Sustainable food may have become the newest fad of the culinary world, but instead of trying it out in just New Delhi and Mumbai, we suggest heading to a place where the food has been locally sourced and has been sustainable for centuries now: the Swedish Lapland. By Sudipto De
The rays of the sun have just started to grow long as afternoon approaches in the northern part of Sweden. The Swedish Lapland might not have gained as much fame as it’s Finnish cousin, but it is definitely taking giant strides in opening itself as a tourist destination. The Lapland is a stretch of Arctic winter wonderland stretching all the way across the Scandinavian countries of Finland, Sweden and extending into Russia. An expanse of white populated with cute huskies, gorgeous reindeer, the ever-friendly indigenous Sami (people) and the legend of Santa Claus. But I am here to tuck in some Souvas, fermented dried Reindeer meat usually pickled by the local Sami.
Although the Arctic may not conjure up thoughts of fresh produce, the Sami are actually quite well endowed. There are quite a few plump mushrooms, mouth-watering meats and juicy berries — the flavours of which are exclusive to the Lapland. Along with fish such as Salmon, Trout, Whitefish, Gravadlax, and Char. There is also some game meat such as that of the quintessential reindeer, elk, and moose. The proteins are countered with a plethora of root vegetables including, kale, beets and carrots along with a few local delicacies including the likes of almond potatoes and pointed cabbage. Pieces of bread are omnipresent in many different forms including thin and crispy, dense ones or whole grained ones. The Swedes are ardent cheese lovers as well; digging into quite a few local varieties at almost all of their meals. A usual plate of Souvas is always served along with some flatbread and a whole lot of tangy lingonberries. The acidity of the berries breaks across the chewy yet flavourful meat and provides for a freshness upon the palate.
Sustainable! Local! Organic! Farm to table! These may be buzzwords roaming around the food community for the past few years, but this has been the way of life in the Swedish Lapland for centuries now. Most of the food of the Laplanders are supplied locally from the farms, where vegetables are grown without pesticides and animals are raised without antibiotics. The locals appreciate a close and healthy relationship with nature by monitoring local animal populations while gathering wild mushrooms and berries. One of the major reasons the reindeer grown here tastes so good is because it is allowed to roam outside and eat to its heart’s content. Reindeer meat is not only restricted to being smoked as there is many different preparations including roasting, drying them into sausages, salami, pate, and jerky. In addition to these preparation methods, there is also some sirloin steak to try out. After feeding on mushrooms, greens and berries in summer, it produces a slice of fattier meat while you can find leaner, earthier meat in winters due to feeding on hay and lichen, another edible product quite common in the Lapland.
The best way to enjoy Lapland’s immense culinary potential is to trace it all the way to its beginning. Come autumn and the woods turn a shade of blue and orange and you can head in to forage for some of the wild blueberries, lingonberries, and raspberries along with mushrooms by the dozen. We follow it up with catching up our own whitefish before retiring to our hosts’ abode to cook our meal from the produce we caught. A Swedish rule called Allemansratten (every man’s right) allows any person to claim any of the produce in the wild, as long as it does not tamper with the balance of nature and this is what allows you to forage into the wild. Wash down all the rich, local food with some lovely crafted beer as scores of family breweries are creating a slew of tasty bubbly IPA’s.
One of my favourite areas to dig into delectable Sami cuisine is the Jokknokk winter market which takes place in early March. A 400-year-old tradition that goes back to the medieval era, it brings together Sami from all over Northallerton, the northern part of Finland, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Sit around a crackling fire and check out an interesting Sami dance or head out onto the snowy landscape on a dog sledge.
But eating these unique flavours doesn’t mean that you have to restrict yourself to the wilderness. Restaurant CG is one of the unique restaurants in Lulea serving out a smorgasbord of Elk steak, Jokknookk cheese and Arctic char. Operakallaren (Café Opera) is one of the best restaurants in the capital city of Stockholm to try out a pan-fried Reindeer fillet with star anise sauce while Fem Sma Hus in the city’s old town serves the fillet out with some wine sauce, potato puree and classic Vatterott cheese. Another restaurant in this part of town is Slingerbulten, where you can dig into some medallions served out with a potato gratin and lingonberries.
The Sami of the Swedish Lapland live off the land and their culinary marvels are something that you must try out.