In 2020, Greenlandic chefs Salik Parbst Frederiksen and Miki Siegstad were busy – but bored. Miki was cooking for fishermen aboard a trawler called Polar Nanoq for months at a time and Salik had just started a touring company called Tasermiut Camp. But the duo, who'd previously worked together at a food festival and found they had great culinary chemistry, were frustrated by the lack of opportunities for Inuit chefs and people with an affinity for culinary culture in Greenland. Salik suggested that they open a pop-up in the capital, Nuuk, focused on locally sourced Greenlandic food.
Two weeks later, the duo set up in the capital's harbor, serving smoked reindeer and pulled lamb sandwiches out of a food stand for one evening. The enthusiastic reactions from the community were enough to outweigh the near-zero profit, so they solidified the business with a name: Igapall, taken from the phrase igapall nerpiall, meaning ‘cook fast, eat quick’ in Greenland's native language Kalaallisut. Today, they've brought the pop-up dining experience to six locations across the country, aiming to put Greenland on the world map of food destinations.
‘There haven't been many of us [Greenlanders] working with food,’ Salik explains. ‘Greenland was a colony for many years. The people who had the money to establish restaurants were mostly foreigners [who] came with their own country's idea of food.’
While there is a local culinary school – Inuili in Narsaq, in south Greenland – it requires students to travel to Denmark to complete their training and exams (Greenland is an autonomous country with its own government within the Kingdom of Denmark). From there, they return to restaurants that many say tend to hire or pay higher salaries to chefs with foreign educations.
Igapall is creating local demand for skilled Greenlandic chefs, using techniques that are honed from an early age, such as hunting, fishing and foraging. ‘They invited me because they wanted my cooking and plating style, but also to show my skills to the public,’ says Igapall chef Aggu Broberg. Even for chefs of top local restaurants – such as Rune Petersen, head chef of Cafe Tamu, or Peter Berthelsen, one of Inuili's youngest graduates and head chef of Killut restaurant – Igapall was an unprecedented opportunity. ‘It was so exciting to cook what we want, where we want,’ says Peter.
Pushing what's already there
Greenland's fishing industry sustains almost the entire country's economy, accounting for more than a fifth of its workforce. The crustaceans and fish trawled in Greenland are mostly exported or bought by fishing companies like Royal Greenland and sold back to regional grocery chains. The little arable soil in Greenland also means that there's a heavy reliance on imported produce. Walking around a local grocery store, it's almost impossible to find products directly from Greenland.
For Miki and Salik, innovation is about an improved process – one that's more local and independent, which starts with reintroducing Greenland to the ingredients that it's known all along. ‘I don't think we are doing anything new. It's about pushing what's already there,’ says Salik.
Designing a menu begins with considering which animals are in season and what regional producers can provide. Main dishes tend to be fish sourced from cooperatives or meat from local hunters. Sides could be locally grown potatoes or fresh vegetables from farmers in Upernaviarssuk, an agricultural settlement, or from vertical farm project Greenlandic Greenhouse.
While ice and permafrost make up 80% of Greenland's terrain, wild herbs and plants, such as Arctic thyme, Labrador tea, angelica, juniper berries and crowberries, grow in rocky areas. At the island's edges, especially on the southern coast where the climate is much milder, it's possible to grow potatoes, carrots, turnips, lettuce and rhubarb, which accompany the main dishes on Igapall's menus.
When the chefs are cooking in west Greenland, dishes will center around musk ox, Arctic hare and ptarmigan (a game bird). Further south, main courses often come from the sea – redfish, salmon, halibut or Arctic char – or locally farmed lamb.
How a local chef's palate informs their version of a dish is as equally important as the quality of ingredients. ‘They want us to lift Greenlandic dishes to the next level,’ says Aggu. ‘Salik and Miki's way is to put a chef's name to a plate.’
Beyond the capital, Igapall has gone further afield to remote towns dotted along the west and south coasts, such as Qaqortoq, Narsaq, Nanortalik, Kangerlussuaq and Sisimiut. It's hosted one-night food stalls, catered music festivals and served four- to six-course meals in restaurants, feeding both locals and tourists. Being a floating kitchen with no fixed location allows the chefs to make food culture accessible and sustainable – but it also presents logistical challenges and high expenses.
There are no roads connecting settlements in Greenland. Traveling or shipping anything from place to place happens only by air or sea and is extremely costly – even a cheap ticket for short air travel from town to town will cost around £200.
There's also the issue of finding a proper workspace. Outside of Nuuk, kitchens, culinary equipment and dining spaces are few and far between. The extreme weather and heavy reliance on imports mean making pivots and finding alternatives are paramount to running the food business. ‘Even if the town we're in is known for its fish, it can be hard to get,’ says Aggu.
‘We always have a plan B. And a plan C,’ Miki adds.
‘It'd be easier to open a place in Nuuk,’ Salik admits. But, as the capital already has an established gastronomy scene, there's value in Igapall's decentralized approach. ‘To go somewhere remote and show people how you can use the products we have, no matter where you are, is the point of Igapall.’
Grants from local cultural funds have covered some of these travel costs, but remaining expenses, such as accommodation, kitchen space or last-minute ingredients, are most often supplemented by townspeople as reciprocity.
Written by Julia Rignot