Looking for a taste of Alaska? Take a trip on the Alaska Railroad
Tuesday morning, hundreds of sleepy passengers loaded up onto the Denali Star, which was headed north with stops in Wasilla, Talkeetna, Denali and Fairbanks.
The miles and the rolling hills zipped past the window, in a blur. Some people pulled out binoculars, peering through the birch trees, hoping for a glimpse of a bear or urban moose. Others, rocking back and fourth by the rhythm of the train, settled in for a cozy nap. Mornings on the train smell like freshly cooked bacon, reindeer sausage and French toast. The staff is quick with coffee refills and hot tea.
Food on the train is as important as the thrill of seeing wildlife.
This summer, the Alaska Railroad revamped it's menu adding at least one local ingredient to every meal.
An increase in travelers from India meant the railroad needed more vegetarian and vegan meals. You can order snowbird barley with coconut milk and barley from Alaska Flour Company, reindeer bolognese with Alaska reindeer and pork sausage from Indian Valley Meats tossed with penne pasta, Alaska chop salad topped with smoked salmon from Trapper's Creek Smoking Company, as well as the old-time favorites.
Maybe your meal will be made by Executive Chef, Alexa Stallone, who's favorite dinners involve Alaska seafood.
"I'm from Alaska," Stallone said. "I was born and raised here. This is the kind of stuff I grew-up eating, and I've always been in the tourism industry. That's something we really thrive on in Alaska."
The Tuesday train was especially busy, as more people headed north to witness more than 19 hours of sunlight.
Holly and Joe Holeyhochmuth arrived the night before, from Arizona. They declined the reindeer sausage, but toyed with the idea of trying it on the trip back to Anchorage.
"A little reindeer, who would want to eat that?" Joe Holeyhochmuth joked, while talking about Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer.
Jill Danieli, in town from Atlanta for a half-marathon, said she'd ordered the reindeer sausage for dinner and had to have it again for breakfast.
"I was like, 'I kind of, like, I'll try it,'" Danieli said.
According to the state, Alaskans spend $2.5 billion on food each year. They harvest 52 million pounds of fish and game, and the number of farmer's markets has tripled, since 2005. Alaskans like their meals, and are willing to spend money on good food. The railroad is banking on the idea that those ingredients are as appealing to people outside as they are to locals.
"I know that's (local foods) really something folks are looking for, when they come here," Stallone said.