Finns are passionate about their food and they know how to celebrate it.
Finns are also fiercely loyal to their culinary roots.
Although you can buy just about anything your heart desires in Finland these days, go native when you are here and you will be in for a treat.
In Finland, market stalls everywhere overflow with seasonal produce and local delicacies. Festivals mark the arrival of favourite foods throughout the year.
Finns even name pastries after their poets!
We’ve compiled a list of ten iconic foods that you SHOULD try – go on, don’t be shy.
In the rush and crush of modern life, the rarities are what we value most, such as space, quiet and time. The space to breathe, a time to dream… you can find these treasures in Finland, where the lakes are many and the people are few.
These pastries originated in the eastern province of Karelia. This is the mythical birthplace of Kalevala, the epic 19th century poem that has become an essential part of the Finnish national identity.
Karjalanpiirakka or Karelian pies, as they are also known, fit into your hand and melt in your mouth. The crust was traditionally made with rye flour and filled with potatoes, rice or carrots. They are particularly delicious with an egg butter spread on top!
Kalakukko are similar to karjalanpiirakka, but bigger in size and made with fish. They are most commonly filled with muikku, a small herring-like fish found in the Lake District of Eastern Finland. People used to think of kalakukko as a packed lunch, the pie containing everything you needed for a complete meal.
A Finnish summer is not complete without grillimakkara. These big, fat sausages made for grilling are eaten with mustard and washed down with beer. Finns love them. Children grow up eating this snack food at the summer cottage but also during winter around a campfire.
Ruisleipä – rye bread – made from sour dough, is a staple of the Finnish diet. There are many varieties but the most popular and widely available is reikäleipa, meaning “bread with a hole”. People used to hang their bread on poles from the rafters. It is dense and flat and and very heavy but Finns will have it sent through the post when they are living abroad. Never mind the cost.
Näkkileipä is the cracker version of rye bread and there are also many kinds, including the internationally-sold Finn Crisp cracker. They are eaten at breakfast with butter, cheese and other spreads, with soups at lunch or as an evening snack.
Korvapuusti translates into “slapped ears” in English but they are essentially cinnamon buns. And while Finland doesn’t hold a patent on cinnamon buns, they might seriously make the best. Usually eaten with a cup of coffee (Finns consume more coffee and perhaps more cinnamon buns than any other European nation), it is difficult to stop at just one. Or two.
In July and August bilberries paint the Finnish forest. They are everywhere and could cause a sense of panic if you are not used to seeing them in such abundance. You will want to pick them all and freeze them for winter. Which the Finns do but they are best enjoyed in the summer months, on their own or in homemade pies. Although all Finnish berries can be made into delicious pies, bilberries served with fresh milk is the one known and adored by all.
Another wild Finnish berry is the lingonberry which is tart and often made into jams and juices. But by far the most exquisite of the berries is the cloudberry, which grows in the north of the country. Bright orange and sour, it is a delicacy whose appearance in the southern markets is fleeting and highly anticipated each summer.
Silli ja uudet perunat
New potatoes with herring (silli). New potatoes with fresh lake fish and chantarelle sauce. New potatoes with fish roe (mäti). New potatoes with just a knob of butter, some dill and a little salt.
The variations are endless but equally mouth-watering – the Finns can talk about new potatoes for a long time, as the little spuds hold the promise of a summer still uncorked. They start to appear around midsummer and their harvest makes the local papers each year.
How can something so simple be so divine?
Crayfish parties or “kraftskiva”, were originally a Swedish tradition that the Finns adopted and celebrate with finesse each summer. These small fresh water lobsters are considered a gourmet treat and they are not cheap. Which is why they are feted in style. Elegant and elaborate parties are thrown in honour of the Crayfish season which runs typically between July 21st and early fall.
Reindeer are found in Finland’s northern province of Lapland and their meat is one of the healthiest foods you can put on your plate according to recent studies. It is high in B-12, omega-3, omega-6 and lean. And it is delicious!
Served with mashed potatoes, this dish is eaten throughout the country, in all seasons.
Known in English as “Finnish Squeaky Cheese” and also called Juustoleipä or “cheese bread”, this mild cheese is most often made from cow’s milk but can also be made from reindeer or goat’s milk. The milk is first curdled and then fried or baked in a pie tin and cut in wedges. It is most delicious with cloudberry jam!
You can find these iconic foods in the markets and restaurants across Finland but there is no where better to sample the local fare than in someone’s home.
Also not to be missed while in Finland: Salmiakki (salty liquorice) which almost all Finns are addicted to and Fazer Blue chocolate which you will pine for after you’ve gone home.
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