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The taste of Greenland – food experiences

Inspiration / Culture / The taste of Greenland – food experiences

A guide to Greenland’s delicious food. Get inspired to taste the great food in Greenland. We love the local delicacies and the traditional Greenlandic dishes. Food in Greenland is a special treat.

Look forward to tasting food in Greenland

All along the Greenlandic west coast, you will find amazing restaurants. This is not necessarily common knowledge to people. Many people have a misguided impression of Greenlandic food, because many travel programmes on TV have focused on the delicacies, which are reserved for the more advanced of diners – unless you are Inuit. Not everyone will appreciate rotten birds that have been buried inside a stomach for half a year or so. Just like not everyone will gladly accept a piece of raw, warm liver, which has just been cut from a seal on the beach.

Greenland definitely has certain specialities that do not melt on all tongues. These are not the primary topic of this guide. Instead, we would like to show you some of the most delicious food you can eat in Greenland.

This inspiration guide is about great food experiences in Greenland

  • Traditions
  • Animals in Greenland
  • Edible plants in Greenland
  • The Board
  • Restaurants
  • How to get a real taste of Greenland


Traditions in Greenland

When you caught a whale back in the old days, it provided food for ages. You obviously had food for here and now, but the food – which included seal, whale, fish and other animals – was dried, put away or preserved (in blubber). Thus, you spent a large part of the summer preparing for winter and to stock up your larder where you would find food in the winter months where sealing, whaling and fishing were not possible due to ice, storm or death hazards.


The mother of the sea

The legend of the Mother of the Sea is one of the most famous legends in Greenland. When people became too greedy and misbehaved in the settlements, the Mother of the Sea caught all the fish, whales and seals in her long hair, causing starvation. There was no other solution than to send a necromancer down to her at the bottom of the sea. Following some negotiation, the necromancer was allowed to comb her hair, and the animals were set free, providing food once again. The necromancer was also given some wise advice: You must not be wasteful and live in plenty; you should be modest with nature, otherwise you will kill it.

For this reason, tradition prescribes that you have respect for the animals you catch and use all parts of the catch. The meat will be eaten, the train oil is used for cooking, preserving or candles and heat, the innards are eaten or used as sewing thread, for instance, and the skins are used for clothing, kayak covers or tents. Even the bones can be used to make tools.

Many locations in Greenland are named after the animals available for catching in the area. Ammassalik means the place with capelin, the name of the Southern Greenlandic village Eqalugaarsuits refers to the trout found there, and the Kapisillit village near Nuuk is named after the salmon that can be caught there – just to mention a few examples.

Can you eat seal?

Throughout thousands of years, seals have been the basic main ingredient in Inuit cooking, and the national dish of Greenland is Suaasat, which is a thick broth often made of seal meat (however, it can also be made of other types of meat). Today, the main ingredients in Suaasat is meat, barley and onions, although a lot of people replace barley with round-grain rice as the local kiosk may not provide barley.

Roasted seal is not bad either, but if you have not grown up with the taste, it takes some getting used to. This has given rise to seeking out new possibilities, such as honey-roasted seal, which is said to taste almost like traditional beefsteak.


Can you eat whale?

Many Greenlanders light up just at the mention of whale meat, while many foreigners often are horrified by the fact that whales are hunted, let alone eaten. But whales have been part of the Greenlandic menu for more than a thousand years. It is often forgotten that Greenlanders have not caused certain species of whale to become endangered. Instead, the industrialised countries are to blame, as they all but exhausted certain species in order to obtain fuel (train oil) for street lighting. Today, only a few nations are allowed to practise whaling, which happens within strict guidelines established by the International Whaling Commission, the IWC.

Whale meat is a great delicacy in the Greenlandic kitchen. Just like seals, whales can be prepared in several ways, but probably the most popular is to cook steaks and serve them with lots of onions.

Whales also provide mattak – the skin of the whale with a layer of blubber. Mattak is also known as Greenlandic chewing gum or Greenlandic candy, which to us seems a little disrespectful. Mattak is quite unique, and while chewing gum is cheap, synthetic candy, mattak is the largest and most expensive delicacy in Greenland. It is often ripped from the counters the moment it arrives – or even better when it on rare occasions is sold fresh from the Board, the local fish and meat market (read more about the Board further below in this guide).


Can you eat reindeer?

Everyone invited for dinner in Nuuk, Maniitsoq or Sisimiut in fall should anticipate that reindeer is on the menu. You can also prepare yourself for accounts of reindeer hunting. If you are up for that, you have a splendid evening in store, where stories are told – and laughed at – and food is enjoyed to the full.

