Since 1605, for over 400 years, Jokkmokk’s wonderful Winter Market has been held annually beginning on the first Thursday in February. Attracting tens of thousands of visitors from around the world, the market remains the foremost meeting place for Sámi peoples across the entire Sápmi region.

Aaahh … what a wonderful feeling it is to wonder between the market stalls, listening to languages from across the globe reverberate into the pale-blue winter sky in a vaporous harmony of new encounters and experiences. Well known for unfailingly producing icy-cold conditions, merely being outdoors during the Winter Market is an adventure and experience in itself.

It’s not unusual for temperatures to plummet below the –30 degree mark. To get the most out of your market experience, it’s important to have the right clothing. Wear multiple layers of warm materials such as wool, or other functional fabrics, covered by a heavy-duty down jacket, and put on a sturdy pair of winter boots.

Add a fur cap and the warmest gloves you can find, and you’re all set for Jokkmokk.

The reindeer caravan, lead by Per Kuhmunen and his family.

The food, oh my God(s), the food

If you’re a fan of good food, you’re sure to relish the Jokkmokk Market experience. Indeed, the town has been nominated Food Capital of Sweden for 2014. Jokkmokk is the epicentre of Sámi culture, offering unique expertise on the region’s natural produce, including game – with reindeer the jewel in the crown – berries, herbs and game fish.

For some years now there has been a food market in Kaitumgården, in the centre of Jokkmokk, with around 15 local food producers offering premium quality fare and a host of enticing culinary experiences. We caught up with Karin Nordström, proprietor of Jokkmokks Bär since 2010.

Karin Nordström.

“I run a small-scale business centred around berries from the Jokkmokk area, including blueberries, lingonberries, crowberries and cloudberries. We produce jams, marmalades, syrups, beverages and mulled wine, and our philosophy is to use as little additives as possible and offer products which are naturally processed. Most of our customers come from the region, although we’re in the process of setting up an e-commerce site along with other businesses from Jokkmokk, where visitors will be able to purchase both products and services,” she explains.

Improvised tapas Jokkmokk style - Skabram cheese from Vuollerim, dried and smoked reindeer sausage with lingonberry syrup from Jokkmokks bär.

In a short time, Jokkmokks Bär has gained a big reputation for its natural, ultra-healthy berry products. Autumn 2013 saw Karin’s crowberry mulled wine scoop the gold medal in a national contest, while the popular blueberry syrup, the perfect accompaniment to locally produced Skabram cheese, was the brainchild of her culinary colleague, Greta Huuva.

“We were a group of food producers from Jokkmokk on our way to a fair in Umeå, and Greta came up with the idea of producing a tasty blueberry syrup – simple as that. We work really well together locally. Berries and sweet produce, and herbs and spices which taste great in combination with different kinds of processed game – together, we represent the tastes of Swedish Lapland,” adds Karin.

There are lots of places to get some delicous food in Jokkmokk and at the market.

Jokkmokk Winter Market
The Jokkmokk Winter Market was first held in 1605. The Market was created following a request from King Karl XI, who sought to exert control over trading in Lappmarken in order to collect taxes for the Kingdom. The Jokkmokk Winter Market begins on the first Thursday of February every year. Situated just north of the Polar Circle and with a population a little over 2,000, the small town of Jokkmokk is a tranquil gem on the border of Laponia, the only combined nature- and cultural heritage site in Scandinavia. Learn more by visiting jokkmokksmarknad.se.

The secret lies in the seasoning

At the back of the room we meet the renowned Greta Huuva, Jokkmokk’s culinary guardian and well-known proponent of Sámi cuisine. Together with Linn, her daughter, Greta runs Viddernas Hus, with the aim of preserving Sámi culinary culture and traditional methods of using wild herbs.

“Caring for our earth and natural surroundings is central to Sámi culture. Here, we process all our produce internally, using natural methods and avoiding additives wherever possible. We always try to utilise all our produce and keep waste to a minimum – for me, throwing food away is a painful experience,” Greta explains.

Spices you probably never heard of, yet they hold the secret to the Sámi cuisine.

Ever since the conference for indigenous peoples held in Jokkmokk, in 2011, attended by indigenous peoples from around the world, Slowfood Sápmi has been engaged with food, climate issues, traditional practices and the preservation of biological diversity. This is underpinned by respect for nature and produce, and an awareness of how we can minimise our impact on the environment so future generations can continue to live in prosperity.

Just like at Viddernas Café & Deli in the centre of Jokkmokk, where the Huuva family serve homemade cakes and lunch dishes containing locally produced ingredients – what else?

“Traditionally, Sámi cuisine is not so heavily spiced. In my kitchen I use classic Sámi spices in new ways – for example, Garden Angelica, a personal favourite previously used mainly as a preservative. It has a fantastic taste, which goes perfectly with game and fish. We make a Garden Angelica salt which has become a big hit, among others,” Greta adds.

Greta Huuva.

From tapas to street food, all local and free-range

The aromas from all the delicious produce make the stomach rumble and the mouth water.

We swiftly order an improvised tapas snack containing cold cuts of game, cheese, marmalade and bark bread baked on birch sap, young birch leaves and pine shoot syrup. We take a seat at a table in the centre of the market and start to dig in.

What follows is a veritable treat for the taste buds. The cold cuts feature assorted varieties of reindeer, including dried, smoked, sausage and heart, which dovetail perfectly with the local Skabram cheese – a cheese with a distinct hint of pine. We savour our feast on a bed of crispy bread, with an extra twist provided by the crowberry marmalade, at once sweet and sharp. It’s an experience you never want to end.

Our appetites whetted, we make our way into the throng of the market, and it’s not long until we reach the Souvaskungen food truck. Souvaskungen, who comes from Jokkmokk, is also a reindeer herdsman by the name of Nicke Nutti.

