Kopalhen – the dish that kills everyone but the northerners!

Kenneth Konkle/flickr.com
A person starts salivating profusely, they experience vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions, and, in most cases, everything ends with death.

Kopalhen is the national dish of the Nenets, Khanty, Eskimo, Evenki, and Nganasan peoples – and the most dangerous delicacy of the northern cuisine. If an outsider eats it, they’ll get poisoned and, most likely, will die.

Kopalhen is meat, fermented in natural conditions.  If it’s made from reindeer, the strongest and most fattened is chosen.

The animal is first kept hungry for several days so its stomach can fully clear. Then it’s strangled so that the skin is not damaged and there are no wounds inflicted. The carcass is then submerged into a swamp and covered with turf; a mark is left to find it later.

The meat spends the entire winter in water. Microorganisms form within,  altering the meat’s composition and enriching it with vitamins. But, at the same time, toxins are released - for example, neurine, which affects the human organism in the same way a chemical warfare agent does. A person starts salivating profusely; they experience vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions, and, in most cases, everything ends with death. Nonetheless, kopalhen will not kill those who are used to it - and getting used to such a thing is, well -  possible.

The northerners get acclimated to the dish since childhood, developing immunity against the poison. Moreover, the inhabitants of the Arctic coasts have completely different stomach acidity; it destroys the larvae of the trichinella parasitic worms. 

One small piece is enough for a fisherman to spend a whole day in the freezing cold on the drifting ice of the Arctic Sea (in these parts, kopalhen is made from walrus meat, which is submerged into permafrost).

What else can you do when it’s cold and you’re at the edge of the world?

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