What will you eat in Greenland? Part 1

Research shows that 50% of travelers chose a destination based on the food. That may be true when you are planning a trip to countries that are globally renowned for their food – Italy, Spain, India, Mexico, Japan and many more. But Greenland may not make it to the list of foodies travels.

It was actually quite a challenge for me to research what I should expect to eat in Greenland before I headed there. A few wiki articles indicated towards the fishing and hunting bounties, warning me that availability of fruits and vegetables would be limited. Surprisingly, Greenland turned out to be a food paradise! Yes, supply is limited as many ingredients are imported from Europe, but there is also an abundance of local products. Greenland actually exports seafood such as shrimp, halibut, cod, redfish, seal. Hunting consists of reindeer and musk ox; and lots of vegetables are now being cultivated in south Greenland.

More on farming in Greenland…coming up.

Here are some of the dishes that you can expect to eat when touring around Greenland. The first of the two-part post focuses on breakfast, which always included lots of freshly baked bread, cheese, homemade jams, tea and coffee. Many different kinds of bread are made with rye, seeds, wheat, poppy seed, etc. Some are quite hearty in flavor.

Greenlandic Breakfast –

Greenlandic pastries for breakfast
Assorted savory pastries at Hotel Arctic
homemade jams served for breakfast
Homemade jams and jellies at Hotel Arctic
fresh cheese with slicer
Fresh slice your own cheese served at every restaurant
breakfast buffet at Hotel Arctic
Buffet breakfast at 4-star hotel
Greenlandic breads for breakfast
Different kinds of bread loves, served self slice style

bed and breakfast

at B&B Hansine
Breakfast at B&B Hansine (private home) in Nuuk

Read part 2 of What will you eat in Greenland?

Qooqqut with unforgettable dining

What crosses your mind when your tour is called “Qooqqut with unforgettable dining?” Certainly not orange overalls, open air high speed boats, and battling trade winds in search of a lone restaurant located 50 kilometers away from civilization! Apparently, this is what I had signed up for during my recent visit to Nuuk, Greenland.

We met at the harbor of this world’s northernmost capital city, and noticed parked sail boats, water taxis, even a small cruise ship at the dock. But my guide pointed to our ride for the evening – a 7 passenger open raft with a motor attached to the back. Given the windy cool Arctic temperatures we were about to be faced with, overalls were mandatory, to be worn on top of the layers of sweaters and parkas I was already laden with. John, our Danish tour guide, warned me that it will be cold “like riding on a motorcycle at zero degree Celsius for two hours.” That’s why I look like a baby Polar Bear in this picture!

overalls for boat trip

We started off slow as we left the city and sped soon enough reaching 50km/ hour in the little boat. At first, I enjoyed the scenery – we had a beautiful view of Nuuk’s colorful homes, the statues of Hans Egede, and backdrop of a few new buildings against rocky hills. We whiz passed emerald blue floating glaciers, and within 10 minutes had reached very secluded areas. There was nothing but open waters, mountains and ice as far as I could see. After that, it was cold, wet, windy and bumpy for a VERY long time. John, our guide, explained to the passengers that this is how the Vikings traveled to dinner and the areas we were traveling through were Viking territories. I’m not sure what kind of restaurants the Vikings favored.

blue ice glacier

The second phase of our experience was fishing for entree. We stopped near a mountain where the water was deep enough to fish for cod and redfish. Line hooks were pulled down and everyone caught something. The catch was just pulled into the boat and stored for the chef who was going to cook us dinner that night.

catching redfish in Greenland

Another 20 minutes ride to the island of Qooqqut. It was a very scenic small village surrounded by hills, some green shrubs and lush backgrounds. The water was calm here and reminded me of Scottish Highland or South New Zealand.

Qooqqut arrival

The lone Qooqqut Nuan restaurant is run by husband (Greenlandic chef) and Thai wife. They also have a restaurant in Nuuk (at the harbor) and use to work at another one on the island that burned down.

Qooqqut Nuan restaurant.

The restaurant serves upscale Thai food using local ingredients. Wine/ beer was reasonably charged $10 per drink, and dinner was included in our tour. I ordered the Fish Dinner which had a huge platter with many interesting creations – red curry with shrimp, cod with spinach, redfish with sweet and spicy hong kong style sauce, and redfish with mildly spicy red curry. It came with a big bowl of salad (rare in this part of the world) and steamed rice. I also tasted Penang reindeer, a Greenlandic Thai fusion, with gamy chewy sliced pieces of meat that were probably hunted on the island, cooked with sliced onions, red and green bell peppers. The flavor were divine and unfathomable how someone could run such an upscale kitchen in the middle of nowhere. For dessert, I opted for European style crepe pancakes with ice cream and fresh fruit (watermelon and orange).

Greenlandic shrimp with salad

fish platter

Penang reindeer

During the delicious dinner, John informed us that in case we can’t make it back, there were hostel rooms behind the restaurants that were pretty nice to spend the night at. He also kept some sleeping bags on the boat, just in case we ended up on another uninhabited island. His tours generally ended around 10pm, but with the midnight sun this was not a problem. Now that it was end of August, and it was already past 10,  and getting dark, but we still had an hour to go.

