For New Year’s, I headed to the Finnish Lapland for about 4 days. A friend of mine is from around Muonio, and her parents and brother still live there. There were about 8 of us visiting her parents’ home, and I was the only non-Finn and the only person who had never been to the Lapland before, but it didn’t matter—I still felt incredibly welcome and very well-fed (unfortunately I don’t have many food pictures, so you’ll have to settle for shots of snow-covered trees instead, with a cameo by my friends’ awesome dog Amelie).
On most of our evenings there, dinner included reindeer meat. The first night was a soup of dried reindeer, rice, potatoes, and cream. I’d eaten reindeer once before, so I knew I liked it, but even after having it several more times, I can’t think of a good way to explain what it tastes like. It’s sort of like beef, but has a very distinctive smell when it’s cooking. I guess that’s the best I can do. Our hostess, my friend’s mother, made another reindeer soup as well, this one with smoked meat, carrots, and some kind of cheese—that one was probably my favorite. Our meals were always accompanied by several types of rye bread, which I found out after a few days were almost all made by our hostess as well. They were really good. As were her Karelian pies (Karjalanpiirakat in Finnish, Karjala pirukad in Estonian), which were thin and crispy (usually they’re more chewy) and the best I’ve ever tasted.
A had a few new culinary experiences. When we arrived in the Lapland, we first went to my friend’s father’s childhood home in Salmijärvi, where brunch was waiting for us. This included a baked cheese dish (I forget what it was called in Finnish, but I’ll find out), which was serve warm and sprinkled with sugar, cinnamon, and berries (we had raspberries and strawberries frozen from the summertime! I got to eat strawberries! 🙂). I also tried some very dark reddish-brown sliced meat, though I didn’t know what it was until the next day when I saw the package, which read hevosenpaisti. Thinking (hoping?) it was somehow just a name, I checked the ingredients: hevosenliha. Yeah, it was horse meat. I wasn’t really bothered by the fact that I had eaten it, I just thought it was interesting, especially when my friend told me it’s not all that common in Finland. But we both agreed the meat was rather tasteless and bland.
Four of us played a game of Trivial Pursuit that lasted two nights (the questions were translated for me, since my Finnish isn’t that good, and I was exempted from questions that were too Finnish-centric). The first night, my friend’s mother placed a plate of various cheeses on the table, but no bread or crackers. Then I noticed that everyone else was taking a spice cookie (piparkakku in Finnish) and loading cheese onto that. What an idea… a crisp, spicy cookie with blue cheese piled on it is really quite brilliant.
I could go on, but this post is getting too long. I don’t have time to write about the homemade waffles with jam that made an awesome after-ski snack, or the new milk chocolate Fazer bar with a creamy salmiakki filling, or the lanttulaatikko (rutabaga casserole) left over from Christmas dinner. But in conclusion, I can say it was a beautiful trip and a wonderful vacation. Happy New Year.