Restaurant NiliPoro: A celebration of fresh and wild local flavours of the North
By Ndéla Faye | Photos: Restaurant NiliPoro
In the pristine landscapes of Finnish Lapland, Restaurant Niliporo is honouring a rich heritage of reindeer herding and culinary traditions passed down from generation to generation.
Located within the wild landscapes of Levi, in Finnish Lapland, Restaurant NiliPoro wants to offer patrons more than just a culinary destination; it’s an homage to the reindeer and the importance they have held in the communities of the North for centuries. Levi is one of the most popular ski resorts in the country, and Restaurant NiliPoro is situated in the immediate vicinity of the ski slopes, making it an ideal pit stop for guests to try out some local delicacies.
The restaurant serves reindeer delicacies and traditional Finnish fare that marries the old with the new. For Esa Nilivaara, the restaurant’s owner, reindeer are a livelihood and a legacy as his family’s lineage is deeply rooted in the northern soils of Finland. For centuries, reindeer have been a focal point of life here: they have provided sustenance and warmth. They are a semi-domesticated animal, and they roam free.
The word ‘nili’ is an old word meaning a small food storage shed, perched high up above the grounds on wood stumps in order to keep the food safe from predators. Poro is Finnish for reindeer. Restaurant NiliPoro’s logo bears the symbol of Nilivaara’s herd’s earmark; a marking used to identify his own reindeer.
The vision for his restaurant was simple: Nilivaara wants to offer people authentic Finnish meals, made from local reindeer meat and prepared according to recipes passed down in his family, and inherited from his mother.
Restaurant Niliporo’s décor and atmosphere draw inspiration from the region’s rich culture and the wild beauty of Finnish Lapland. The walls are decorated with authentic reindeer hides and majestic horns, evoking a sense of connection to the ancient symbiosis between the people, the land and the reindeer.
A culinary ode to the region’s rich heritage
From the family’s own reindeer herd, Nilivaara crafts traditional dishes, incorporating berries and mushrooms foraged from the nearby fells and forests. The restaurant offers a unique blend of traditional reindeer delicacies with a modern tweak. “One of our most popular dishes is the reindeer burger, and poronkäristys – sautéed reindeer – served with lingonberries and mashed potatoes,” the restaurant owner explains.
In addition, there are vegetarian and fish options available, and the restaurant also serves homemade rieska, a traditional Finnish flatbread, made with potatoes, rye or barley flour. “Our rieska is freshly baked every morning, using my mother’s recipe,” he adds.
Visitors can also see the reindeers roaming in the vicinity of the restaurant. “The young calves drink milk from their mothers and roam the nearby forests, eating all the fresh food the forests have to offer,” Nilivaara says.
A taste of Lapland
In the downstairs area of the restaurant is Nilikieppi, an intimate and atmospheric space for groups of up to 16 people. In Nilikieppi, diners get to taste a specially tailored group menu under a ceiling lit up in the style of the enchanting Aurora Borealis.
NiliPoro also has souvenirs and other items for sale: from reindeer horns and hides to hand-sewn clothing – and, of course, reindeer meat. “There is everything from minced reindeer meat to smoked reindeer, reindeer salami and reindeer tenderloin,” he explains.
Restaurant NiliPoro is a culinary ode to the region, inviting visitors from around the world to savour the unique tastes of Lapland. “The fact that these reindeer grow underneath the Arctic skies and feed off the land here means that this is fresh, wild, local food at its best. I want people from all over the world to experience the magic of Lapland, and offer exquisite taste experiences to all our diners,” says Nilivaara.
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