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From muskox wraps to fish tacos, Inuvik restaurants attract locals and tourists alike

INUVIK, N.W.T. — In the heart of the western Arctic, restaurants are offering up local flavours to community members and tourists alike.
Head Chef Brendan Vogt poses for a portrait inside Mamaqtuq restaurant in Inuvik, N.W.T., on Wednesday, July 5, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Emily Blake

INUVIK, N.W.T. — In the heart of the western Arctic, restaurants are offering up local flavours to community members and tourists alike.

Mamaqtuq, meaning "delicious" in Inuvialuktun, was recently opened by the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation in Inuvik, N.W.T. Along with fried chicken, salads and strip loin, Head Chef Brendan Vogt plans to add wild game and other locally sourced foods to the menu.

"I want all the food to look just as good as our namesake," he said. 

A country food processing plant, also operated by the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, opened in town last year. There, wild game such as moose, beaver and muskox supplied by hunters and trappers is processed and packaged. Vogt also wants to take advantage of the hydroponic greenhouse in Inuvik, which grows leafy greens year-round. 

"We had muskox lettuce wraps over the weekend and it really took off so I feel like the people really want to have wild game," he said.

Vogt, who is Inuvialuit and Gwich'in, said he has been cooking for 15 years starting with home economics class. He said one of his first jobs was at Le Frolic, a since-closed French restaurant in Yellowknife.

Vogt said he hasn't always had the opportunity to work with wild game in the past. He said he's passionate about using local foods, as they're sustainable, fresh, provide jobs and get people out on the land learning traditional knowledge. 

Mamaqtuq aims not only to be a culinary destination, but a place where people can learn about Inuvialuit culture. It is decorated with motifs of uluit — traditional knives with a semicircular blade — while a Delta braid pattern, trim with a geometric pattern used to decorate clothing, adorns the walls along with photographs of prominent Inuvialuit and drums.

Vogt said his restaurant also started a breakfast program last week where children can eat for free.

"It's a pretty big undertaking," he said. "At the end of the day, for us, our goals were to have a place where people can gather, affordable food for the masses and to support the community."

A short distance away, Pam McDonald and her husband Brian do the cooking inside a yellow school bus. Alestine's restaurant, named for her mother-in-law, recently marked its nine-year anniversary. 

"We're really enjoying the tourist season this year," McDonald said. "It's been busy and there's just two of us, so sometimes it's a little crazy, but we're enjoying it."

McDonald said the most popular item on the menu is fish tacos. The restaurant also offer burgers on fried bread, chili and pulled pork.

Along with locals, she said the restaurant has hosted visitors all the way from Panama, Russia and Australia.

"It was always my husband's dream to open it," she said. "So when we retired from the government, we decided that we would give this a shot and so far we've done very well. We're still enjoying it."

McDonald said it was a family adventure driving the bus from Aklavik, N.W.T. to Inuvik in 2014. While they initially planned to only use the vehicle for one summer, she said it continues to serve their needs year-round and has become a staple in their yard.

The side of the school bus is now adorned with stickers, licence plates and signs from around the globe, including Hawaii, New Zealand, Germany, Scotland and Austria. McDonald said the tradition began as her husband began collecting stickers as a kid and now people send them from all over.

Elsewhere in the yard, there are treasures tucked into every nook and cranny, from a green planter shaped like a teapot made from tires, a yellow Volkswagen Beetle with a red fox painted on its side and large decorative dragonflies with ceiling-fan wings. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 14, 2023. 

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Emily Blake, The Canadian Press