Even if you're small, you can help rinsing the fish. Photo: Anna Skielta

Roast reindeer and char

Traditional Sami food can be summed up in two words: meat and fish. The food has been supplemented with herbs and berries when these have been available. The dishes vary somewhat from area to area and between different families, although there are many similarities. If the Sami in the past had been vegetarians, they wouldn't have survived!

In the past, food consisted of masses of fish that people caught themselves. The fish was eaten fresh, salted, dried and smoked. In addition, the Sami ate a lot of reindeer meat, either fresh, dried or conserved according to old methods. Elk meat and bear meat were also eaten. Flour and salt were purchased.

The Sami used every part of the reindeer, and this knowledge lives on today. They even use the skull, hooves, marrowbone and blood. The intestines and the reindeer's stomach can be cleaned and used to make black pudding and buoidecalmmas (a type of smoked, minced reindeer meat mixture). In the past the reindeer were milked, and cheese was produced in low basins. Reindeer milking is not practised any more. In the 1930s many Sami had their own mountain cattle and goats, and they made their own soured milk, cheese and butter, but this practice has also ceased.

The Sami dishes have not changed, but new dishes have been added through external influences. However, nothing can beat a proper renkok (reindeer stew)! Once a reindeer has been slaughtered, the fresh meat, usually from the back, is cooked along with a piece of fresh liver, bread baked with blood and rye flour, as well as black pudding made of reindeer blood and flour. This is eaten with potatoes, soft, sticky bread and a drink of broth. Dried reindeer meat is a delicacy. In the late winter and early spring, the meat is salted, smoked and hung up outside in order to dry in the air. In some areas the meat is not smoked. Smoked reindeer meat that has not been dried is called suovas, and is fried in thin slices.

The most common fish on a Sami family's dinner table are own-caught scaly fish. These include char, whitefish or freshwater salmon trout. They can be boiled or fried, and are usually eaten with butter and potatoes. Fish cakes, a type of potato dumpling with roe and fish intestines, is one old dish that has almost disappeared.

When possible, herbs and berries were also used in the past as part of the diet. During the summer months, the Sami picked all the edible berries they could find, thereby providing themselves with necessary vitamins. Cloudberries, lingonberries and bilberries are a natural part of the diet in the north.

Something that many elderly Sami remember is the mixture of reindeer milk and herbs such as mountain sorrel and/or buds of the angelica flower. The plants were first cut and then boiled to make a green pulp. When the pulp was heated with reindeer milk, the milk thickened. This porridge could be saved in a keg through the winter. Leaves from mountain sorrel can be picked and boiled to make a porridge. The tender stalk of the angelica can been eaten fresh. The stalk is peeled and eaten raw. It is also good when toasted over the fire.

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