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Is this the strangest meal in the world?

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Bethan Evans Bethan Evans | 11:11 UK time, Wednesday, 26 January 2011

As winter and ‘dark time’ tighten their icy grip on the Arctic, several families in the far north of Greenland have an unusual and pungent delicacy to look forward to. For centuries the people of one of the world's northernmost inhabited settlements have used an ingenious way of storing food ready for lean times. This traditional Inuit method is still very much in use today and this is what the Human Planet team went to Siorapaluk (the most northerly native village in the world) to film. Watch John Hurt recite the recipe for rotten seabirds:

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The dish on the menu is kiviaq and at first sniff it divides the film crew – from those who were strangely curious to those who wanted to retch. Ikuo and his son showed us how kiviaq is made from fermented sea birds. The delicacy is created by first preparing a seal skin: all the meat is removed and only a thick layer of fat remains. The skin is then sewn into a bag shape, which is stuffed with 300-500 little auk birds. Once full and airtight, the skin is sewn up and seal fat is smeared over all over the join, which acts as a repellent to flies. The seal skin is then left under a pile of rocks to ferment for a minimum of three months to a maximum of 18 months.

As winter arrives and hunting for other game becomes difficult due to the darkness and unsafe ice, Ikuo and his family look forward to digging out the kiviaq and sharing it with their family and friends. They always eat it outside as the smell is so overpowering that it would linger inside the house for weeks. The seal fat helps to both preserve and tenderise the bird meat so it can be eaten raw and whole, bones and all. It was quite a sight to see the family holding bird’s legs in their teeth and stripping off the feathers before chowing down on large parts of the bird. 

Kiviaq is often a meal that is served at celebrations and as we filmed the family eating, the whole event felt festive. Once the cameras stopped rolling the crew were invited to join in the feast. I was slightly reticent, considering I don’t usually eat meat. However when you’ve travelled this far to film someone preparing a highly regarded feast it seems rude not to join in.

The best part of the bird is said to be the heart which was given to our director Nic Brown. I opted for the smallest piece possible, a tiny bit of leg, which one of the women fed to me off her finger! I must say that this small tasting did not enamour me to the delicacy. It tasted like a cross between liquorice and the strongest cheese I’ve ever had.

However, there is no doubt that the taste appeals to many Inuit families in the far north and more importantly, in the past, this resourceful method of preserving food saved many lives during tough times.

What do you think? We'd love to hear about the strangest meal you have ever eaten. Discover amazing human stories from around the world through television and radio clips from BBC programmes with the Human Planet Explorer.

Bethan Evans is part of the Human Planet Arctic Team.




  • Comment number 1.

    I saw the Human Planet programme last night. It was fascinating but I have to say the Kiviaw looked very unappetising! Although the Inuit people were really tucking in - even the children. I seem to recall seeing a programme about the island of St Kilda where sea birds were also preserved for food in some way - possibly smoked?

  • Comment number 2.

    We’ve had some great discussion (and seabird puns) on the messageboard on this subject this week. See the highlights below. Also this article might be of interest:

    Dee: Oh my, that does sound pretty challenging doesn't it? Rather like the rotting shark or putrid puffin, the sheep’s eyes, grubs, insects and other so-called "delicacies" on offer around the globe, I wonder sometimes if legs are being pulled & the hosts are seeing how gullible the tourists/programme makers really are.

    Vulnerable Bede: 'Gullible' - I geddit Dee, good one! I like a bit of penguin with a nice cuppa! I have had that rotten tofu, tempeh. It was ok but nothing special, oh and swallowed many flies when out cycling!

    JoanBunting: I think the most gruesome thing I have had to face (tho it turned out to taste quite nice) was Herve (sp?) cheese in Belgium. It is "matured" in caves and washed in brine for what appears to be centuries and is brought into the house triple wrapped and immediately clapped under a glass dome, like a scientific sample. They actually eat it for breakfast. The smell is dire but the taste, once you pluck up the courage, is surprisingly mild. As the Belgian friends who gave it to us so seriously are a) Belgian and b) have a sense of humour I often wonder if legs were being pulled. We were offered iguana in Mexico, but declined.

    karadekoolaid: Can’t say I've actually EATEN it, but a delicacy over here is tortoise pie. The killing of the tortoise is exceedingly cruel, but the locals don't care much. They mix the tortoise meat with a few veg and cover it with pastry! Having seen what the tortoises in my garden will eat, I think I'll give that one a miss, too.

    Capt-Lightning: Did you see the documentary "The Guga hunters of Ness" a few days ago? It was about the men from N. Lewis who once a year hunted (on permit) young Gannets (Gugas). This was no longer a normal part of their diet, but was now considered a luxury.

    ChefMelanie: This thread makes me realise so far in my life I have been rather unadventurous! I would say I guess the "oddest" or most different things I have eaten was one time I had a horse steak. It was in this French restaurant, made by one of our chef friends. We knew what he meant when he said he was serving us and our group of friends "special steak"! Not everyone on the table did, lol! It is LUSH. I do not understand why we don't sell horsemeat in butchers. It is so tasty, and it’s leaner then beef so it’s better for you. Nothing wrong with eating horse I don’t personally think.

  • Comment number 3.

    The Human Planet team are going to be doing a live chat tomorrow after the programme.

    The chat starts at 9pm on 3 March and includes members of the team who were on location for some of the highlights of the series: highwire fishing in Laos, building treehouses in Papua, and Pa-aling diving in the Philippines.

    The Human Planet team taking part in the chat will include:

    * Brian Leith - Executive Producer
    * Mark Flowers - Producer/Director Rivers and Cities
    * Tom Hugh-Jones - Producer/Director Oceans and Jungles
    * Dina Mufti - Researcher Arctic and Mountains

    Please head here for more information:


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