Summer flavours of Lapland with Sámi chef Heikki Nikula

3 minute read

Credits: Aanaar

Heikki Nikula is a renowned chef who has stepped away from the fast-paced restaurant industry to write a book that does not exist yet.

If food is your passion, you won't find a better guide than Heikki Nikula, the award-winning chef who knows Northern Lapland intimately. Born and raised in Inari, he has a deep love for pure flavours and a special connection to the wilderness, which he sees as a source of the world’s best ingredients, just waiting to be picked or caught. 

For many years, Heikki was the head chef at the highly acclaimed restaurant Anaar.  However, he recently decided to step down, saying, "I wanted to have time for other things in my life. One of the things I wanted to do is write a book capturing our Inari Sámi culinary tradition, which does not currently exist in written form." 

It’s said that Lapland has eight seasons instead of four. So, what are some of the summertime tastes of the Sámi culinary tradition? 

Chef Heikki Nikula wants to capture Inari Sámi culinary tradition between covers.
Credits: Aki Mikkola

The midnight sun and flavourful berries

With the arrival of summer comes the phenomenon of the nightless night. Of all places in Finland, Lapland is the best spot to experience it. Even when the sun is at its lowest point in the sky, it stays visible above the horizon. This endless light contributes to the sweetest and most flavourful berries imaginable. According to Heikki, "You can really feel the energy that comes from within."  

The summer season is marked by an abundance of common berries, including cloudberries, bilberries, lingonberries, and cranberries, among others. The berry season lasts for more than three months, with cloudberries ready for picking in mid-July and cranberries staying good for picking until early October.

Credits : Harri Tarvainen
Credits: Harri Tarvainen

Fresh summer fish: A Lapland delight

While many associate Lapland with reindeer meat, it is a taste that is more typical in wintertime. According to Heikki, if he had to recommend one summer dish from Lapland, it would be grilled whitefish served with a sauce made from white wine, butter, shallots, vinegar, and spices, with mashed potatoes on the side. 

Fishing is a popular pastime in Lapland and ranges from fly fishing on pristine rives to trolling on majestic Lake Inarinjärvi. Lapland’s waterways are home to arctic char, trout, whitefish, and salmon.  

As a young boy, Heikki recalls going fishing with his family, including his grandfather, who was a fisherman, in Lake Inari or on the Juutua River. Endless blue sky, surrounded by nature, with not a soul in sight – for Heikki, that's the perfect summer day.

The perfect summer day: fishing under the blue sky, surrounded only by the subtle sounds of nature.
Credits: Salla Karhumaa

Foraging mushrooms and wild herbs in Lapland

The forests and national parks of Lapland are a treasure trove for mushroom pickers, particularly for those seeking the sought-after porcini mushroom. August is the best time to pick these delicious fungi.  

In addition to mushrooms, Heikki also forages for herbs like angelica to add depth of flavour to his dishes. 

However, foraging for mushrooms and wild herbs requires caution, as some can be poisonous. Heikki emphasizes the importance of knowing what to pick and what to leave, saying, "If you don't know what it is, leave it in the ground." 

Foraging for mushrooms is like treasure hunting. Just don’t pick anything you're unsure about.
Credits: Salla Karhumaa

Heikki's picks: Best restaurants in Lapland

Sometimes, it's nice to let others do the foraging and cooking. Heikki, with his extensive knowledge of Lapland's culinary scene, offers his top picks for dining out. He highly recommends Aanaar, found near the Juutua rapids in Inari, for a memorable dining experience that brings the wilderness to your plate. 

For a more casual and rustic experience, Restaurant Tapio in the woods of Posio is a must-visit. The owners take pride in using local and wild ingredients and cooking in harmony with nature. 

Finally, at Sky Kitchen & View on the outskirts of Rovaniemi, the talented team offers dishes inspired by the flavors, scents, and sounds of Lapland's wilderness. A meal here is a sensory journey through the heart of Lapland's cuisine. 

For more restaurant recommendations beyond Lapland, have a look at our selection of best restaurants in Finland

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