Alaska in 8 Bites
Anchorage puts savory surprises and sweet treats on the menu, and the featured ingredients tell the story of Anchorage through the shared language of food. You’ll find these specialties served up everywhere from fancy white-linen dining rooms to sun-soaked decks. Anchorage’s multinational makeup brings culinary traditions from all points of the globe together. No matter how they are served up, here’s a quick guide to the singular flavors of the city.
SeafoodFew foods are so deeply connected to Alaska as seafood. Fresh salmon, flaky halibut, and monster king crab draw a lot of attention, and rightly so. Whether steamed, seared or as sushi, this is as fresh as it gets. You’ll also find Kachemak Bay oysters alongside champagne, razor clams in hearty chowders, scallops seared to perfection, and rockfish, pollock and cod hauled out of the depths.
Insider tip: Ask the server for specifics. Most will be able to tell you what waterway the catch is from and other details.
BirchTrees are tapped each spring to produce a select supply of birch syrup. Poured on French toast and also fashioned into candies and used in marinades and glazes, birch syrup imparts a smoky, caramel flavor. It takes 110 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup – there are only about 5,000 gallons produced annually in the entire world, and Alaska produces a significant portion.
Insider Tip: Birches are also prized for what’s on the outside. Chaga tea is made from a mushroom that grows on birch trees. Find it in specialty stores and tea and spice shops.
Reindeer sausageThese moderately spicy links are the flagship street food in Anchorage, with vendors serving them up out of small carts on sidewalks and at festivals, fairs and food truck roundups. Each vendor brings their own sauces and sides, so the combinations are limitless, but you’re missing out if you don’t add sautéed onions: the secret ingredient is cola.
Insider tip: In addition to being served on a bun, you’ll find reindeer sausage as a side at many of the best breakfast and brunch spots. It makes the perfect complement to eggs and pancakes.
VegetablesRich glacial soils and the midnight sun produce sweet carrots, crisp potatoes, and plenty of leafy greens, not to mention broccolini, rhubarb, radishes and Romanesco. Anchorage-area farmers markets bring the best of the harvest to the table.
Insider tip: Foraging is as important as farming. Local markets are also a great place to find spruce tip salts, fireweed honey and other foods fashioned from plants growing naturally.
SourdoughSourdough starter is such a staple in Alaska, longtime Alaskans are referred to as “sourdoughs.” Other yeasts were difficult to ship and keep alive in Alaska a century or more ago, so sourdough was a favorite. Alaska sourdough typically doesn’t have the sharper sour taste of other sourdough breads.
Insider tip: Sourdough makes more than loaves. Look for it in the a.m. as broad, thin sourdough pancakes.
CoffeeHawaii may be the only U.S. state to produce coffee, but Alaska’s coffee habit makes it a great place to sip. Local roasters have the perfect blend, whether your ideal drink is a mug of black coffee or a double-syrup, half-caff iced macchiato.
Insider tip: Anchorage is among the top cities nationally for coffee shops per capita. Though impossible to prove, some also claim the drive-up coffee hut as an Alaska innovation.
BeerAsk a brewer in Anchorage what makes the beer so good, and they all give the same answer: Alaska’s pure waters make the best starting ingredient. Brewers let their mad scientist impulses loose from there, crafting true-to-style European classics, wild-eyed experimental varieties, hefty stouts as dark as midnight, and crisp lagers perfect on a hot day.
Insider tip: Anchorage’s water supply is Eklutna Lake, fed by Eklutna Glacier. There’s very little in between the glacier and the tap.
BerriesLate summer and fall mean a riot of colors and sweet flavors for those who know where to look. Blueberries, salmon berries, low bush cranberries, raspberries currants and cranberries blanket the mountain sides and fill in the forests. Fashioned into candies and jams, cooked up in crumbles and pies with Alaska prodigious rhubarb crop, mixed into ice cream, or simply eaten by the handful.
Insider tip: Alaskans tend to be tight-lipped about their favorite berry spots. Alyeska Resort holds an annual Blueberry Festival and uses its ski lifts to whisk pickers up the slopes.