The Last Frontier is home to some of the most highly sought-after seafood in the world, as well as nutritious, high-energy Native foods for long Arctic winter nights. Plus Alaska boasts drinkable delights like micro-brewed beer and locally roasted coffee to get you through if all else fails.
The name “Alaska” derives from the native Aleut word meaning “great land”. This is certainly true geographically, and just as true culinarily. Whether you want a simple cup of joe to warm you, or you’re feeling ready for frozen whale blubber bites, you’re sure to find something to enjoy on this list of Alaska’s iconic foods.
Salmon reigns supreme on any list of typical Alaskan cuisine. This fish species has long been such an essential part of the Native Alaskan diet. Annual salmon runs were more than enough to sustain entire Indigenous peoples like the Tlingit through the long Alaskan winters. It’s considered sacred.
The Salmon People are part of the Tlingit origin story. Every year the salmon’s return odyssey to their upriver birthing grounds is celebrated with rituals, prayers of thanksgiving, and dancing. From legend to sea to your plate, Alaskan salmon of any species (whether pink, coho, sockeye, chum, or chinook) is simply superb.
Reindeer are simply domesticated caribou—and the market in Alaska is mega. Wild game is technically prohibited from being served in restaurants, so you won’t see caribou (or much moose) on the menu, but boy will you find reindeer!
What makes reindeer so enjoyable is that it’s versatile enough to go with just about anything. So you can smoke it, jerk it, spice it, grill it, serve it with eggs and hash browns, or turn it into hot dogs and sell it on the street. Regardless, you’re sure to enjoy it.
These funky-looking bottom-feeders have been sought after for centuries by Indigenous peoples, as long as they have inhabited the Alaskan coastlines. The mildly fishy-tasting, fatty fillets have a rich panoply of nutrients.
Halbut contains high amounts of beneficial Omega-3, plus a wide range of vitamins and minerals. These nutrients benefit everything from cellular, heart, and liver health, to skin and digestion issues, and even muscle weakness and loss of libido and sexual function.
This fish is also as versatile as it is healthy: order it baked, grilled, blackened, battered and fried, or pan-seared and served with Yukon gold mashed potatoes and beurre blanc at Simon and Seafort’s in Anchorage for a truly memorable meal out.
How could you possibly resist a bit of frozen whale blubber? Muktuk is traditionally Native Alaskan, consisting of whale (or possibly seal) fat with its skin still attached, cut into bite-sized chunks, frozen, and later consumed raw for energy and subsistence. Inupiat hunters in northern Alaska eat a few ounces of muktuk before embarking on their hunting expeditions.
Before you go chomping on this blubbery challenge, make sure you ask around locally. Muktuk can only be sold for consumption in Alaskan Native villages—so research is advised first, but you sure don’t want to miss out on this culinary adventure.
Anyone familiar with the long-running show the Deadliest Catch will understand why crab is such a big deal here. Crabbers in the northern Pacific don’t risk life and limb for just any ol’ crustacean: the denizens of the Bering Strait are understandably some of the most sought-after seafood delicacies in the world.
Perhaps the most famous (and expensive) is the 10-legged Alaskan King crab, which comes in three commercially-caught species—red, blue, and golden king. It’s followed in popularity closely by the Dungeness, and then the slightly smaller, more delicately-meaty but equally delectable Snow crab.
No matter your appetite, come to the table with a sense of adventure (and plenty of napkins and butter for dipping).
Fun fact: oysters don’t grow naturally in Alaska’s cold waters—so how, you ask, can they be on this list of iconic foods? Because the waters are too chilly for oysters to sexually reproduce, these specially harvested bivalves are bred on land in southeastern Alaskan cities like Homer or Ketchikan, and then grown in tiered nets off the coast.
Suspended off the seafloor in the chilly sub-Arctic waters, these oysters thrive. They are cleaner than their commercially harvested cousins, and their meat tends to be plumper, deeper, and denser than the thin, goopy globs most people slurp up at oyster bars anywhere else. Their exceptional taste may even be enough to win some weary converts.
