Top 10 Things to Eat in Ketchikan

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Dubbed the “Salmon Capital of the World,” Alaska’s southeastern-most city of Ketchikan relies heavily on commercial fishing, making it an excellent place to try fresh crab, halibut, salmon and other seafood. With a population of around 8,000, this small city is easy for cruisers to navigate by foot, with several restaurants and specialty food stores near the ships. Here are 10 signature foods to sample during a visit to this picturesque port, and where to find them.

Crab Legs
Fresh plate of crab legs at the Alaska Fish House
Credit: Alaska Fish House/Lindsey Bolling

The television show Deadliest Catch introduced viewers to the dangerous lives of crab fisherman in the Bering Sea, and a vessel once on the show, the Aleutian Ballad, is based in Ketchikan. The boat now offers tours for visitors interested in crab fishing, and several restaurants around town serve Dungeness and king crab legs. Both crabs have a sweet flavor, but the king is larger and meatier.

Where to find it: Stop by the Alaska Fish House (3 Salmon Landing) to try some fresh crab legs or crab cakes.

Salmonberry Jam
 Salmonberry Jam at the Salmon Market
Credit: Salmon Market

Salmonberries are plump, juicy berries that look similar to blackberries except they are vibrant shades of orange, red and yellow. They make excellent jams.

Where to find it:  Salmon Market (200 Main Street) sells these sweet spreads, as well as spruce-tip jelly (an amber-colored jelly with a floral flavor), rhubarb jelly and other berry preserves.

Fresh Halibut
 Fresh Halibut at Rose's Caboose
Credit: Rose’s Caboose

This mild white fish native to Alaskan waters can be found gracing menus around Ketchikan (and throughout Alaska). One of the most common preparations is battered and served with French fries (like fish and chips).

Where to find it: The chefs at Rose’s Caboose (4761 N. Tongass Highway) cook it to perfection in an unusual setting: an historic train caboose that ran along the rail tracks of Washington State in the 1900s. The caboose was brought to Ketchikan in the late ’80s and converted to the little restaurant it is today. Rose’s Caboose is about three miles from the port; taxis from port run around $10 to $15, or a public bus costs $1 each way.

Seafood Chowder
New England-style clam chowder served in a bread bowl
Credit photo by Ayako | CC BY

While Juneau is known for crab bisque, Ketchikan is notorious for seafood chowder. The thick, white New England-style chowder is often served in a bread bowl and loaded with local seafood such as scallops, halibut and salmon (or a combination), as well as potatoes, celery, onions and spices.

Where to find it: Try the seafood chowder at Annabelle’s Famous Keg and Chowder House (326 Front Street) or Alava’s Fish-n-Chowder (420 Water Street).

Fireweed Honey
Bee perched on a fireweed flower
Credit photo by debbie_sonberg | CC BY

It’s difficult to miss the beautiful fuchsia-colored fireweed flowers sprinkled around Alaska’s landscape, and several businesses in Ketchikan are using the nectar to produce delicious honey. It’s an amber color with a smooth, buttery flavor, and it tastes amazing over yogurt or in tea.

Where to find it:  Alaska Wild Berry Products makes this delicate fruity-tasting honey, and visitors can pick up a jar at Salmon Market (200 Main Street).

Assorted of salmon at Salmon Market
Credit: Salmon Market

Salmon season runs the same time as the Alaska cruise season, May through September, with July and August being the peak months. There are five types of salmon: king (Chinook), which is the most desirable, red (sockeye), silver (coho), pink (humpy) and chum (dog). The first three are superior in flavor and are fattier with more omega-3 fatty acids. The last two are most used for canning, and local Alaskans typically avoid eating them only because the flavor is not quite as good — plus, they know they can hold out for the best options since it’s all so readily available in the area.

Where to find it: The Alaska Fish House serves fried salmon, grilled salmon, salmon in tacos and even in breakfast hash. Alternately, stop by Chinook & Company (307 Stedman Avenue), a 10-minute walk from the ships, or Salmon Market for canned smoked salmon to bring home.

Fudge, Popcorn or Chocolate-Covered Oreos
A variety of candies and chocolates at KetchiCandies in Ketchikan
Credit: KetchiCandies

While these treats aren’t unique to Ketchikan, they are perfect snacks while shopping or strolling along the downtown area, and the homemade recipes here are excellent.

Where to find it:  KetchiCandies (315 Mission Street) has caramels, chocolate-covered pretzels and Oreos, salt water taffy, truffles and fudge. Or, a perennial favorite, Orca Corn serves up gourmet popcorn from a cart located at 303 Mission Street.

Bull Kelp
Harbor seal swimming past Alaskan bull kelp
Credit photo by Florian Graner | CC BY

Kelp is long, edible seaweed that grows in the shallow, cold waters of Alaska. The kelp is harvested and blended with lemons and oranges into a tasty marmalade that can be spread on biscuits or toast. Some restaurants serve kelp relish and pickles with your order. Bull kelp is rich in vitamins and minerals and so offers multiple health benefits.

Where to find it: Salmon Market stocks bull kelp pickles and marmalade. Fire Productions

Birch Syrup
Kahiltna Gold Birch Syrup
Credit: Kahiltna Gold Birch Syrup

Tapped from birch trees, Alaska’s version of maple syrup is growing in popularity as it’s used on sweet pastries, in sauces (barbecue, sweet and sour, and marinades), on top of ice cream, mixed in candies, and drizzled over pancakes and French toast.

Where to find it:  Pick up a bottle at Fish Creek Company (13 Creek Street, the historic boardwalk), which also sells birch syrup caramels called “Alaskan Gold Nuggets.”

Reindeer Sausage
Eggs and reindeer sausage on pancake
Credit photo by Jeremy Keith | CC BY

Reindeer sausage has a flavor that’s similar to beef but gamier, and it is often used as a breakfast side or in a hot dog.

Where to find it: Skip breakfast on the ship and take a ride on the funicular (cable car) for $2 from historic Creek Street to the Cape Fox Lodge (800 Venetia Way). The Heen Kahidi Dining Room at the lodge serves the sausage during breakfast, and the window seats offer spectacular scenery. If you’d rather take some home with you, Salmon Market sells reindeer meats and salamis.

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