For decades now, Greenland has been at the cutting edge of research into climate change—the tip of the melting iceberg, if you like. On this elemental, ice-bound island, the issue is impossible to ignore. Last year alone, average temperatures in southern Greenland rose by nearly a degree, part of an ongoing pattern of warmer weather. Meltwater from its ice sheets now contributes up to 1 millimeter a year to rising global sea levels.
While these and most other consequences of global warming are ominous, to say the least, there has been one strangely positive outcome. For Greenlanders, the increase in summer temperatures has meant an unexpected abundance of homegrown food. Where once it was the case that only potatoes and turnips grew here—and those only in the south, in the short-lived summer months—now large swaths of the island are sprouting, blooming, and fruiting in ways previous generations could never have imagined.
Greenland’s chefs are working especially hard to turn the negative phenomenon of climate change into something deliciously positive. The results have been so impressive, it’s not hard to imagine that Arctic cooking could be the successor to Denmark’s much-vaunted New Nordic cuisine. Driving this culinary movement are chefs like Jeppe Nielsen and Inunnguaq Hegelund, at Ulo restaurant in Ilulissat, and Björn Johansson at Hotel Hans Egede’s Restaurant Sarfalik, in the diminutive capital of Nuuk. Johansson, originally from Sweden, is creating extraordinary dishes from the island’s new bounty of indigenous ingredients. He has built relationships with Inuit hunters and fishermen around the island, meaning he doesn’t have to import meat or fish from Denmark or elsewhere in Europe. His malt-stuffed reindeer, accompanied by blood sausage flavored with smoked reindeer heart, carrot purée, parsley root, and baked onions, is one of the most intensely flavorful meals I’ve ever eaten. “In the cold Arctic climate, animals grow more slowly and thus have more taste,” Johansson explained. Everything I ate at Sarfalik had come from a plant or animal harvested in the wild—had grazed peacefully and blossomed voluptuously, in pure soil and air. I could taste it in every mouthful.
Ordinary Greenlanders are also reaping the benefits of the island’s warmer climate. It’s common for people in the south, where much of the population is concentrated, to grow their own produce. At Upernaviarsuk Experimental Farm, Efa Poulsen and his team man the Greenlandic government’s agricultural research and training station, working to push the boundaries of what can be cultivated in this changing climate. These days, he said, even strawberries, iceberg lettuce, and tomatoes can flourish in polar soil. Gardeners and farmers have the added advantage of working in what remains one of the world’s least polluted environments. “Thanks to our isolated location and the clean, dry air, this region is still mostly diseaseand pest-free,” Poulsen told me. “Crops thrive without the need for insecticides here, so it’s a paradise for organic food.”
For this unique culinary destination, the islanders I met may represent the future. Learn more about what they do in the following slides.