In the bigger towns and cities across Lapland you will find a wide range of eateries. In addition to the regular Nordic restaurants serving traditional specialities such as Arctic char and reindeer in its various guises, over recent years there has been a profusion of Thai restaurants, which can make a tasty change to the ubiquitous pizzerias that line the streets of northern Scandinavia. Chinese restaurants and burger bars are common. In smaller towns, hotel restaurants are generally the best place to find quality food. Cafés can be a good place to pick up an open sandwich piled high with various toppings such as prawns or meatballs, though they are generally closed on Sundays. It is generally not necessary to book a table in a restaurant in Lapland.
Breakfast is a perfect way to fuel up for the day. Hotels and guesthouses in all three countries provide a generous help-yourself buffet (included in the room rate) with yoghurt, cereals, ham, cheese, bacon, egg, herring, coffee and juice. You simply take what you want and return to the table as many times as you like.
Lunch varies from country to country. In Norway (lunsj in Norwegian) it consists mostly of a sandwich bought from a café, whereas in Sweden and Finland you should look out for the set lunch special (dagens rätt/dagens lunch in Swedish; lounas in Finnish), which offers an extremely economical way of enjoying a good meal. Served from 11.00 to 14.00 between Monday and Friday, it generally consists of a choice of two or three main dishes, plus salad, bread, a soft drink or a low-alcohol beer and coffee – all for around 85–95SEK/€8–9. By switching your main meal of the day to lunchtime, you’ll save a packet.
Eating dinner à la carte in the evening is a more expensive undertaking, although much more so in Norway than in Sweden and Finland. Many mid-range restaurants in Lapland serve local specialities, in particular reindeer. While non-Scandinavians are sometimes wary about eating reindeer, it is without doubt the dish of choice for most people of the far north. In taste it resembles beef, though with a more gamey flavour. It’s extremely low in fat and comes in several varieties:
- Thin slices of sautéed reindeer meat (a bit like kebab meat to look at), usually served in a deliciously creamy mushroom sauce with mashed potatoes and lingonberries, are known as poronkäristys in Finnish, finnbiff in Norwegian and renskav in Swedish
- Suovas (Sámi for ‘smoked’) is salted reindeer meat, which is cold-smoked and served in small rounds
- The other main alternative is a regular steak of reindeer meat, mouth- wateringly tender and very lean, known as poronpaisti in Finnish, reinsdyrstek in Norwegian and renstek/renytterfilé in Swedish
Remember that by ordering reindeer from the menu you’re choosing to support a strategic part of the Lapland economy.
Finland is the cheapest country in which to buy alcohol, closely followed by Sweden, with Norway off the scale. All three Nordic countries operate a restrictive system of alcohol sales aimed at limiting the amount of alcohol people consume. State-run stores known as vinmonopolet (Norway), alko (Finland) and systembolaget (Sweden) are open office hours Monday–Friday and generally on Saturday morning and are found in the larger towns and villages across the region. They are never open in the evening, on Sunday or on public holidays. These shops are the only places to buy wine, strong beer and spirits – the only alcohol available in supermarkets is beer with a maximum alcohol content of 4.5°, in the case of Finland and Norway, or a watery 3.5° in Sweden.
Naturally, alcohol is available in restaurants and bars at higher prices than in the stores. In Norway you should expect to pay 85–100NOK for half a litre of beer in a bar; in Sweden around 75–85SEK; and in Finland about €4.50–6.50.