souvenir shops.