One of the many joys of travel is discovering local food traditions and restaurants. While vacationing in America’s 49th State, you’ll be surprised and delighted by Alaska’s food.
Alaskan cuisine is heavily influenced by the waters that surround it, and Alaskans work hard to preserve the land and water that sustains them. Fish and seafood are sustainably caught, and Alaska food is largely local, seasonal, and fresh.
Here are some of the foods you must try during your next trip to Alaska.
If you’re a fan of salmon, traveling in Alaska affords you multiple chances to savor almost unlimited amounts of the freshest wild salmon on the planet.
Chinook, Sockeye, Coho, Pink, and Keta are the five species of salmon that ply the waters of Alaska, and each has its own season and taste characteristics.
Chinook, aka King Salmon, the largest of the salmon species, runs in season May through July. This variety’s bold flavor and luxurious texture make it perfect for grilling over open flame or charcoal, broiling, or baking.
Its high, healthy fat content ensures that it cooks up moist without losing flavor. You’ll find it on restaurant menus simply grilled, broiled, or baked, which enables the full flavor of the fish to be the main attraction.
In June through August, sockeye salmon, with its deep bright red color and meaty, but not overpowering flavor is found on restaurant menus grilled, broiled, or baked. It’s popular for smoking to be used in sandwiches, chowders, and dips.
Coho or silver salmon runs in Alaska rivers July through September and are sought after by fishermen during the later part of the fishing season. Their red-orange flesh is more delicate and subtle in flavor than Sockeye or Chinook, which some say is the perfect balance.
Pink salmon is the smallest of the Pacific salmon varieties and easily caught with rod and reel. You won’t find these on restaurant menus since they are processed for canning and seafood products.
Whichever variety of salmon is in season during your Alaska vacation, enjoy a fantastic feast at an all-you-can-eat salmon bake held in rustic lodges or picturesque outdoor venues.
At Ketchikan, “the salmon capital of the world,” watch schools of salmon at Ketchikan Creek as they make their way up stream, then order salmon simply grilled or smoked in a savory cornbread or a creamy chowder at one of Ketchikan’s restaurants.
Mildly sweet, lean, and firm-fleshed, Pacific halibut, a member of the flounder family, is plentiful in all Alaska waters in the same May to September season as salmon.
Alaska’s fine dining chefs make the most of the fish’s mild flavor and firm texture, knowing how to keep this lean fish moist with dishes such as crab and macadamia nut stuffed halibut, oven-roasted halibut with butter sauce, and halibut sous vide in lemon olive oil.
At casual Alaska food trucks, bars, and eateries, you’ll find halibut burgers, thick filets grilled and served on a bun with the usual burger accompaniments; fish and chips-style, batter-fried pieces of the fish served with fries, tartar and cocktail sauces; halibut tacos and halibut enchiladas with salsa verde; and a Seward favorite called Bucket of Butt, chewy chicken nugget lookalikes served by the bucketful with tartar and cocktail sauces.
For real seafood lovers, Alaskan crab, both King crab and Dungeness crab, is a not-to-be-missed delicacy made all the more special because of its seasonality.
Three species of King crab—red, blue, and brown (golden)—are each found in different Alaskan waters around the Bering Sea. These 10 legged crustaceans grow fat and meaty as they feed on the sea bottom.
There’s nothing better than cracking into steamed and chilled claws and legs served simply on a bed of crushed ice fresh lemon wedges, or served steam-warmed with butter. Picking out the sweet, succulent crab meat is sometimes tricky, but is always a local meal to be savored and fondly remembered.
Some waterfront crab shacks serve specialties like crab cakes, crab chowder, open-faced crab sandwiches, and Crab Louie salad, as well as other fresh seafood, throughout the year.
Dungeness crabs tend to be meatier than other crab species, and they’re usually served steamed whole with drawn butter. Plan on early dining because they often sell out quickly.
Three kinds of Pacific oysters are cultivated in Alaska’s cold and pristine waters. Feeding off the plentiful amounts of plankton, they become fat and rich, with exactly the right balance of sweetness and brininess.
Hump Island oysters are a treat to try when visiting Ketchikan, as they’re cultivated in float trays made of local cedar submerged in the deep waters of the Tongass Narrows. Enjoy them raw or fried, along with a local craft beer.
Kachemak oysters, grown in floating lantern nets in glacial waters at the tip of the Kenai Peninsula, are plump, firm, and sweet. Order them on the half-shell at Seward oyster bars and restaurants.