Reindeer live along most of Greenland’s east coast – from Narsaq in south to north of Qaanaaq. It is a combination of original reindeer and deer that have been released into nature by humans, which has triggered growth in the populations. Reindeer is the only species of deer in Greenland, and the number can vary quite a lot, depending on the season. If there are too many animals they will overgraze, causing the population to drop. It takes a long time for the Greenlandic flora to recover following such overgrazing. This is why regulation of the population is carried out by hunting to ensure the animals do not starve to death.

Reindeer soup, reindeer steaks, reindeer osso buco, leg of reindeer. There are endless possibilities, and this is subject to a lot of experimentation in Greenlandic kitchens.

If you are in Nuuk and are interested in trying reindeer, you can visit either A Hereford Beefstouw at Hotel Hans Egede, café Killut or the café at Inuk Hostels. Always check first whether the places currently have reindeer on the menu.

Read more about reindeer.

Can you eat musk oxen?

Kangerlussuaq has a rich wildlife. The best known animals of the area are musk oxen and reindeer. The musk oxen were actually imported to the area from North-Eastern Greenland in 1963. Back then, 27 musk oxen were flown to the other side of the ice, and it has been a huge success. The growth rate among the musk oxen in the area was the highest in the world. In fact, due to the success, no one knows exactly how many musk oxen live in the areas near Kangerlussuaq, Sisimiut and Maniitsoq today. An estimate says, there are between 10,000 and 25,000 indivduals.

As is the case with reindeer, there are several ways to prepare musk oxen. Again, one of the favorites is oxen served as a roast or as steaks with lots of onions.

The musk oxen wool is rather expensive, but you will love any knitted item in musk oxen wool. It is incredibly soft and provides unbelievable warmth. A small, thin woollen scarf provides the same amount of warmth as 12 down jackets. Well, almost…

Read more about musk oxen.


What is on the menu in Southern Greenland?

In Southern Greenland, the sheep farms lie like pearls on a string. Which is why there are a lot of lamb being bred in Greenland. In recent years, however, cow farms have also resurfaced in Southern Greenland, due to a large demand for beef.

Greenlandic lamb is not sold as organic, but it more or less is. They roam freely in the rocks from their birth in spring to autumn when they are driven in and butchered. Greenlandic lamb is probably some of the most delicious lamb you will ever taste. The cold climate causes the lamb to grow slower, and the taste is delicate and utterly amazing.

The sheep farms are obviously first and foremost households where sheep are bred. In order to drive the animals in for butchering in autumn, the farms often have a number of Icelandic horses. Several of the sheep farms offer accommodation. In some places, you can even go horseback riding. For instance, at the Inneruulalik sheep farm, located across Narsarsuaq.

Mattak skæres ud med en Ulu, en traditionel kvindekniv - Fotograf:
Et udvalg af kød er ved at blive forberedt på sten i Nuuk i Grønland - Fotograf:

Do they eat birds in Greenland?

In Greenland, you can come across a total of 235 bird species – if you are counting. Out of these approximately 60 of them breed in the here. Many of them – including the white-tailed eagle – are unconditionally preserved. But there are still many other birds to make the Greenlandic kitchen wonderfully varied and particularly tasteful. The grouse, razorbill, black guillemot, guillemot and the common eider are some of them. They can be cooked in the same way game birds are cooked in other countries and have the same characteristic gamy flavour.

And we must not forget the sea kings, which we mentioned initially. They can be cooked in a rather unusual way. You flense a seal and take out the innards. Leave the blubber in and fill the sealskin up with whole sea kings. Then you sew the seal together and use blubber to ensure that the “seal bag” is completely airtight. Bury the animals for 3-12 months before eating them. This is not a meal for everyone, not in Greenland either where particularly young people in the south almost pass out at the thought of it.

Seafood is a big part of Greenlandic food

Fish and shellfish from Greenland are incredibly delicious. As they are cold-water fish, they grow slowly, giving the meat a unique texture.

Great food fish include trout, salmon, cod, redfish and Greenland halibut. Obviously, you might come across many other species, but the ones mentioned above are the most popular. They can be served in a great number of ways. Redfish or cod coated in cornflakes, for instance, makes for a very tasty and easy everyday meal. But that is just one of an endless number of ways to cook fish in.

