February 6 is samenes nasjonaldag, Sami National Day, which marks the first Sami congress that was held in Trondheim in 1917. It was during this congress that Norwegian and Swedish Sami came together to address common problems. It’s customary to give the greeting Lihkku Beivviin “congratulations” on this day and celebrate with all Sami.
The Sami are the northernmost indigenous people of Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula of Russia. Reindeer is their livelihood as well as berries and fish. Traditionally, the Sami were reindeer herders, guiding the animals on foot from the tundra to the summer pasture near the sea. Today, only a small percentage carry on this tradition of herding reindeer and those that do have more modern ways of guiding them.
The Sami diet is characterized by a lifestyle that’s reflective of their closeness to nature. They continue to live by a ‘nose to tail’ diet where every part of the animal is utilized and not wasted, including the hooves.
One of their celebratory dishes commonly served on the national day is bidos – a stew made with reindeer meat, carrots, potatoes and a little water. The central ingredient is the broth that develops when the meat slowly cooks in the water creating a rich, delicious, and distinctive taste that is reliant on the flavor of the meat. It can also include the bones as well as the heart.
There are slight variations of bidos, with some including thickeners or various vegetables and herbs. Before the introduction of potatoes in the 18th century, the main accompaniment to the stew would have been bread. Today, the stew is still served with bread, particularly gahkko (Sami bread) or flatbread and, for a sweet contrast, lingonberry jam.
This recipe is very straightforward and utilizes reindeer meat without the bones. You can substitute reindeer with another wild meat or even beef, but you won’t end up with the same distinct flavor and richness. You’ll have a stew, but not bidos.
Bidos (Sami Reindeer Stew)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 small onion, sliced
- 1 pound (500 g) boneless reindeer/caribou meat , cut into chunks
- 4 ¼ cups (1 liter) water
- 6 small potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
- 2 carrots, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
- 1 teaspoon salt
In a large saucepan or dutch oven, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onion slices and reindeer meat, browning evenly on all sides. Pour in the water and bring to a gentle simmer, uncovered, for 35-40 minutes, removing any scum that sits on the top.
Add the potatoes, carrots, and salt and continue to simmer gently for another 30 minutes, until the vegetables are cooked through.
Serve with fresh bread, flatbread, and lingonberries/lingonberry jam.