Olivia Dish

Reindeer on the Menu

In Alaska, Local Flavor on March 21, 2010 at 8:15 am

Iditarod Street Food

Some people see reindeer on the menu and think Rudolph.  I see reindeer on the menu and wonder wild or farm-raised?

I had reindeer sausage for breakfast at Snow City Cafe in Anchorage, Alaska.  A robust reddish color, the sausage was fairly lean but moist, spicy in a way that made me think of kielbasa.

It was quite good, and quite a bit better than expected.  I failed to ask then where Snow City gets their reindeer sausage or how many plates of it they sell, so I emailed them this morning.

Meanwhile, I did a little Google investigating of my own.

I discovered that reindeer were brought to Alaska by the U.S. government to provide livelihood for native Alaskans and to supplement their traditional food supply— seal, walrus and game that were being depleted.  There’s an interesting account of the “reindeer solution” here.

I also happened across an article explaining how reindeer offer a Viagra alternative. I’ll let you decide if you want to know more about that.

Finally, on the University of Alaska-Fairbanks site, I found the Reindeer Research Program.  There, I confirmed what I suspected: reindeer farms do exist.  These farms mostly allow their animals to graze free-range.  As producers all along the chain look to increase demand, reindeer farmers are also considering more “industrial” farming techniques (think beef).  The Reindeer Research Program is working to determine what’s lost when reindeer farming goes that route—from flavor to humane practices.

Reindeer for breakfast

Will there ever be widespread demand for reindeer meat in America?  Who knows? I get the impression that in Anchorage,  reindeer dog carts are as common during the “summer” months as hot dog stands are in the lower 48.  I saw more than one food vendor grilling and serving reindeer dogs at the start of the Iditarod race in Willow, Alaska.  But can it be an everyday food for most of us? Or will it remain a novelty, like elk carpaccio or rattlesnake mcnuggets?

When I hear back from the Snow City Cafe, I’ll let you know what they think.

Update: Snow City Cafe’s  manager Cindy Lyons did email me and was every bit as helpful as her cheery cafe would lead you to expect.  She says Snow City gets their reindeer sausage from Indian Valley Meats, which works with Native Alaskans who manage a free-range herd of around 6000 reindeer.  According to Lyons, “We get it through our distributor, but you can also get it at Costco (up here at least – don’t know about South Carolina)!”

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