Experience the unique flora and fauna of the Arctic by putting it in your mouth.
For travelers with an appetite for hearty, distinctive, environmentally-conscious cuisine, Swedish Lapland is a satisfyingly delicious destination. Thanks to a proliferation of ambitious chefs and upgrades to the culinary scene, Lapland is quickly coming into its own by reimagining traditional dishes, emphasizing high-quality local ingredients, and serving up engaging, extraordinary culinary experiences for visitors.
The region of Lapland extends across the desolate northern expanses of Norway, Sweden, and Finland, with Sweden finding itself sandwiched between the stunning geography of Norway and the more famous Lapland in Finland. No longer content with being upstaged, Sweden is establishing itself as exciting excursion stuffed with savory culinary delights, enticing adventures, and warm, welcoming locals who are eager to share what life (and good eating!) is like at the Arctic Circle.
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What in the World Do They Eat Here?
The Arctic does not normally conjure up thoughts of fresh and bountiful food, but, in a welcome twist, Sweden offers just that. Fresh produce, plump mushrooms, mouth-watering meats, and juicy berries abound, offering an array of varieties that are not often seen outside of these cold climates.
Fish such as salmon, trout, whitefish, gravlax, and char are a staple of the diet in Swedish Lapland, along with meats like reindeer, elk, and moose. A rainbow of root vegetables such as chard, kale, potatoes, beets, and carrots are plentiful, and offer a few delicious discoveries. Almond potatoes, a small, old variety native to the region is considered a delicacy to tuber enthusiasts, while the pointed cabbage is a delightful departure from the usual sphere.
Bread appears at every meal in all textures and styles — thin and crispy, dark and dense, light and fluffy, round and floppy, or packed with whole grains. The Swedes are cheese fanatics, and you can expect to find local varieties at most meals, as an accompaniment to coffee, or setting the stage as an appetizer.
Sustainable! Local! Organic! Seasonal! Each of the hot button responsible-eating keywords is applicable in Swedish Lapland. An abundance of far-flung and small-scale farms supply the region with organic produce that’s been grown without pesticides and animals raised without antibiotics, thanks to long distances (sometimes 30 kilometers) between farms.
Living off the land and in remote locations imbues the Laplanders with an appreciation for and close knowledge of their environment. The Laplanders monitor local animal populations, prohibiting hunting when necessary. Many are expert level mushroom and berry gatherers, knowing where to look and which ones to avoid. Visitors won’t find much tropical or out-of-season produce here—the people are keen to embrace their local goods and experiment with new, creative preparations.
INSIDER TIPSweden can be a challenge for vegans and vegetarians. Surviving the long winters and arctic blasts requires the consumption of heavier, rib-sticking foods, and the menus reflect that.
Trending Now in Lapland
The foodie concept is relatively new to Lapland–the trend only started to take off in the early 2000s. For many years lower incomes, long distances between people’s homes, and the prevalence of large families did not support a lifestyle beyond self-sufficiency. Today, those trends are reversing, as restaurants and local food experiences are popping up all over the region with world-class chefs and local farmers getting in on the action. Following the trend of many other culinary awakenings taking place around the world, Lapland is hitting its stride by rethinking local ingredients to suit modern tastes.
INSIDER TIPTo taste these modern twists on tradition, visit Hemmagastronomi in Luleå, Bryggargatan Bistro & Bar in Skellefteå, or Ångbryggeriet in Piteå for high-quality ingredients and inventive dishes that showcase the best of modern northern Swedish cuisine.
Free Range Animals
Many of the animals in Lapland, whether wild or domesticated, live wonderfully free lives. Animals are held in high regard by the people who depend on them for their livelihood, and that respect is reflected in the way the animals are treated. The native Sami people of Lapland have been herding reindeer for centuries, releasing them into wide areas so they can roam and eat to their heart’s content during the warmer months. The government of Sweden is actively influenced to pursue legislation that promotes animal welfare, and while no country is perfect, the practices used in Sweden are quite agreeable.
INSIDER TIPThere are also plenty of wild animals that roam the landscape, such as moose, elk, wolverines, eagles, bears, Arctic foxes, and owls. It’s possible to visit villages that boast a higher population of huskies than people, which is immediately the best type of village.
Reindeer 16 Ways
Traditional methods of preserving foods are alive and well in Lapland, allowing for limitless creativity while employing fewer ingredients. Reindeer is a shining example of this creative output, as the preparations include but are not limited to smoking, slow roasting, grilling, stewing, salting, drying, curing. It’s then made into sausages, salami, pâté or jerky. In addition to the preparation method, certain cuts are more appetizing than others, such as a velvety filet or a sautéed sirloin. The texture and flavor of reindeer meat is also influenced by the time of the year in which the animal is harvested. After a summer of feeding on mushrooms, greens, and berries, the meat is fattier and incorporates the flavors of the landscape. In the winter the reindeer feeds on hay and lichen, producing an earthier, leaner meat. Another highly enjoyable and less life-altering way of experiencing a reindeer is by standing face to face with one, marveling at its beyond-impressive set of antlers.
