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Swedish Lapland: Indigenous Sámi Souvas (that’s reindeer to you and I)

Souvas in Lapland

It’s icy out there, bitterly cold and the grass is now a shade of mint green, each blade with it’s little frosty jacket. I do wonder what it must be like in Lapland. Definitely, much worse than this. When I was there, this Autumn, it was already starting to cool down and I had a brief insight to your upcoming, and now very much present, Winter.

I had many fine experiences on my trip, one was an afternoon with indigenous Sámi people, who introduced us first to their herd of reindeer, and second, to one of their defining traditional dishes, souvas.

Souvas in Lapland

The Sámi people are the indigenous people occupying Sápmi in Northern Europe, an arc of land consisting of parts of far northern Sweden, Norway, Finland and the Kola Peninsula of Russia. They are the only official indigenous people remaining in Northern Europe. Traditionally the Sámi people traditionally rely on a variety of livelihoods, including coastal fishing, fur trapping and sheep herding but their food supply remains almost entirely dependent on their nomadic herds of reindeer. Berries, wild grasses and lichens are also collected during the two brief summer months to supplement this.

Souvas in Lapland

Only 10% of Sámi are now semi-nomadic reindeer herders. The life in the harsh long winters is extremely challenging, but it is culturally and traditionally and therefore it is maintained. For this reason, reindeer herding is legally reserved only for Sámi people in some parts of the Nordic countries.

Souvas in Lapland

We met some in Kiruna, and tried their traditonal dish: Souvas. Souvas are made from reindeer meat by the reindeer herders. The meat is dry-salted and smoked in a traditional peaked tent for eight hours over a roaring open fire and is then fried and served with dense unleavened bread and lingonberries which would have been foraged by the herders.

Souvas in Lapland

Souvas in Lapland

The Souvas themselves are smoky, as you would expect, and intensely flavoured. Thinly sliced (think the thickness of a rasher of bacon) and fairly lean, they are very tender when hot with the juicy sour lingonberries a superb, mouth pursing and tart accompaniment. Dessert was a delicious little cup of foraged cloudberries and cream with tea that had been made over the fire.

Souvas in Lapland

Souvas in Lapland

Souvas in Lapland

There is little waste when they kill their reindeer for meat, they eat all edible parts and cure and use the pelts. When the animal is first killed they make a soup with the bloody and some of the offal, they smoke the reindeer hearts which are delicious with a very soft delicate texture. We ate the reindeer heart with candied angelica. Quite bitter and stringy, I didnt really take to this, but if there wasn’t a choice? Well, you’d just have to eat ot. It’s actually the only sweet thing that Sámi children used to eat (they now have access to sweets like the rest of us).

Lapland

Lapland

It was a fascinating and all too brief insight into their culture, culinary and otherwise. They live by foraging and eating only foods that are locally available. They do occasionally eat bear, alhough not often as bears are half god/half animal. In fact, each nomadic tent has two doors, one for people and everyday use, the other for carrying in bears and bringing out their dead.

We visited Nutti Sámi Siida. They arrange nature and culture experiences like the souva eating experience above.

Nutti Sami Siida
Marknadsvägen 84
981 91 Jukkasjärvi
www.nutti.se

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I like food. I like to make food. Eat food. Photograph food. Write about food. Mainly in London but when I am lucky or organised further afield.

4 Comments

  1. It is wonderful you had an opportunity to visit the Sami and see how they once all used to live. Last summer I was in Stockholm for a few days and learned about their culture in the Nordisk Musuem (and the controversial treatment by the Swedes). Real life is much more interesting than displays in musuems.

    I also came home with a cookbook written by Trina Hahnemann (it is Danish but the only one in English)

    Reply

    • Hi Sarah! It was a wonderful and educational experience. I would highly recommend a visit to Lapland – truly. I hope to go back soon.

      Trina’s book is wonderful. Her new one is out now too in English – The Nordic Diet.

      Reply

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