Dillingham, Alaska: I thought I knew a lot about the United States, but when I investigated this little town on an inlet in Bristol Bay, I was surprised by just how remote the area is. It’s isolated from any other towns and cities—there are no inbound nor outbound roads, and the only way to get to the area is by plane or by boat. The town has no movie theaters, and it only has nine restaurants (two of which are seasonal) and three stores. Churches, however, are in moderate abundance.
The area has only been known as Dillingham since after 1903, when a post office was built and named after Senator Dillingham from Vermont (his subcommittee had investigated the 1898 Gold Rush, but he’d never actually been to Bristol Bay.) Curyuk, or Curyung is the location’s name in the language of the original residents: the Yup’ik (not to be confused with the Siberian Yupik ). Explorers referred to them as Eskimos, and many Yup’ik people now self-identify with the term.
In Curyuk, or Dillingham, the Bristol bay sub-dialect of the Central Alaskan Yup’ik language is used. The Yup’ik language sounds relaxed with an even cadence, and its alphabet has guttural sounds similar to those of French and Arabic. An area of Curyung even boasts the world’s longest palindrome for a geographic name: Kanakanak, meaning “many noses”—a reminder of the 1918-1919 influenza.
One Yup’ik cultural icon appears to be a variety of traditional dance masks, some of which had designs that looked surprisingly modern, as if Pixar or Miyazaki had designed them. This one is supposed to represent the wind maker—the top controlling the winter winds, and the bottom, the summer ones. The tribe even has “finger masks“—mask-like, decorative rings worn while dancing.
While searching for relevant regional reading material, I found James Michners’ novel Alaska. It’s about 1, 300 pages, but I hope to finish it within the next couple of weeks by reading about 100 pages a day. It’s so good!
Let’s see what recipes are to be found…