Glacier Point oysters are also glacial water fed, cultivated in Halibut Cove, just across Kachemak Bay from Homer. They have a strong, briny, and mineral flavor thanks to the combination of the Gulf of Alaska waters and glacier meltwater. They’re a favorite at the Alaska State Fair.
Reindeer sausage, found on breakfast menus of many restaurants in Alaska, is a must-try for visitors. The sausage, most of which is made commercially, is lightly spiced with a distinctive meaty flavor similar to link-style pork sausages.
Hot dogs, made with a combination of reindeer meat, beef, and pork, are one of Alaska’s favorite street foods, served at several small stands and food trucks. Split and grilled hot dogs are served on a steamed bun with soda-glazed onions, mustard, and cream cheese. Other toppings include ketchup and relish.
Caribou chili, another Alaska food that uses ground reindeer meat, is made with tomatoes, spices, and a host of canned beans and vegetables for a what’s-on-hand, ever-changing stew that’s always hearty and delicious.
Wild Alaska blueberries, in season August through September, are smaller with a bit more tartness than you may be used to. When they’re incorporated into sweet treats like fruits of the forest pie, cobblers, and ice cream, their superior flavor shines through.
Restaurants offer blueberry desserts in season, and chefs have been known to experiment with sweet and savory combinations like blueberry balsamic sauce. The buffet menu of all-you-can-eat salmon bakes often includes a blueberry dessert to showcase fresh Alaska food.
Gooseberries, with the same seasonality as blueberries, are used in pies, jellies, and jams sold at local farmers’ markets. Salmonberries are shaped like raspberries, but are bright orange, like salmon roe, hence the same. They’re sweet-sour, but pleasantly so, and are usually eaten fresh or made into preserves.
See these berries heaped into baskets in a colorful display at farmers’ markets and grocery stores.
Alaska’s craft beer scene is alive and thriving, with microbreweries from Ketchikan to Anchorage and beyond. Each has its own special brew styles with seasonal flavors, IPAs, blondes, ambers, and others.
Microbrewery tours are a fun and popular way to get to know different brews and styles of brewing. In Juneau, there’s a bike and brewery tour that takes you on paths around the Mendenhall Glacier, then to Merchant’s Wharf for snacks and a tasting of beers from different breweries around Alaska.
Alaskan Brewing Company offers special brews using indigenous ingredients like hand-harvested spruce tips in its Winter Ale, and alder smoke, typical of Alaska smokehouses, to give malt an authentic flavor and allow the beer to age like fine wine.
In Skagway, you’ll find two microbreweries: one with a pub offering beer-focused cuisine like beer cheese soup and beer chili; and the other with taproom tastings, tours, and a store selling merchandise and gifts.
There’s no shortage of outlets serving freshly brewed specialty coffee in Alaska’s towns. Most roast their own beans on-site and offer bean varietals from all over the world, sold whole bean or ground to order.
Wine and Spirits
While Alaska’s climate is not conducive to viticulture per se, there are small enterprising companies creating berry wines, like blueberry and raspberry.
The state has several small distilleries producing vodka, gin, canned gin and tonic, and tonic water products that you’ll find in restaurants, groceries, and specialty shops.
Similar to the process for making maple syrup, birch trees are tapped each season to retrieve sap that’s boiled over open fires to make a concentrated syrup. Birch syrup is thinner than maple syrup with a nutty, more delicate flavor.
Drizzle on pancakes or over ice cream, or use it to sweeten tea, hot or iced. There’s an ice cream shop in Anchorage that uses the syrup to make their special birch-flavored ice cream.
You’ll find birch syrup in specialty shops and some grocery stores.
If you’re looking for an authentic food experience, here’s a trio of traditional foods that are still enjoyed by Native Alaskans, but may be too unconventional for the average palate. Try them if you dare:
Muktuk is a traditional Eskimo food of whale skin and blubber, frozen, then eaten raw.
Tepa or stinkheads are whitefish heads that are buried for a week or more before being consumed.
Akutaq is a kind of Eskimo ice cream made with reindeer fat, seal oil, snow, and berries that gets whipped to a thick, creamy consistency. There is a more modern version that uses vegetable shortening and sugar.
Experience authentic Alaskan cuisine and more on a luxury cruise vacation. When you cruise to Alaska, you’ll experience delectable cuisine both onboard and in port. Visit our website and explore our Alaska cruise itineraries today.