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Finnish food culture

4 minute read

Credits:: Harri Tarvainen

Finland’s cuisine is built around fresh, natural ingredients gathered straight from the waters, fields and forests

Get to know the local ingredients and delicious dishes you simply can’t miss when visiting Finland.

Finns are known as leaders of research and innovation. But when it comes to food, they tend to favour tradition. Finnish cuisine differs from neighbouring Scandinavian countries because it has one foot on either side of its borders – Russia in the East and Sweden in the West.

Since day one, the Finnish diet has been built around surviving the harsh conditions of our northern climate. Growth seasons are dictated by the cold, meaning many local products are only available for a limited amount of time.

These days, you can buy just about anything your heart desires in Finland. But go local while you’re here, and you’ll be in for a treat!

Credits: : Elina Manninen / KEKSI
Credits:: Elina Manninen / KEKSI

Cereals and grains – made from scratch

All hail the golden crop of Finnish soil, oats! And what’s not to love about the latest boom of oat milks, creams and yoghurts, not to mention pulled oats, which are an extremely tasty alternative to meat? Make sure to taste this decidedly Finnish innovation!

If you’re more into traditional foods, stick to good ol’ porridge. This hearty delight can be enjoyed at any gas station, hotel or café for just a few euros. Warming, filling and incredibly tasty, it’s best served with a spoonful of jam or a little fresh butter.

Tip: When it comes to local grains, think bakery and check out pastry chef Teemu Aura. The bakeries carrying his name and signature pink bun tracks are called Pullabiili, and they can be found throughout the Helsinki region offering classic Finnish buns, flaky croissants and sourdough breads. All these treats are made from scratch and combine culinary creativity with high-quality ingredients.

You’ll often see a bread basket on Finnish dinner tables. Bread – most often made of rye, wheat, or oat – is served with a side of butter, margarine, or cream cheese. Finns absolutely love their bread and eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner!
Credits: Emilia Hoisko

Fish – another staple of the Finnish diet

Whether it’s tasty salmon soup, fillets of perch, pickled Baltic herring or smoked vendace, the list simply goes on and on. Best consumed fresh at food markets, delis and restaurants throughout the country, fish dishes are the heart of the Finnish diet. Unsure what to try? Go for smoked – it’s the archipelago’s signature way to enjoy the fruits of the sea. Or make some memories on a fishing trip, where you can catch and prepare your own. Contact the local tourist information points for tours.

Tip: Crayfish parties, or “rapujuhlat” (“kraftskiva” in Swedish), are a Swedish tradition the Finns adopt during late summer’s crayfish season. These small fresh-water lobsters are considered a gourmet treat, which is why they are feted in style – often accompanied by plenty of schnapps and special crayfish songs. If you’re invited to one of these parties, do say yes!

Finns love smoked fish, whether it’s white fish or salmon. Finnish fish dishes are often flavoured with lemon and fresh dill.
Credits: Elina Manninen / KEKSI

Fresh, juicy berries are the gold of Finland’s forests

Plentiful and sweet when in season, lingonberries, woodland strawberries and blueberries taste best when they’re picked straight from the forest or purchased fresh by the litre at a local market. Off-season and outside of the warmer months of the year, local jams with cloudberries and the notorious sea-buckthorn are the preferred way to enjoy Finland’s berry bounty.

Tip: Enjoy your berries dried and ground. METTÄ Nordic offers the exciting flavours of the Finnish forests in powder form. Buy a bag or two and try this delicious addition on breakfasts and snacks at home!

Looking for the sweetest berries in the Finnish forest? Go for small woodland strawberries or bilberries (which are often referred to as blueberries).

Mushrooms – ceps, chanterelles, false morel and list goes on..

Under the Everyman’s right, you can pick almost anything your heart desires while visiting Finland’s forests. Just be mindful and check the local rules if roaming in national parks or other protected areas.

Tip: Please don’t pick mushrooms unless you’re an experienced forager. Guided mushroom-picking tours, like the ones offered at Hotel Punkaharju in eastern Finland, are always the safest bet for beginners.

Finnish superfood innovations have exploded onto the world’s markets

From Beanit’s plant-based protein products made from Nordic Fava beans to locally brewed kombucha drinks by Good Guys Kombucha in Pirkkala, Finland’s food companies are always thinking ahead.

Tip: Want to try Finland’s superfoods? Go wild with an herb foraging class. You’ll not only return with a bag full of fresh greens, you’ll also get to try forest bathing, another Finnish. Foraging trips can be organised through companies such as Feel the Nature, and Finland, Naturally Experiences.

 

Hungry for more? Here’s a list of iconic foods and regional delicacies beloved by locals and visitors alike. Make sure to try them all!