Its a pity that we weren’t able to enjoy the jaw-dropping natural beauty, the secluded surroundings of the lone restaurant, instead headed right back into the dark waters. An afternoon hiking around Qooqqut, soaking in its fresh air and relaxing with its views, would have been a good addition to the itinerary.

The ride back was not as bumpy, but felt much colder because of the darkness and slight rain. The memory of a fabulous dinner was rapidly overtaken by my head and neck pain and a frosty nose. It was 11pm when we returned to the harbor. The city looked dead. John called us a cab to take us back to Hansina’s Guest House.

I would definitely take this tour again, but during the day, in a covered boat, and spend some more time on the island.

Touring Greenland offers Qooqqut with unforgettable dining tour for DKK 895 ($179) per person, which includes 2 hours of sailing, some time for fishing, and a two-course dinner. Drinks are not included. Warning: if you have prior neck or back injury, you may not want to take the bumpy ride.

What does a B&B in Greenland actually mean?

Search for hotels in Nuuk (Godthåb in Danish) and TripAdvisor results in only two hotels and one Bed and Breakfast. Nuuk is the capital and the largest city in Greenland, with a population of 16,000. It is south enough that you don’t see snow, only a few glaciers floating around. It is very difficult to find a room, not only here, but practically in all of Greenland, which has led to the concept of hostels and guest houses.

city of Nuuk

When I was informed by Tupilak Travel, a Nuuk based travel agency, that my reservation had been made at Bed and Breakfast Hansine for two nights, I pictured a cozy cottage with a few rooms, a sitting area with Greenlandic style decorations, and perhaps the innkeepers serving fresh pastries and coffee for breakfast.

Read about my First Time at a Bed and Breakfast in Georgia.

Little did I know that the concept of B&B in Greenland is a little different than that in the US. As Tupilak explains, “Bed & Breakfast entails a stay with a Greenlandic family either in the city center, in the suburbs of Nuussuaq, or in the newest part of town Qinngorput with breakfast included” in the price. Basically you are inside someone’s private home, sort of like an AirBnB.

Bed and Breakfast Hansine really meant the house of Hansine, a charming 67 year old Danish lady, which she opened up to visitors to make extra income. From the outside, the metal building looked like a run-down housing project. There was graffiti on the walls and wooden walkways in need of repair. You had to buzz the resident to be let into the building and climb three floors of stairs (there weren’t any elevators) to get to her flat.

bed & breakfast hanse from outside

Upon arrival, we took off our shoes by the door as its customary in Greenlandic homes. Mrs Hansine greeted us with all smiles, gave us a quick tour of her two bedroom, 1 bath apartment, her cozy living room decorated entirely in purple, and a tiny kitchen with a balcony. It overlooked the harbor and had an amazing view of the Davis Strait.

Our room had a twin size bed, dresser and chairs. There were family photos and knick knacks all over, hinting that this was probably her own bedroom. There was another smaller room with a single bed, occupied by another American tourist at that moment. We had one bathroom for all four of us to share. A few rules were explained regarding opening of windows and doors. No internet was available.

Hansena wasted no time. She immediately took me to her living room and started showing my photo albums, guest books, family trees, certificates of descendants, and family pictures. She spoke some English, but her accent was hard to understand. She told me that her family was from Denmark and Sweden, she had grown up in Copenhagen and moved to Greenland over 30 years ago. She use to work at a reading glass store in Nuuk, but is now retired because she’s too old. Repeatedly, she informed me that today was her daughter’s 26th birthday, but she was away in Copenhagen, studying at a technical school.  Among many stories, many of which I only half understood, she referred to her Danish ex boyfriend several times.

hansine serving breakfast

We were given a key to the flat so we can go in and out as we please. The city of Nuuk is small and walkable. You can’t really get lost. In just an hour, I came to know where everything was – the harbor, museums, church, tourist office, shopping mall, two grocery stores and handful of restaurants. Buses and taxis take you to the new side of Nuuk, which has modern residence and taller buildings.

When we would return to Bed and Breakfast Hansine, we would often find her sipping tea in the living room, reading tarot cards or watching American TV shows. She would ask us about our day and repeat the ritual of story telling/ photo watching once again.

The following morning, Hansine prepared a big spread for us as well as the the other American guest. We sat by the window and enjoyed scrambled eggs with peas, carrots and crispy bacon, loaves of fresh bread with cheese, jam and butter, and coffee. This was a good opportunity to have a conversation with Hansine about the Greenlandic lifestyle, especially relating to her as a single elderly lady living by herself. She seemed pretty happy with her life, always smiling, sharing her memories and meeting friends.

Tupilak Travel arranges stay with host families for 500 DKK (US $100) per night for single room and 900 DKK (US $180) per night for double occupancy. The cost of a hotel is approx. $400 per night and is usually sold out during the peak season.