The Suovas-King knows how you like your kebab - with reindeer.

“At Souvaskungen we serve a local take on the kebab, with Souvas/smoked reindeer in pita bread baked in Gällivare, some 90 kilometres away. This is locally produced, natural street food of the highest quality. The Jokkmokk Market is important for us as it’s the largest winter market. During the summer we travel around the region to other markets, in Pajala, Överkalix and Kiruna,” says Nicke, as his queue begins to wind around the truck.

Street food dovetails perfectly with the market concept. Take the chance to sample local renditions of stir fry, kebab and hamburgers made from elk and reindeer meat, and whatever you do, you must try Ghakko, the delicious white softbread best enjoyed warm as the butter melts and dribbles down your chin.

It’s not the most graceful way to eat, but wow, does it taste good!

Nila Jannok.

From the Jokkmokk Market to Michelin star quality fine dining

Utsi Ren doubles up, running a table in the food market alongside a market stall in the middle of the lively market street. Founded by the Utsi brothers, Lars-Anders, Per-Ola, Jossa and Mikael T, the business has been going for all of 20 years. Now, the next generation has taken the helm to move the firm forward.

“We’ve seen an increase in demand for free range meat, such as reindeer. There are many vegetarians who make an exception by eating reindeer meat herded in accordance with sound practices, from animals living in freedom for around 350 days a year and subject to good ethics throughout the production chain. We’ve also seen demand rise for cuts such as briskets and legs, which was unheard of as recently as 4–5 years ago. These days though, it’s become fashionable to eat rustic food and consider the animal as a whole. This is a positive step. Among others, we supply produce to both Gastrologik and Oaxen, award winning restaurants in Stockholm, and others have shown interest,” explains Nila Jannok proudly.

Reindeer (and nothing but!) sausage. Smoked. Dried. And utterly delicious.

Small-scale production has been a unique selling point for Utsi Ren, providing the flexibility to cut and deliver orders precisely according to specification. They also process the meat; their air-dried reindeer sausages sell like hot cakes at market time.

“Our reindeer sausages are made exclusively from meat and fat from the animal. We don’t add flour, beef or pork, using only pure reindeer meat. The sausages are smoked in a cot for 10 hours and then air-dried for 30 days. We manage to sell everything we produce, and the market is vital, accounting for around 10 percent of our annual turnover,” explains his partner, Olov-Thomas Utsi, or OT as he is better known.

Tens of thousands visit the Jokkmokk Winter Market every year.

All roads lead to the reindeer

At Jokkmokk Market, there’s no mistaking that reindeer are a fundamental part of Sámi culture. Reindeer have been an integral part of Sámi life for thousands of years, from winter and summer pastures, from coastal regions to mountain terrain. Throughout history, reindeer have provided humans with food, clothing and materials for functional items, while in past times they were also used to transport everything imaginable between settlements. The market also features skilled craftsman selling arts, crafts and jewellery, with many items fashioned from materials derived from reindeer, such as hides and antlers. It’s an intriguing fusion of traditional Sámi styles and new, modern influences.

There are many young Sámi artists and designers, often schooled here in Jokkmokk, who give free reign to their creativity by updating traditional themes, helping to evolve the Sámi artistic genre.

Those with a passion for art and design have a great deal to discover here in Jokkmokk.

At market time, the Sámi folk high school becomes a focal point for art and handicraft, with exhibitions by a number of artists. The school nurtures the next generation of Sámi artists, and the graduation exhibition showcases the students talents across a range of styles and materials.

The reindeer race is a popular market event.

Art and design with passion

Sameslöjdsstiftelsen (The Sámi Handicraft Trust) – Sámi Duodji – is also based in the centre of town, and offers fantastic exhibitions and pieces for purchase from Sámi artists. The Viltlok sisters’ store (Systrarna Viltok) is another must see, brim full of Sámi art, design and handicraft, often with a modern touch.

And you can’t come here without visiting Stoorstålka, which stocks a host of beautiful leather items, including the iconic Sámi beak. You’ll also find exquisitely adorned belts and colourful weaved bands here.

You can learn all about the history and traditions of Sámi culture by visiting the wonderful museum of Ájtte in the centre of town. During the Winter Market, why not rest your weary legs by attending an informative lecture, or you can even visit one of the temporary exhibitions.

Lena Viltokk who runs the store 'Systrarna Viltok'.

A must visit, the local culinary gem for foodies

As the afternoon approaches our stomachs begin to make themselves heard, so we make our way towards Café Gasskas. At market time, this popular restaurant is open from early in the morning to late into the night.

We decide to eat a late lunch, with a hot char salad on the menu. Wherever possible, the restaurant serves food prepared with local produce. We caught up with chef, Kristoffer Åström, for a quick chat.

“Our basic produce is all local: reindeer, elk and fish. Gasskas offers a mix of music and food, with a variety of events held during the evening. It can be a good idea to book a table in advance, as we’re normally sold out. With seven different dishes, our tasting menu is the best way of sampling the best the region has to offer, including smoked capercaillie with parsnip puré, smoked butter and Dijon mustard ice cream,” explains Kristoffer, before darting back into the kitchen.

Spicy char salad for lunch at Café Gasskas.

The Jokkmokk Winter Market is an annual highlight, with a host of cultural events held during the evenings.

Indeed, it can be hard to keep pace with everything this little town has to offer. Colossal Sámi cots form a giant party zone in the main square, with Sami peoples from across the Sápmi region mingling with visitors from across the world.

The night is a long one, filled with new encounters and stimulating conversation. We pause a moment to soak up the dialogue around us: Sámi, Swedish, English, French and Japanese jostle for supremacy as stories are told and heard.

Just the way it should be.

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