August 28, 2009

The Great Alaskan Meat-Off

I just came back from a two week trip to Alaska, where I staid with my friends Chris and Kristina in Girdwood, a suburb of Anchorage. I wanted to share with you some of the food I consumed.

Because of my continuing obsession with sourdough bread, Kristina took me to the local bakery, The Bake Shop. As we arrived, so did a busload of tourists: The Shop seems to be the go-to breakfast stop for locals and tourists alike. I purchased a loaf of sourdough bread, which was surprisingly mild and delicious. Sourdough is associated with gold mining regions, like Alaska and San Francisco, because the miners could make it without taking a "sponge," or yeast culture, with them. It could be created from yeast spores in the air.

Kristina gifted me with a bag of locally-made sourdough starter, which gets going after you add a can of beer. I'm excited to try it, but I still want to try to create a starter from air-borne yeast.

I also had "Sweet Roll with a Side of Butter," also made of sourdough, and also delicious. It had cinnamon and almonds, but also mysterious notes of brandy and anise. I had two over the extent of my stay.

Kristina, who was a vegetarian when I knew her in college, took me on a shopping trip to Indian Valley Meats. Another local vendor, they specialize in breaking down and preparing carcasses for local hunters, and sell a variety of locally raised game meats. Kristina selected and prepared a menagerie of local animals for me to ingest:

Clockwise, from left to right: Moose, Buffalo, Caribou, Elk, and Reindeer. Caribou and Reindeer are actually the same thing, the latter being wild and the former being farmed.

I also ate wild boar jerky, which was covered in some sort of garlic glaze I wasn't too keen on, and salmon that Chris had pulled from the river days earlier. This fish was delicious--and I hate fish.

In my second week, while on our way to Denali National Park, I finally acquired the object of my true desire: The Mc Kinley Mac. I had seen a poster for it as soon as I stepped off the plane, and had fantasized about it since. The Number 12 on the menu, this double-stacked McKinley Mac is only available in this state. Which is ok, because as I excited as I was to sample it, it just turned out to be a big gross burger.

The McKinley Mac and I zoom towards Mt. McKinley, on our way to Denali national Park.

On the way back from Denali, we stopped at a Burger King in Wasilla. The BK menu included a Sourdough Whopper, but after a week in the wild, I wasn't in the mood to take a risk.

Lastly, I made up a batch of Spruce Tea, after harvesting a few limbs from Alaska's State Tree. It did not just taste like pine needles, but had a richer, spiced flavour. The batch I brewed was fairly weak, and I wanted to make a proper pot of tea when I returned to New York, but I forgot my bag branches in Girdwood. Perhaps Kristina will be kind enough to ship a few stateside--I'm curious to pass some along to my beer brewing friends, so they can make an authentic Spruce Beer.

At every restaurant we went to (three in the small town of Girdwood alone) the food was excellent, something I definitely didn't expect when coming to Alaska. Additionally, there were very few chain restaurants; the ones that were there hadn't even popped up until the last decade. Alaska's relative isolation seems to have resulted in a bevy of independently owned restaurants with excellent food.

If you're interested in my non-culinary Alaskan adventures, you should look at my photos here.