Kanchalan, Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, Russia, 689514

First Contact:

gather% / fish % / hunt %
fat % / protein % / carb%

A rough estimate to help us understand how carnivorous and how ketogenic these people were before being exposed to western civilization

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About the Tribe

The Chukchi based their traditional economies on reindeer husbandry in the interior of the region and marine mammal hunting on the coast of what today is called the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug. Numbering nearly 16,000, the majority live in small rural villages. Traditionally, marine mammal hunters (Chukchi and Yup’ik) and reindeer herders had close trading relationships, the center of which was food related – whale fat and seal skins for reindeer skins and meat. 

At one time, Chukotka was one of the world’s largest regions of reindeer husbandry, in terms of numbers. In the 1980’s there were over 500,000 reindeer. The collapse of the Soviet Union saw a more precipitous decline in herd size than anywhere else in Russia. The number of reindeer fell to around 90,000 in 2001. However, thanks to regional supports to hunters and herders, numbers have recovered and investments have been made in processing facilities and equipment. Here we present two traditional Chukchi dishes from the Nizhnekolymsky District of Sakha Republic (Yakutia): Reindeer blood soup and the First Four Ribs. These dishes are also prepared in other Chukchi areas.


Importance of Animal Products

Authentic Chukchi Recipes:

Reindeer blood soup by Irina Krivoshapkina and Maria Yaglovskaya

Reindeer blood soup is the favorite national dish of the Chukchi. Traditionally, people used to cook it for children, as it contains the whole complex of vitamins, gives strength, improves blood circulation and provides a long-lasting ‘warm-up’ effect. Reindeer blood soup is used in traditional ceremonies and is also offered to guests. We have included the traditional and modern methods.

Traditional method Ingredients:

Reindeer intestines with inner organs (pitiyki)

Reindeer large intestine (nanuvge)

Reindeer blood (mulymul)

Visceral fat (the inner fat around the entrails) (eimyk)

Thoroughly wash and clean the intestines with inner organs, large guts, visceral fat and clean, chop finely, cover with cold water, and boil until thoroughly cooked. Pour the settled reindeer blood very slowly into the boiling broth, stirring steadily. The dish is ready when the broth thickens.

Modern method Ingredients:

Reindeer head

Reindeer blood



Make a broth by boiling the reindeer head (antlers removed) in water. Remove the froth and impurities from the surface periodically and add salt while cooking. When the head is ready, remove it from the pot and strain. Mix flour with cold water in a separate bowl, add with the settled reindeer blood slowly into the boiling broth, stirring well. Cook until the broth comes to the boil and becomes a chocolate color.

THE FIRST FOUR RIBS by Zhanna Kaurgina and Vlada Kaurgina The Chukchi menu is not that known for its variety. Boiled reindeer meat is a constant daily dish, the favored parts of the animal being the breast parts including brisket, ribs, and the breast section of the backbone. Once the reindeer is slaughtered and processed into smaller parts, the first four ribs are boiled as a delicacy and is the first dish offered to guests. In winter, these ribs are frozen, stored and eaten at a later date. Why are the first four ribs from a reindeer considered to be such a delicacy among Chukchi? Depending on the age and condition of the reindeer, the first four ribs have the following qualities: • Bulk and mass with streaks of fat deposits; • Juiciness which is related to their high oxygen saturation due to formation of the first four ribs in the chest cavity, and as the chest part of the body is stiff, there is an intense accumulation of bone oil in the cartilage and bone tissues, which provide taste and flavor. • The broth produced from its cooking is rich in all healthy substances, is very nourishing and provides long-lasting sensation of satiety. Ingredients: First four ribs of a reindeer Salt Cooking method: Wash the ribs thoroughly and place into a large pot and cover with water. Set over a fire and bring to the boil, removing the froth that rises to the surface. Add salt, and maintain the fire so that the ribs simmer gently for 10-15 minutes.

Importance of Plants


The east coast of Chukotka and on Wrangel Island is part of the traditional territory of the coastal Chukchi and Yup’ik. Their traditional activities include sealing, reindeer herding and hunting. They call themselves «yuk» – a man, «yuit», «yugyt» or «Yup’ik» – «real man». Their preferred food mainly consisted of the raw, sun-dried, frozen or sour meat of marine mammals. One such delicacy was a ma’ntak. Man’tak consists of two inseparable parts: whale skin and a top layer of fat and it needs long chewing. Other staples included cereals and roots, laminaria (a type kelp) and raw shellfish. Yup’ik and coastal Chukchi use around 60 species of terrestrial and marine plants for food. By way of illustration, there are no names for the whole plant in their various languages, but there are names for its edible parts – e.g. stem with leaves or the root. That which is not eaten is called «grass» or «flower». The gathering and preparation of plants for winter consumption is an important women’s activity, and is actually called «women’s hunting». Laminaria is considered obligatory part of the menu; even hunters pick it on their way home after sealing. Wild plants are necessary and important additives to meat and fish, which form the basis of the diet of Indigenous Peoples of Chukotka. Upa and other invertebrates – that is crabs, shrimps, sea urchins, starfishes, small octopuses, shellfishes (mussels, whelks), as well as seaweed (laminaria) – are all important components of the Chukchi and Yup’ik cuisine. Not only do wild plants add flavor, they also possess multiple health and medicinal benefits.

