Fine Dining on the Alsek River

Readers are asking, “What did you eat?” and, “How were the meals?” On previous back country trips, taken on our own, meals were often freeze-dried, one pot affairs. Tasty, but hardly “quality cuisine.” Not so on a rafting trip run by Canadian River Expeditions. In addition to their logistical and rafting skills, our guides were master chefs, constantly surprising us with a varied menu of wonderful meals.

On offer every morning before breakfast was coffee, fresh fruit and a mixture of hot Red River cereal, granola and oats mixed with dried cranberries and raisins and served with milk or yogurt. That’s the first course intended to get the early risers started. Then there would be an egg frittata served with hash browns, or perfectly poached eggs Benedict with hollandaise sauce, ham and parsley on a toasted bagel or English muffin, or pancakes and maple syrup, or lox with lemon, cream cheese, red onions and capers on bagels, or banana cinnamon muffins cooked in a Dutch oven and served with fresh butter, or “toads in a hole,” or French toast. We never eat such massive breakfasts at home.

Lunch was usually served during a break on the river. We would exit the rafts, go for a little walk, and come back to tables set with cold meats, fish, cheese, hummus, veggies, bread or wraps for sandwiches. Salads were made of tabouleh, penne pesto, quinoa, rotini, wild rice and lentils, beans and cheese, or concocted from leftovers from the night before, such as Arctic char or cooked beef. On one occasion, there were barbecued caribou smokies with caramelized onions and pickle.

After we had set up camp and, relaxing with drinks before dinner, we enjoyed appetizers which could be guacamole, spring rolls, samosas, spanakopita, various dips, crackers and chips, melted Brie or other cheeses, smoked salmon, or any of a range of soups.

Dinners were the piece de resistance: Thai chicken curry in coconut milk; Arctic char and fruit salsa with herbed risotto; Moroccan stew with chickpeas, sweet potatoes, apricots, carrots, and quinoa; Lamb souvlaki with mint sauce, couscous and green salad; hamburgers with all the trimmings; pork tenderloin with apples, maple syrup, couscous and onions. Never the same thing twice. One night Whitey dressed up in a white shirt, Royce and Tyler donned bright-coloured shirts; on order were Mexican burritos with all the condiments. One of the last nights, steaks were grilled to taste over an open fire and served with potatoes and sour cream, and caesar salad garnished with croutons saved from the “toads in a hole” and freshly toasted. 

And then there were desserts. Strawberry shortcake with fruit and whipped cream, then chocolate mousse, freshly-baked brownies, carrot cake, sponge cake with butterscotch rum sauce, delightful delicacies done in a Dutch oven using briquettes. Whether it was the fresh air, the exertion, the skill of the chefs, or the ingenuity of the recipes, the cuisine made our Alsek trip a moveable feast. 

How do they do it? Apparently, much experience, precise planning, and food lockers on each raft including one stocked with meat arranged in order of the meals to be served and frozen solid by the butcher. As the trip progressed, the food lockers became lighter. The kitchen was stocked with a wide range of herbs and spices and all food allergies could be accommodated. All cooking was environmentally impact free, and all waste went with the rafts. Three stars for what they bill as “the finest Riverside dining in the North.”

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