If you’ve ever wondered what reindeer tasted like.
Just as one may imagine, food in Lapland can be feasibly rugged but ultra fresh, ranging from gamey reindeer to buttery salmon. Just as its frigid landscape integrates with Norwegian, Russian and Swedish influences; the dishes you’ll devour in Lapland can be natural in preparation but multifaceted in history.
When you find yourself in the Arctic Circle, restaurants including: Nili Restaurant, Rakas and Sirmakko are quite popular. But discuss with your hotel concierge before your day of adventure begins, ask them to book a table at a restaurant they personally love. My preference tends to be: local, but good. Don’t lead me to where the tourists are. Of course, after a day of exhilarating sledding and sleigh rides, that’s exactly where we ended up. Too exhausted to move and eat anywhere else, we settled down with groups of tourists at the hotel restaurant. Regardless of where you indulge in an incredible meal, here are some local signature dishes that you certainly should try. Where else will you ever have raw reindeer meat paired with sips of lakka? Only in Lapland!
Best served raw, reindeer meat can easily be overcooked which transforms its taste to what I call: overly livery. Since the Arctic climate is too icy for cows, reindeer have roamed free in Lapland’s wilderness for centuries. The Norwegian and Finnish governments have designated reindeer farming solely to the cultural rights of the Sámi people, so every reindeer belongs to a farmer even if they roam wild during spring and summer. You can have reindeer meat as a pizza topping, burger patties, cold cuts, sausages, or traditionally sautéed. It’s typically served with mash potatoes and lingonberries. For a lack of a better description: it’s quite literally Christmas on a plate.
Since hunting in Finland is heavily regulated, Finnish hunters carry even more responsibility with an utmost respect towards nature. Elk is a popular gamey dish on the menu, as well as a wide variety of birds: willow and black grouse, capercaillie, and mallards. A traditional Lappish way of cooking elk is meatballs covered in lingonberry red wine, the dish will most likely come with creamy mashed potatoes.
The Arctic bogs are famous for berry picking especially during the months of July until September. In addition to cranberries that can withstand freezing weather, some other berries you may not see back home include: bilberries (northern blueberry,) cloudberries (orange-colored blackberries) and lingonberries that can be made into delicious jams and confections. Cloudberries, in particular, are the most expensive berries in the world and contain a high percentage of vitamin C. These berries often make appearances as side sauces on the menu, or made into liqueur. If you stop by a local shop, be sure to pick up a jar or two as tasty souvenirs.
Lapland arguably has the purest nature in the world, and pine mushrooms contain true taste of the Arctic woodland. Also known as matsutake in Japan where these mushrooms are considered as delicacy, the mushrooms in Lapland can be picked similar to berries. Consult with locals to differentiate edible versus poisonous. Otherwise, you’ll often see mushrooms on the menu as a side or garnish over gamey meat dishes.
Since Lapland embodies some of the world’s best salmon rivers, having smoked or raw salmon is a must. The Sámi people tend to enjoy slow-cooking the fish over an open fire or smoked for an aromatic taste. The most traditional dish in Lapland, however, is the salmon soup which you can order in most restaurants. Thanks to the purity of local water, other types of fish are also popular, such as: herring, trout, whitefish, grayling…and many more.
Along with an array of fresh fish available in this region, it’s no surprise that king crabs are also a foodie’s favorite. Normally discovered in extremely cold seas, king crabs are prevalent in Kirkenes – a town in Norway even further north of Lapland. Sweet and delicate, the meat inside the red shells are juicy and worth every cracking effort. Pair it with a glass of white wine, there’s nothing more rewarding after a day of enduring harsh winter snow.
Conserved by the PDO (Protected Designation of Origin,) lapin Puikula, or almond potatoes are unique to Lapland and only the ones grown in this part of the world can carry its official name. Often cooked as fries or mashed, almond potatoes garnered its stardom in the 19th century with its oval, almond-like shape in white or yellow. Despite cold climate, these potatoes contain a buttery taste and are less prone to diseases.
Leipäjuusto (squeaky bread cheese)
Slightly grilled and charred, leipäjuusto is also known as the “squeaky cheese bread” in reference to the sound each bite makes. The bread is made with reindeer milk while the soft cheese is fried. When dried, leipäjuusto can be stored up to several years. Served in shapes like diamond, locals tend to enjoy bread cheese with a cup of coffee and cloudberry jam.
This everyday Finnish flatbread is frequently made with rye or barley then served with butter or milk. Rieska is a staple in every household in Lapland, since it’s eaten as a tasty snack in the morning. Otherwise, it can be served with soups or stews.
When cloudberries are soaked in alcohol for two to six months, lakke is then fragrantly produced and ready to be sipped as you crowd around a campfire or inside a Lappish hut. Since cloudberries can only be grown in moors and marshlands near the Arctic, they’re also rich in vitamins and minerals, creating a sweet yet distinctive taste. Bring home a bottle so you can always indulge in the unforgettable memories of Lapland.