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Eating Native

On my travels nothing quite makes me feel like I've gone native when I do three basic things: learn as much of the language as I can, stay in native digs, and - more than anything - eat like the locals. The last - eating local - while maybe not as rewarding as the first two - is always the one that provides the most fun memories for me. Furthermore, to my land-bound conservative fellow Minnesotans, the stories about foods I have ventured to try always seem to be a big hit.

My most memorable meals were from a year I spent a year in Qaarsut, a small village of 200 in north-west Greenland. I came to the country as a vegetarian - and one with a reputation as a finicky eater at that. But it was meat and fish or nothing.

The first week I was there - my new neighbor had killed a seal, one of the mainstay traditional foods for these subsistence hunters. His mother butchered the seal and as a special gift, I was offered a slice of the prized raw bloody liver. For me it took a surprising effort to just go for it. From there it was raw whale skin with a layer of blubber, sea gulls and kittiwakes, dried caribou jerky, ptarmigan - meat and fermented greens from its stomach, fish cheeks and more.

Prejudice against food is a powerful and strange thing - and overcoming it made me feel proud of myself, humbled by how prejudice in any form can be so limiting, and...an almost secret thrill that I could just possibly be... a native.

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