20 Feb Eating Blitzen
So I go into a cafeteria-style restaurant in Jokkmokk, Sweden and there is no menu posted. I ask the woman behind the counter what is available. In better English than I could ever speak Swedish, the woman replies “Bread. Reindeer. Hot. Cold.” When I pause she adds that they also have a cheese pie. Hearing that, I said “Great, I’ll take the cheese pie.” And she said “Reindeer with your cheese pie? Hot or cold?”
We hit an unexpected cold spell. It hovered between -35 and -40 C. (For those of you who are interested in the conversion, trust me, it doesn’t provide much relief. At -40, C and F are oddly the same.) Too cold even for the natives, too cold for cross country skiing and dog sleds and too cold to set up a tripod to take pics of the Northern Lights in the middle of the night…not that there was all that much activity anyway. So we busied ourselves with indoor activities: shopping and eating reindeer.
I had reindeer jerky (homemade), reindeer sausage, reindeer soup, smoked reindeer, fried reindeer, fried smoked reindeer, reindeer ribs and reindeer stir fried. I stopped short of reindeer heart and reindeer tongue, although my travel companions dug into that. I ate reindeer off a steam table and in a Michelin-starred restaurant in Stockholm.
For me, it was hard at first to wrap my head around eating reindeer. All I kept picturing was those cute little guys who pulled Santa’s sleigh. I could barely think of these as real animals, let alone food for an entire population.
The Sami…the indigenous people who live in this frozen area that I visited…are nomads. They are traditionally reindeer herders. They don’t know political borders and follow the herd from Russia, through Finland, Norway and Sweden. Reindeer are the center of their world, providing food, warmth, their livelihood. They could not survive without the reindeer…and I bet the reindeer couldn’t survive without them. Their world is filled with everything reindeer. My world was filled with a cartoon version. But as the trip progressed, my perspective on eating reindeer also progressed. .. from initial horror to sustenance to utter delight at that Michelin-starred dish in Stockholm…truly one of the better eating experiences of my life.
I learned a lot of lessons on this trip. The big one is this. We all see the world through our own perspective. And while the world doesn’t change, our perspective towards it can.
Reindeer will always be reindeer. But a lot depends on how you cook it.