By Matthew Ygelsias
Unlike little goyische children, I never believed in Santa Clause and always knew there was no such thing as an elf. Unfortunately, this skepticism got a bit out of hand, and so until embarrassingly recently I thought there was no such thing as a reindeer. To me, it was merely the third leg of the Great Christmas Stool of Lies. In reality, however, the reindeer is a very real, albeit fligthless, animal. And not only real, but really delicious. I had some in Finland last week and it was so good that the next time I saw it on the menu I immediately ordered it again and it was . . . really good.
The flavor, as you would expect, is definitely of the “red meat” genre and over to the gamier side. It’s very lean and yet, as served to me, was incredibly tender. I would hypothesize that the delicious flavor stems from the animal’s means of cultivation. The reindeer served at the Finnish table isn’t a hunted wild animal, or a farmed animal, but rather a herded and only semi-domesticated beast that mostly grazes on its own in Finland’s empty north where land is not expensive and there isn’t a large economic premium on efficiency. Consequently, you’re looking at your ultimate grass-fed (well, actually they like to eat lichen, too) animal but one that’s sufficiently under human control to be bred for good flavor.
It’s also an expensive meat which may contribute to the high quality — it’s not worth a restaurant’s while to try to serve reindeer unless they’re confident that they can serve it well.
Meanwhile, though we don’t have reindeer herders or reindeer meat here in the United States it turns out that we actually do have reindeer. It’s just that for some reason we call the reindeer of North America “caribou” even though Wikipedia assures me that they’re the same.
Long story short, if you’re ever at a restaurant in Helsinki and see reindeer on the menu order it pronto. I recommend Nokka in particular.