Is this the strangest meal in the world?
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:
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.