Sea squirt, or upa, is a saccate stationary animal: it remains firmly fixed to the substrate, such as stones and shells. Sea squirts are saccate round-shaped or cylindrical animals sized 0.5 to 10 cm. Their bodies are covered with smooth thick and often rather firm tunica. People eat sea squirt raw, boiled and frozen and they have long been used for medicinal purposes. Their tissues are rich in bioactive substances with unique pharmacologic properties. Moreover, sea squirts provide antineoplastic action. They have a detox effect, boost the immune system and activate blood formation processes. Also, sea squirts possess the unique ability to extract vanadium from the water and accumulate this rare element. Human organisms require vanadium to fight efficiently against infections. Moreover, in combination with other microelements, vanadium slows down the aging process and prevents atherosclerosis.

Since time immemorial, Indigenous Peoples in Chukotka have eaten laminaria washed in by the tide on the coasts of the Bering and Chukchi Seas. People gathered and ate laminaria during the whole year. Even in winter, when the coastal area is covered with thick ice, laminaria was extracted using special spiral devices. Laminaria is seaweed, which absorbs elements from its surrounding aquatic environment. Its length may reach up to 13 m. Laminaria contains a unique microelement iodine, which is very important for human health. Moreover, it contains a full set of other useful elements: magnesium, ferrum, bromine and potassium. Chukchi and Yup’ik also eat willow leaves, meadow onion, sweet edible root and leaves of nunivak, cyuk’-lyak (edible roots), k’ugyln’ik (sorrel), and berries such as ak’avzik (cloudberry), syugak (blueberry) and pagung’ak (crowberry).

1. An’ukak’ (chapl.) – fireweed (Chamaenerion latifolium).   The leaves and stems of fireweed are used as seasoning for sour caviar, fresh whale or walrus fat and boiled meat, as well as being added to meat broth.   In the past fireweed was also used as a tea brew, instead of tealeaves.

2. Kuvykhsi (chapl.), k’ykh’jug’akh’k’at (nauk.) – knotweed (Polygonum tripterocarpum). Knotweed is one of the most well-known edible plants of Chukotka. This plant is widely used and the buds of young knotweed is the first spring delicacy for children. In summer people eat them with seal blood and fat. Knotweed roots (siren – kusymu) are dried and stored for winter. They are then soaked in water and used as seasoning for meat and fish.

3. Roseroot (Rhodiola atropurpurea (Turczaninov) Trautvetter Nunivak) Roseroot – «nunivak» is probably the most popular edible plant for Chukchi and Yup’ik, which is indicated by numerous words related to and built with «Nunivak» stem. Also, only this plant’s name is used to denote one of summer months – August – Nunivik – «month of roseroot gathering». This word is likely to originate from «nuna» stem, which means «earth». There is an interesting relation between words «nuna» (earth) – «nunivak» (tundra) – «nunivak» (roseroot).   Thanks to their excellent flavor, the sappy stems, leaves and roots of roseroot are all eaten to this day. People try to gather the leaves and stems of roseroot before seed maturity, while they are most sappy. The most traditional dish of roseroot is sour roseroot – nunivak.

4. Willow (various species) Salix sp. K,uk,un,at (leaves) There are three known species of this plant (Yup’ik have one name for all three species): Salix phlebophylla – Skeletonleaf willow, Salix arctica – Arctic willow, Salix pulchra – Diamondleaf willow. The young leaves of Arctic willow are stored for winter use. Then the leaves are soaked in cold water under a weight before use. In winter they are used frozen as seasoning for meat or fresh whale fat.

In summer the fat roots of Arctic willow are buried and in winter they are unearthed the bark is peeled off, which is then eaten as a seasoning with whale fat. «Summer gruel». Fresh leaves of knotweed are steamed, mashed, and added to the rendered fat and blood of walrus. Children eat this gruel with seal or walrus meat. «Spring gruel». Mash the young boiled leaves of knotweed and add rendered fat. When eating raw walrus meat dip the pieces in the gruel. «Winter gruel». Boil knotweed leaves until the broth becomes dark-green, then drain and put into various dishes for freezing or in a sealskin bag and store for the winter. In winter unfreeze the frozen mass and prepare the gruel. Add rendered fat and seal blood into the mash(the dish can also be eaten frozen). When boiling walrus, Ringed or Bearded seal meat, add fresh and boiled leaves of knotweed for taste and to add thickness to the broth. Grated knotweed leaves are eaten with fresh gray whale fat or white whale mantak (beluga whale skin). This broth is used as a preserving agent when preparing walrus meat for winter.

5. An’jina (chapl.), majug’lak’ (nauk.), lilugaja (siren.) – wild onion (Allium fistulosum). This wild perennial has an antiscorbutic effect, and grows in many places on the Chukchi coast and is widely used fresh as a seasoning for meat and fish dishes.

6. Pagung’ak’ (chapl.), akuvilk’ak’ (nauk.), pagnyk’ykh’ (siren.) – crowberry (Empertum nigrum s.l.). Crowberry is a watery berry with slightly sweet taste. It grows throughout Chukotka. It is normally consumed fresh and more recently as a jam. It is also used in several dishes.

7. Kitmik (chapl.), mysutak’ (nauk.) – lingonberry (Vaccinium vitisidaea var.minus). Lingonberries grow in small amounts and are eaten fresh and as a seasoning for various meat dishes. People also prepare lingonberry jam. Lingonberries have diuretic, binding, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic effects. The Yup’ik and coastal Chukchi have very rich knowledge about the value of plants in their food culture. To maintain both their health and their wellbeing, the food culture in the region necessitates a high biodiversity of edible plants.

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Transition to Industrialized Food Products