Greenland turducken from hell: the real bird-seal meal


This is possibly one of the wackiest and most heartbreaking stories you’ve heard in a while. It’s even more wild because it’s true; and sad because it could have been prevented. It starts off with a 71-year-old man who ate a “terducken from hell” and died in Greenland’s northernmost settlement Siorapaluk. It snowballed into the ultimate tragedy. 

Last week, KNR, Greenland’s national news media first reported that a man had died from food poisoning. The cause of the man’s death was botulism, a serious food-induced illness that causes paralysis. The source of the food poisoning was a traditionally prepared meal of birds in a seal. I don’t know what this particular meal was called, but from what I can find online, it could be similar to something called ‘kiviak’.

An article I found on Gizmodo unknowingly dubbed kiviak as the terducken from hell. It’s not as complicated as a chicken stuffed into a duck, and then stuffed into a turkey, but it is considered a fancy dinner. Simply put, about 400 dead birds (usually auk) are stuffed into a body of a dead seal and left under a rock to ferment for many months. Prepared this way, the seal’s fat tenderises and preserves it, which means that you can eat the entire bird raw, save the feathers. The innards turn into a liquid, and a popular way to consume it is by biting the head off and sucking out the juices inside. It’s the alternative to starving and is said to provide many nutritious vitamins during the cold dark winters in the far north. In fact, Foodista says that it’s a northern Greenlandic Christmas meal. Imagine that.

Unfortunately, it was discovered later that those birds in this special recipe, presumed to be larger birds called eider didn’t ferment so well in the seal and were the cause of the old’s man death. Too bad everyone initially thought that the guy had died of old age. It gets worse.

The tragedy continued when those same birds were served at the poor man’s funeral as a delicacy. His own daughter, a 46-year-old woman, died from eating those birds. Five more seriously ill people were admitted to Queen Ingrid’s Hospital in Nuuk. Others hallucinated from the food. Some people got so high that when the helicopter flew in to take the sick to the hospital, they shot at it with their guns, reported sources at the hospital and police station.

With a population of 57 this year according to Statistics Greenland, two deaths hits the settlement of Siorapaluk hard. It’s a tragedy that will affect the the town for a very long time. But how did it go so wrong? Apparently, a plastic bag was used to put the birds into the seal. This new additional element to the food processing is one explanation as to why the recipe went haywire.

The event sparked a discussion about food, hygiene and regulations in the Greenlandic media. The head of the Veterinary and Food Authority in Greenland, Asbjørn Brandt stated that this type of cooking requires tremendous traditional knowledge and that the authorities are working hard to educate the Greenlandic population about food security and hygiene.

So you think Greenlandic food is exotic? Find out what Greenlanders find a bit strange to eat.


The town of Siaropaluk, in Greenland’s north. Photo: cedrikb


12 thoughts on “Greenland turducken from hell: the real bird-seal meal

  1. Pingback: Quick Fact: 2 people in Greenland died of botulism after eating poorly... - Quick Facts

  2. In a sense, this gourmet meal turned wrong because of a bad fermentation could be compared to the Japanese Fugu dinner.

    Fugu is a fish wich has an extremely toxic gall bladder and there are specialized cooks which have to train for seveal years before they are allowed to serve it.

    Every year there are several deaths following the consumption of Fugu.

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  9. Its very sad to know about this incident. I can understand with a population of 57 all will be like a family. May be its time to have some regulations for food and hygiene

      • There is a very interesting BBC documentary I watched which described the preparation of kiviak in detail.

        It is in fact similar to the way Biodynamic preparations are made, and which apparently rely on the same (or similar) natural processes (or forces, if you prefer). “Biodynamic preparations” are natural fertilizers but augmented by using forces common in nature but not usually acknowledged in traditional methods in modern society.

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