In the prologue to her book “Takanna – great food from Greenlandic produce”, Tupaarnaq Rosing Olsen writes about her mother Alma Olsen and her grandmother Sara Rosing:

“She obtained much of her knowledge about cooking Greenlandic food from her mother, Sara Rosing, who – as a clergyman’s wife – often had a representative role to visitors and therefore developed her own kitchen, also due to the then limited supply of goods. I can picture her whipping up a delicious feast for the visitors who, by all accounts, had quite a culinary experience. Fortunately, much of her knowledge has been passed on to her children and grandchildren.”


New Nordic food

A lot of experimentation was carried out, just as it is still done today. It is experimentation with whatever is within reach that has put new Nordic food on the map. In Greenland, people have always been good at adapting to new things.

Other fish include the small capelins, “amasetter”, which – to the surprise of many Greenlanders – is being sold as dogfood in Denmark. In Greenland, the small, dried fish are a great delicacy.

Cod from the fjords is particularly tasty when air-dried, which gives a wonderful – well, dry – fish. Other fish, such as the Greenlandic halibut contain more fat. They are used to make dried strips called “ræklinger”, which are dry on the outside but almost juicy on the inside.

Greenlandic prawns are unlikely to require further introduction, as they are known far beyond the borders of the country. Due to the cold water, it takes a prawn longer to grow, and so it becomes deliciously firm in its meat compared to hot-water prawns. Royal Greenland, which is the largest producer of fish in Northern Europe, sells excellent prawns that are sold almost world-wide.

Other interesting seafood count Greenlandic crab, which is probably the envy of many top models due to its very long legs.

A lot of mussels are harvested in Greenland, and it is done very carefully.

Four things are important in that regard:

  • Mussels must be harvested on the north side of the rocks
  • They must be harvested during low tide
  • In low tide they must still be covered by water
  • They must not have been exposed to sunlight.

If you adhere to these rules, a blessed feast awaits you. You might also be served sea urchin, but this is not very common.

A taste of Greenland

”A Taste of Greenland” is a TV broadcast, produced by the price winning company Ace & Ace, in co-operation with Visit Greenland. In this series, that has been shown all around the world, we follow the New Zealand chef Chris Coubrough on a trip through the four Greenlandic regions. He uses the ingredients at hand to prepare extraordinarily delicious meals. Watch chef Chris Coubrough make mouth-watering dishes in the middle of beautiful Greenlandic nature.


Plants and berries

Particularly crowberries and blueberries are very popular in Greenland. So popular even that the Greenlandic name for these berries, paarnat or paarmat (depending on the region), is used to form many girl’s names such as Paarma, Parnuna, Paarnuna and Parnannguaq. The berry bushes in Greenland are all very low as berries on higher branches will not stand a chance in the wind. If you visit Greenland during late summer or fall, you might come across a lot of bottoms popping up in the rocky landscape, as many people go berry-picking. Berries are eaten raw (perhaps with milk for breakfast or dessert), preserved or used for ice cream.

Gathering mushrooms is a relatively new pastime in Greenland. It has always been known that it is possible to eat mushrooms, but as in all other places, not all mushrooms are edible, and most people have thought “better safe than sorry”. Only recently, in the past decades, it has become popular to gather the edible mushrooms. If you are a mushroom expert, or if you are walking with one, you can expect some great experiences while gathering mushrooms in Greenland, where they are used in the same way as in other countries.

In Greenland, angelica is in high demand. Especially the stems, which look like celery or pale rhubarb, are used for cooking or eaten raw. Most people like the wonderful, strong flavour, while evil tongues claim that it tastes like soap. Angelica can also be used for snaps, and some people chop it up and freeze it into ice cubes, giving your ice water a light angelica flavour as the ice cubes melt.

You are not likely to find a garden in Greenland that does not have a dedicated rhubarb bed. Therefore, you are instead very likely to come across rhubarb tart, stewed rhubarb and rhubarb preserve on Greenlandic coffee tables.

Southern Greenlandic potatoes have become quite common on Greenlandic dinner tables across the country. Global warming has been rough on Northern Greenland where it is difficult for the sealers and fishermen to get out on the ice in winter. In Southern Greenland, however, the vegetable producing season has become longer and, consequently, more and more potatoes are grown.

In other regions of the world, turnips are often used for feed and sugar production, but in Greenland, we love eating the turnips raw. They are, of course, also used in soups and preserves, but it is in their raw state that they are popular with many Greenlanders. You can almost compare the turnips to strawberries in other countries. As the first turnips arrive in stores from the sheep farms, people queue up to buy them.

You have to gather quite a lot of bluebells in order to make real use of them, but if you are patient enough, you can use the bellflowers in salads or as a jelly.


