Pass the eyes, please
There's little left but feathers after traditional Northern meals

by Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

NNSL (NOV 18/96) - They may not be to the liking of southern taste buds, but brains, eyes, hearts, and stomachs are fine fare for many people of the North.

The answer to the question: "What part of an animal is edible?" results in a three-word reply from many aboriginal hunters - "all of it".

After a quick poll of Baker Lakers, wildlife officer Kelly Owlijoot reported, "Basically, we eat every part of the caribou. That includes the brain, eyes and hooves. When we skin the caribou on the land, we leave the lungs. Some people take the heart, stomach and intestines."

Owlijoot said he's eaten every part of a caribou, except for the lungs. The eyes are among his favorite foods.

"They're one of the best parts of the animal, in my opinion. The bone marrow is also favored by many Inuit."

What does caribou eye taste like?

"It's hard to describe -- they have a taste all their own," said Owlijoot.

The ligaments between the hard toes of the animal are also considered one of the tastiest parts.

The flavor of seal eyes are just as hard to describe, said Tam Akittirq of Igloolik. "There's not much taste, but they're good when they're fresh," she said.

Almost all game are eaten either raw or boiled. Ducks, geese and rabbits, however, are always boiled before eating.

"I don't like ptarmigan because it's too salty for me," said Akittirq. She added that the only part of the ptarmigan not eaten is the feathers.

The people of the Mackenzie Valley don't go the raw route, said Ruby Watt of Wrigley.

"We cook everything over a fire or boil it or bake it -- we don't eat anything raw."

Like the Inuit, the Dene eat just about all of the caribou, moose, beaver, rabbit, fish, ducks and geese they hunt.

A lifetime resident of Wrigley, Watt has sampled just about every part of each animal, except for caribou and moose heads.

"Our tradition says they are not to be eaten by women or girls," said Watt, adding that female elders are exempted from the rule.

When asked what caribou stomach tastes like, Watt replied, "It's pretty hard to explain. It tastes almost like steak cooked over an open fire. My son won't eat it but my daughter loves it."