This one almost goes without saying: you’ll need your java if you live in Alaska’s northernmost city, Barrow, where the sun sets sometime in mid-November—and doesn’t rise again for more than 60 days. Even Alaska’s capital Juneau, in the southeast, sees the sun for just over six hours a day on the winter solstice.
Roasters take full advantage of this local craving for caffeine. Today anywhere in Alaska you’re bound to find a finely-crafted espresso or a cup of joe that will hit every caffeine (and sun) deprived spot in your body.
They say it’s bigger in Texas—but they have not had Alaskan-grown vegetables. The incredibly rich soils of the 49th State, combined with unlimited summer sunshine (read, endless photosynthesis during the growing season) mean simply incomparable produce.
The Land of Midnight Sun is a hotbed for monstrous harvests: 65-pound melons, thousand-pound pumpkins, and cabbages the size of a full-grown adult. But it’s not just the size that impresses: all that sun becomes sugary sweetness once metabolized by the plant, making Alaskan vegetables exceptionally rich and uniquely sweet all around.
Every kind of berry imaginable
Alaska is berry, berry big. More than double the size of Texas and easily able to accommodate the three next-largest states of Texas, California, and Montana in its square footage, this state has a lot of room for a lot of berries.
Dozens of varieties grow from the wetter, more temperate southeast up to the vast interior plateau. Foraging for berries is a popular summertime activity in the Last Frontier, best from late August to late September.
Find raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, crowberries, lingonberries, salmonberries, gooseberries, cloudberries, Alaska’s own high bush cranberries, and more—in tarts, jams, cobblers, scones, ice creams, syrups, beers, ciders, and every kind of pastry your taste buds could dream of.
Just avoid white berries, as they’re poisonous—especially the baneberry.
Fish and chips
Alaska may not be the birthplace of this famously British dish (does anyone know the true origins?), but then again: who cares? With such a seafood-forward cuisine, fish and chips only make sense on a list of top Alaskan fare.
Locals are most likely to prefer rockfish for its subtle sweetness and tender, easy fry-ability, but also then again: there’s Alaskan halibut, herring, wild-caught pollock, Pacific cod, and sablefish, plus five types of salmon…need we go on? We can, but only to suggest a cold craft-brewed pint (like maybe Alaskan Brewing Company’s winter ale) to go with.
Beer lovers, perk up! In 2021, Alaska was fifth in the nation in terms of craft beer breweries per capita, behind only Vermont, Maine, Montana, and Wyoming.
You’ll be in good company with Alaskans as they proudly support their local brewer. And no matter where you go for a pint, you’ll easily find Juneau’s claim to fame, the “great-grandfather of the modern Last Frontier microbrew”, Alaskan Amber.
You aren’t limited to the larger cities, either, to find your fix. Roughwoods Café, for example, in Nenana (2020 population: 380), and Icy Strait Brewing Co. in the humble hamlet of Hoonah (pop. 931), have pride of place in producing some of Alaska’s best pints.
Fry bread isn’t exclusively Alaskan by any means, but it has become a Last Frontier foodie favorite just the same. The concept is simple (as its name suggests): a yeast dough lovingly rolled, patted, flattened, fried, and served hot with a delightful drizzle of honey or berry jam.
However, the history of fry bread’s popularity here is loaded with complexities. Ask any Alaskan Native how this became such a staple, and you’re likely to get a captivating story to flavor your fry bread along with your jam.
Yes, you read that right: spruce tips! These lime-green branch buds are a highly nutritious treat that can be added to everything from ice cream to soup to booze (needless to say they’re also an excellent companion to halibut or salmon). Spruce tips are loaded with Vitamin C, chlorophyll, and carotenoids, antioxidants that aid in tissue and cell regeneration.
As versatile as they are healthy, spruce tips have near-endless culinary use: in tea, syrups, ice cream, fermented in beer, or in seasoning salt or sweet citrusy sautees—and sure, you can even eat them raw.
Alaska may be known as the Last Frontier for its wild expanses, wildlife, and even wilder cold winter darkness. But as you can see—and will hopefully soon taste—the array of foods in this list is the most wildly delicious thing of all about the land of the midnight sun. On your next trip, see if you can’t try them all.