Southern Greenland – Greenlanders’ larder

One of our travellers once giggled with delight when he learnt that there is a book titled “Gardens in Greenland”. He imagined a pamphlet of eight pages or so. If only he knew that there are actually two books on Greenlandic gardens. The one mentioned above, “Passion – Gardens in Greenland” by photographer Finn Larsen and “Greenlandic Gardens through three centuries” by Karen Nørregaard. Southern Greenland is particularly lush, which explains why this region is often referred to as Greenland’s larder.

Southern Greenland is home to approximately 37 sheep farms and the Upernaviarsuk research station, which doubles as the government’s research farm as well as Greenland’s agricultural college – a word that is not often connected with Greenland. As on many other sheep farms, potatoes and turnips are grown here, but also radishes, iceberg lettuce, regular lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc.


Sustainability in the Greenlandic Gardens

Also privately, a lot of Greenlanders make an attempt at growing many different vegetables, plants and fruit – both in greenhouses, garden frames, window sills and wherever you can find protection from the elements and enough sun. Among the more curious attempts, we have seen Greenlandic bananas and strawberries. Many are successful in growing redcurrants in their garden.

In recent years, Brugseni – a Greenlandic supermarket chain – has focused on sustainability and has made a great effort with distributing home-grown foodstuffs in the country, not least in Nuuk where the market is biggest.

Herbs and spices in Greenland

Lately, small companies have arisen in Greenland. They develop niche production of different ingredients, anything from sea salt and seaweed to herbs and other delicacies.


The Board – “the small Greenlander”

The Board is the local market where fishermen and hunters can sell their catch of the day. Here, you can purchase meat from seals, whales, reindeer, musk oxen and – on rare occasions – even a polar bear, all sorts of fish, prawns, lumpsucker caviar, berries and angelica, birds like the razorbill, guillemot and common eider, and what else is in season.

The board also functions as a local town center where many go to have a chat and to hear what is new.


European and Danish influence on Greenalandic foods

Since whalers arrived in Greenland, the Greenlandic kitchen has been influenced by impulses from abroad. The great classic cookbook in Greenland is “Cookbook for Greenland”, which was published in 1963 in a dual-language version with Greenlandic and Danish side by side. The book was a culmination of eight years’ work with collecting recipes and a general take on nutrition in Greenland. Here, domestic science mistress Caia Hansen translated Danish recipes into ones that could easily be used by Greenlanders. Not only in terms of the language, but more so in terms of ingredients available to Greenlanders at the time. One of Greenland’s great artists, Jens Rosing, illustrated the book.

Generally speaking, Greenlandic eating habits are to a great extent inspired by the Danish kitchen. Not least, because Danish food is often cheaper than Greenlandic food. It was meant as a joke, but former premier of the home rule government Aleqa Hammond was once criticised for saying in an interview with the Danish newspaper “Information” that the best Greenland had gotten from Denmark was “steak with onions and brown gravy”. And, as she also pointed out, she is “better at making gravy than most Danes. It also goes well with whale steak.” This is a very characteristic of Greenlanders: When something useful arrives on the island – whether it is polka, metal sewing needles and dental floss (to replace floss made of sinew), we happily take it in and adapt it to make it our own. There is no doubt about Danish dishes getting served at many Greenlandic tables to the enjoyment of the Greenlanders.

Grønlandsk fiskeret serveret på restaurant Sarfalik i Nuuk - Fotograf: Rebecca Gustafsson, Visit Greenland
Frokost på restaurant Sarfalik i hotel Hans Egede - Fotograf:

Restaurant guide to Greenland

As previously mentioned, the Greenlandic kitchen has been inspired by international cuisine for many years, and today, you can find numerous excellent restaurants, which combine Greenlandic produce and dishes inspired by other parts of the world.

At the same time, Greenland has focused on the cooking industry, for instance by establishing the Inuili food science college in Narsaq. Almost each year since 2000, the Greenlandic championships for chefs have been held. Being awarded chef of the year in Greenland is considered to be rather prestigious. Furthermore, the winner is invited to take part in the Danish cooking championships.

Of the many great restaurants in Greenland, we will mention a handful or two. As menus are not static, we will just name the restaurants and provide a link to their websites.


Places to eat in Ilulissat

Best known is Restaurant Ulo, which is located at Hotel Arctic in Ilulissat. The chefs here have worked for quite a while to help create a magnificent dining experience at the hotel. In Ilulissat, you can also enjoy great food at restaurant Mamartut. At Hotel Hvide Falk and Hotel Icefiord you will also get great food, which you can enjoy in the friendly atmosphere. The two latter restaurants serve great quality food and both of them also have really great Thai dishes on the menu as they employ chefs from Thailand.


