One of the many surprises about Sweden was the quality of the food. And the food of Swedish Lapland was even more unexpected. I’d had visions of a limited diet and meals designed to keep out the cold. But this is Scandinavia, where design is paramount. Food has become an art form, a pleasure to be enjoyed with all the senses.
The Wild Food of Swedish Lapland
Swedish Lapland has a cuisine all of its own. This is the land of the Sami, the traditional reindeer herders. Modern cities surrounded by hundreds of miles of untouched forest. It is perfect territory for the hunter gatherer. Of course it is true that the growing season is limited but the general principle is to use local produce wherever possible.
There is an abundance of wild food. Locally herded reindeer appears on most menus, but there is also grouse and a whole range of fish, including salmon and arctic char. Löjrom, a distinctive orange caviar harvested from the whitefish bleak (or vendace), is unique to this region. Vegetables are mostly roots and wild herbs, but nothing is wasted here. At one meal we were served “reindeer moss”, an improbably delicious lichen that reindeer feed upon. Then there are the berries: cloudberries, lingonberries, wild raspberries…
Traditional Techniques and Microbreweries
The local chefs are artists, creating an impressive range of dishes with the ingredients to hand. What they lack in variety they make up for in imagination and creativity, blending modern and traditional techniques. A feature of their cooking is an emphasis upon the drying, smoking, pickling and salting that past generations used to preserve food for the long winter months. A particular speciality is suovas, or smoked reindeer meat.
I was surprised, too, to find that Swedish Lapland is full of microbreweries, taking advantage of the fresh, clean water that flows in the rivers and the springs. You will find plenty of Swedish spirits here too. However high prices and social attitudes mean that alcohol is a pleasure to be savoured, not to overindulge in. Often the drink of choice is coffee, strong and freshly brewed. Especially in the ritual of fika, the mid-morning or mid-afternoon break with coffee and cakes or pastries.
Tasting Menus and Live Cooking
Our group was privileged to enjoy two different tasting menus, showcasing the very best in Swedish gastronomy. The first was at the CJ restaurant in Luleå, a stylish restaurant where as much attention had been paid to the décor and the table settings as to the appearance and taste of the food. Each course was presented to us by Stefan, the Norwegian chef, and Petter, the sommelier. The words “from my garden” featured regularly as they described the ingredients! Each course was a work of art in itself, from the reindeer with potato cakes, vegetables and berries to the shot of apple, birch and gin.
The following evening we experienced “live cooking” at the Kaptensgården, housed in an old farmhouse in Gammelstad Church Town. The idea of live cooking is that the food is caught locally and prepared as the guests watch. Johan entertained us with tales of his hunting expeditions while he and Evelina filleted the fish, plucked the ptarmigan and piled caviar into quails’ egg shells. Again the food was a visual treat, each plate carefully adorned with sprigs of herbs or a dash of colour contrasted sauce.
A meal is most memorable when it appeals to all the senses, combining taste, smell and texture with a strong visual appeal. I’ll remember the food of Swedish Lapland for a long time.