Alaska cuisine is legendary on culinary wish lists and is the muse for unforgettable meals and dining daydreams for foodies everywhere. Today, with multimedia sending word-of-mouth raves and recipe reviews further and faster than ever, Alaskan food trends have become hashtag and track-down worthy pastimes among those looking for the latest “new news” in culinary circles.
Once known for hearty comfort food crafted from hard-to-harvest and exclusively-Alaska ingredients, the state is now recognized for creative and unique culinary ideas that are resetting old-style approaches while retaining what makes them so specially Alaskan. In fact, Alaska’s professional chefs, savvy kitchen amateurs, hardworking farmers and inventive artisans are turning out cuisine that is elevating the classics, embracing culinary inclinations, and even blazing new trails.
Long gone are the days of Alaska menus with limited lineups including deep-fried halibut, salmon filets, King Crab with butter, grilled reindeer sausage or assorted shellfish. While all are delicious dining delights that remain fan favorites, Alaska’s creative cooks are reinventing classics with fusion flourishes and traditional touchstones. They’re also proudly packing plates and menus with Alaska-grown-and-produced items. It’s not unusual for an entrée to feature an Alaska-raised meat served with sides of Alaska-grown vegetables, or an Alaska fish taco set in a soft Alaska-pressed tortilla and blanketed under pickled Alaska veggies and salsa, or even Alaska wildflowers garnishing a sweet Alaska-made ice cream or a salad made from Alaska-grown vegetables. Some touches are spectacular while others are more subtle but all are welcome on an Alaskan journey which includes a contemporary culinary twist.
Here are some of the Alaska culinary trends we’re tracking and far-north food fads that seem to have staying power:
Local Alaskan Coffees and Brews
Crafty creators of Alaska’s two beloved beverages – coffee and beer – have everyone thinking globally and drinking locally these days. Long limited to imports, Alaskans now boast and toast their own awesome army of roasters and brewers in every corner of the state.
While you won’t find many coffee farms thriving in Arctic climates, there are countless roasters and brands putting Alaska care and flair into caffeinated classics and innovations. And if you ever want to fuel up or slow down to enjoy your choice cup of joe during an Alaska visit, you’re in luck: there are modest, modern and mom-and-pop coffee shops everywhere, not to mention drive-through coffee stands on practically every urban corner.
Meanwhile, Alaska’s booming beer industry is churning out a seemingly bottomless bounty of brews and breweries. Alaskans’ fierce pride, pioneering spirit and independent streak is alive in its brewers and craft beers that liberally infuse Alaska flavors and inspirations into ales, ambers, IPAs, stouts and ciders. Thirsty yet? You can find a cool glass of your favorite Alaska beer, as well as many curveball draughts, at tasting rooms across Alaska, in towns and breweries large and small. Most Alaska restaurants and bars also do their best to support the movement and hydrate the masses by keeping a far-reaching variety of Alaska beers on-hand and on tap.
Kenai Cheese Dip: A Crowd Favorite
Few Alaska snacks go better with a beer than Kenai Dip, the super-cheesy, semi-spicy, always-welcome and arguably-addictive appetizer that’s a big hit at parties – even parties of one! Its Kenai Peninsula origins are something of a mystery, but its setup is simple: shredded cheddar cheese, chunks of jalapenos, along with varying additions of mayonnaise, cayenne pepper, garlic powder and vinegar, give or take a few personalized touches: a pinch of paprika and salt, a sprinkle of red pepper flakes, a drop or two of liquid smoke. When put together and patiently given a little refrigerator time to meld, it’s lip-smacking, non-stop-snacking good. Can’t wait? Many Alaska grocery stores sell it in their deli sections. Once in hand, you can serve the dip with a spoon, but most forego that formality and dig in directly with their preferred crispy cracker or sturdy tortilla chip.
Alaska Kelp: A Superfood Treat
A handful of Alaska kelp harvesters are redefining “farming” and “seafood” in the Last Frontier. These crops of clean, green vegetables pulled from Alaska’s clear, cool waters are marketed as superfoods and surprisingly delicious. Nothing fishy here: kelp can be cooked, chopped and created into salads, salsas and any number of superb sides, including pickles and even pastas. Could kelp be the new kale?
Taste It UP: From Food Trucks to Festivals
National trends tend to take a while to arrive in Alaska, if they make it here at all. But the food truck/cart and pop-up restaurant crazes are fully ablaze in the state. And who doesn’t want easy access to an amazing salmon quesadilla? These chefs/entrepreneurs offer everything from the tried-and-true (hot dogs, cupcakes and BBQ) to the Alaska standards (salmon burgers, halibut chunks and seafood chowders) to the unexpected (international cuisine, Hawaiian poke and a full assortment of Asian favorites). Most trucks, carts and pop-ups have social media presences. Search for and follow accounts to keep a read on daily locations. They are also ever-present attractions outside the aforementioned Alaska breweries and tasting rooms. Of course, Alaska isn’t exactly a place where food trucks thrive year-round: not many will stand in line for a fish taco in a cold November rain or snow shower. But the most sought-after and ambitious food truck/cart operators get their wheels moving for special events and catering opportunities in any weather and season.
If you ever need to feed your craving for learning more about Alaska cuisine, Alaska writers are providing plenty of food for thought and inspiration. From cookbooks to social media platforms, magazines to blogs, Alaska’s coolest foods are hot topics for content producers around the state, country and world. And the prose focus is as wide-ranging as Alaska’s dining spectrum: secret recipes to statewide industries, celebrity chefs to behind-the-scenes home cooks, popular restaurants to cheap eats. Alaska food and the people who cultivate, craft and cook it are creating fascinating, fun and informative reads. Need further proof? The James Beard Foundation recently recognized Alaska journalist Julia O’Malley with a food writing award for sharing stories of the state’s foods, recipes, cultures, people who harvest, prepare and share them.