Restaurant in Sisimiut

Nasaasaaq Brasserie & Restaurant, located at Hotel Sisimiut, is a wonderful experience that really tickles your taste buds.


Places to eat in Kangerlussuaq

At Restaurant Roklubben, you will find the best food in Kangerlussuaq and the surrounding area. Roklubben is beautifully situated on the shore of Lake Ferguson, approximately 5 kilometres outside Kangerlussuaq and has catered to both tourists and locals for many years.

Read more about Roklubben here.

Hotel Kangerlussuaq has opened a good restaurant as well:

Read more about the restaurant at Hotel Kangerlussuaq here.


Restaurant in Narsaq

Restaurant Klara at Hotel Narsaq offers delicious Greenlandic food, inspired by traditional European cooking where high-quality produce is a priority.


Places to eat in Qaqortoq

Restaurant Ban Thai in Qaqortoq is, not surprisingly, a Thai restaurant. The food is really delicious, and they have a five-star rating on TripAdvisor. You can find them on Facebook.  You will also find good food at Café/Brasserie Nanoq at Hotel Qaqortoq.


Places to eat in Nuuk – the capitol of Greenland

Nuuk has restaurants for wallets of all sizes with an incredibly wide repertoire of food. There are gourmet restaurants, chain restaurants and some nice cafes.

Hotel Hans Egede has several restaurants – including Sarfalik. The restaurant is one of the best in Greenland, and the view is great, too. Right next to Sarfalik, A Hereford Beefstouw Steak House is located, offering the same concept as at their other locations throughout Europe.

Watch this short film about Sarfalik.

A little longer down the road, you will find the good Cafe Esmaralda. The owners run another cafe in the Nuuk Centre called Caffé Pascucci, which is the town’s meeting place, not only for the young and beautiful, but also for the rest of us.

Charoen Porn in Nuuk is the oldest Thai restaurant in the country, and it is much loved by citizens and travellers alike. It is placed at a central location right next to Hotel Hans Egede, and many people who eat there for the first time agree that they have never tasted Thai food as good as this.

At Hotel Nordbo, you will also find Restaurant Nordlys, which has “the Taste of the Nordics” on the their menu with delicious local ingredients. It is open every day for lunch and delicious dinner dishes are served Wednesday to Saturday.

The cafe of the Katuaqs culture centre, Cafetuaq, offers great brunch and exciting Greenlandic tapas dishes made from local ingredients.

Frisk frisk med grøntsager og kartofler lavet direkte på varme sten på stranden nær Narsaq i Sydgrønland - Fotograf:
Grønlandsk kaffe er en specialitet, som mange nyder. Her ses det lavet på hotel Maniitsoq - Fotograf:

Other Greenlandic specialitites

Greenlandic ice cream

Greenlandic ice cream is a relatively new phenomenon – at least when the ice is made of cream. The ice cream produced by Greenland Ice differs from most other ice creams as it is made of cream as well as ice from the Ice Cap. The company produces both regular ice cream and sorbet, which is very popular in summer.


Greenlandic coffee

Ideally, you should enjoy Greenland coffee after a nice dinner. Just like many other countries have a coffee named after them, some bartenders once chose to create a Greenlandic coffee. It earned a spot on most menus in Greenland – for good reasons. Greenlandic coffee tastes good and it is a whole experience to watch it being made.

Greenlandic coffee is a similar to Irish Coffee, just not as sweet. It consists of coffee, Grand Marnier, whisky, Kahlua, whipped cream and a proper flame. Warm up Grand Marnier and pour it into the other ingredients as a flame. This is a symbol for the dancing Northern lights in Greenland. This video from the Nuuk Brewery shows, how the flame should be used and how Greenlandic coffee is made.


Fish on a stone

Eating fish from a stone is a very special experience. It tastes just so much better. Every Greenlander has tried it. When you are out in nature and have caught some fish, you get your pot full of water from the fjord, which is naturally salty. Cut your fish into pieces and cook it over your bonfire. While the fish is boiling, go and find yourself a suitable stone that can be used as a table. At the same time, look after some sea shells that make some nice forks and knives. When the fish is done, deal it onto the stone. Some people would clean the stone with the boiling water and others would eat the broth as a soup with the sea shells. When the fish is lying on the stone, you sit down around the stone and get to it with the shells or your fingers. Even if you went to a Michelin Restaurant – you will never get fish that tastes this good!

Read articles about wildlife in Greenland