Many cultures observe a beverage-based ritual that peppers their daily lives, and the Swedish are no different. In Sweden, the fika is a coffee break that can be as simple as sipping a cup while chatting with a friend or it can be an event unto itself, taking place around a campfire where hot, steamy mugs of coffee are accompanied by soft cinnamon buns, fruit cobblers, and roasted sausages.
The fika is common practice throughout Sweden and Scandinavia in general, as every country in this region finds itself in the top ten highest coffee consumption per capita in the world. This epic coffee break combined with the slower pace and friendly nature of the countryside make Lapland an exceptional destination for enjoying a leisurely (and delicious) fika.
The Beer Coast
Homebrewing in Lapland is a popular venture, and an entire region of at-home brewers are realizing their dreams by opening their very own small-scale breweries. Craft beers are popping up everywhere as brewers are recreating styles from all over the world, taking cues from their more experienced beer peers in Europe and the US. Lapland is well on its way to peak craft beer – IPA’s are quickly becoming the new must-brew. Most of these breweries only supply locally, which means that travel to Lapland is mandatory to get a taste. For beer enthusiasts, this is a pale golden opportunity to try something special.
INSIDER TIPIn Sweden, the laws surrounding alcohol have not caught up with this new beverage trend, making it difficult to visit a brewery for a tasting. Fortunately, local restaurants stock these brews and are happy to recommend the proper paring for a meal. Look out for Skellefteå Bryggeri or Pite Bryggeri which brews its beer in an old potato cellar.
Living That Hunter-Gatherer Life
The people in Lapland are skilled in the art of living off the land. Hunting is popular but even more common is foraging for food such as berries, mushrooms, and all kinds of edible plant matter. In Lapland, berries and mushrooms are picked fresh nearby and on the same day they’re eaten, often by the person who is preparing the meal. Visitors get an opportunity to connect with nature by tromping into the trees to dig up their own bright fluffy chanterelles or stain their fingers on sweet juicy blueberries, knee-deep in berry bushes as far as the eye can see.
Lapland has a wealth of native berries that are found only in the high latitudes. Cloudberries, Arctic raspberries, buckthorns, lingonberry, blueberries, and currants are used in a variety of ways for sweet and savory dishes. Berries can be made into a compote, used in desserts and pastries, stewed in a sauce, or eaten raw.
Surprise! This Is Food
Food sources that are overlooked in temperate climates become a regular part of meals in Swedish Lapland. Birch sap, a clear, slightly sweet juice collected from the trunk of the tree, is consumed fresh or naturally fermented and is rumored to offer many health benefits. Spruce, pine, juniper, and the more familiar dandelion and rhubarb are solicited as a flavoring for honey and jams or baked into bread. Lichen, which those unfamiliar with the term may refer to as moss, is fried and eaten as a crispy complement to a meal.
One of the more unusual foods is kaffeost, a mild, squeaky cheese that is cut into small cubes and dropped into a hot cup of black coffee, often served in a hand-carved wooden mug. The cheese does not melt, it merely soaks up some of the coffee flavor and should be eaten intermittently while drinking. This tradition began with the Sami, who would reenergize their dried cheese by giving it a steamy coffee bath.
One distinct appeal to dining in Swedish Lapland is that the ingredients are so particular to the place that they cannot be eaten anywhere else. It is possible to find reindeer jerky in specialty stores at home but because it’s not part of the native landscape, it’s simply not the same. Experiencing cuisine within the environmental, cultural, and traditional context of a place is far more powerful and enjoyable than recreating it, and in many cases, the ingredients commonly found in Lapland cuisine aren’t available outside of Sweden. Lapland provides an opportunity to fully immerse one’s self in a culture, and in this globalized world, that is a novelty.
Bed and Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner
The people in Lapland know that powerful connections can be formed through food, which is why they are creating all-inclusive experiences for visitors to learn about the land and culture while dining on delicious homecooked, homegrown food.
Food plays an integral role at the farm stays Hulkoffgården and Stormyrbergets Lantgård, where nights are spent in charming cottages and meals are sourced straight from the farm. Visitors can tour the dairy farm at Svedjan Ost, hunker down in a remote village with an on-site chef and guided food tours at Huuva Hideaway, or settle into a rustic cabin for a candlelit dinner cooked by the guy who just took you dog sledding at Brändön Lodge.
Served With a Side of Warm Hospitality
The people of Swedish Lapland are eager to share their traditions, lifestyle, and food with visitors, and they want everyone to enjoy it as much as they do. People are friendly, welcoming, and quite often, fluent English speakers. When in Lapland, live like the locals. Have a fika with friends, tuck into a nourishing meal, sit around a crackling campfire, drink a freshly brewed craft beer, walk through lush, sweeping landscapes, and steam in a piping hot sauna.