Leipäjuusto – delicious dairy product

Leipäjuusto, known as “Squeaky Cheese,” is a mild, incredibly tasty cheese that’s typically made of cow’s milk. First, the milk is curdled, then it’s baked it in the oven, and finally, it’s cut into thin wedges and served. The exterior of the cheese gets its spotted black and white colouring from the heat of the oven, and it’s Finnish name means “cheese bread” (since it’s baked like bread). The end product is a yummy cheese with a deliciously squeaky consistency.

Tip: Leipäjuusto is often served with cloudberry jam as dessert, but the traditional Sámi way of eating it is to dip the wedges in hot, black coffee. Try it to experience the perfect blend of smooth, fatty cheese cut by hot, bitter coffee.

Leipäjuusto can be found in almost any grocery store. It’s usually sold in the cheese section, and it comes as a semicircle or slice.
Credits: Harri Tarvainen

Mild but full of flavour, Finnish salmon soup

Finnish salmon soup is a classic that’s served both at home and in restaurants. The most popular version features creamy white broth studded with salmon, onions and potatoes and garnished with a handful of dill. You’ll find this delicacy on the menu at many restaurants and cafés – it’s a true comfort food that will warm you up on a winter’s day.

Endless varieties of new potatoes

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 of new potatoes available in Finland are seemingly endless and certainly mouth-watering. You’ll find that Finns can talk about new potatoes forever, as the little spuds hold the promise of summer. Look for them starting around midsummer and expect to see statistics on the harvest in all the local papers.

You can buy fresh new potatoes at marketplaces across the country. Usually, they come from local farmers – just look for the sign that says “uudet perunat.”
Credits: Elina Manninen / KEKSI

Poronkäristys from Lapland

Reindeer are found in the northern province of Lapland, and according to recent research, their meat is one of the healthiest you can put on your plate. It’s high in B-12, omega-3 and omega-6 – and it’s lean and delicious! Served alongside mashed potatoes, sautéed reindeer is a Finnish treat that’s eaten throughout the country, all year round.

Credits: Soili Jussila

Kalakukko – a local delicacy

Describing this local delicacy is difficult, but it’s essentially a combination of salty vendace and fatty pork that’s then wrapped in a rye crust and baked in foil. Best served alone or with heaps of butter, this delicacy is most delicious at its origin: a busy marketplace in Kuopio in Finland’s Lakeland. Loosely translated as “fish rooster,” this iconic pie’s name makes absolutely no sense, but it tastes incredibly good! And fun fact: the name of this unique delicacy has been granted protection under the EU quality scheme, along with Karjalanpiirakka, or Karelian pie.

Karjalanpiirakka – a sublime pastry

And speaking of Karjalanpiirakka, Karelian pie is the crown jewel of Finnish cuisine. This sublime pastry is originally from the eastern province of Karelia, and with its filling of delicious rice, potatoes or carrots enclosed in an incredibly crisp rye crust, this buttery delicacy will win you over in no time. It’s best served with plenty of fresh butter or a serving of egg butter-spread.

Tip: You’ll find Karelian pies at any self-respecting Finnish marketplace, café, supermarket or gas station. Fresh, unbaked pies can also be purchased and baked at home!

Credits: Julia Kivelä

Ruisleipä – made from sour dough

Ruisleipä – or rye bread – is a staple of the Finnish diet. While there are many varieties, the most popular and widely available is reikäleipa, meaning “bread with a hole.” People used to hang their bread on poles from the rafters, and while it’s dense, flat and very heavy, many Finns will actually have it sent through the post while they’re living abroad.

Näkkileipä is the cracker version of rye bread and there are many varieties, including the internationally-sold Finn Crisp cracker. These are eaten at breakfast with butter, cheese and other spreads, with soups at lunch or even as an evening snack.

Rieska – Finnish flatbreads

Rieska is made with dough from a variety of local grains that’s then shaped into a chapati-like bread (or “kovaohranen”). If they’re baked with potato dough, they’re called “lepuska.”

The magic of this flatbread lies in its freshness. Prepared on the same day they’re consumed, these savoury delights go great with heaps of butter and scorching black coffee.

Tip: Try a different flatbread in each place you visit. Hopefully, you’ll have the chance to taste the local Savo variety, which is made with sour milk.

Korvapuusti – a pastry enjoyed with a cup of coffee

Korvapuusti translates to “slapped ears” in English, but these pastries are essentially cinnamon buns. And while Finland doesn’t hold a patent on cinnamon buns, it probably should. Usually enjoyed with a cup of coffee (Finns consume more coffee and, perhaps, more cinnamon buns than any other European nation), it can be difficult to stop at just one. Or two.

Nowadays, you can find vegan and gluten-free korvapuusti in many cafés and pastry shops.
Credits: Julia Kivelä

Bilberry pie – adored by all

In July and August, bilberries paint the Finnish forest. You’ll want to pick and freeze them for winter (like the Finns do), but these berries are best enjoyed in the summer months, whether on their own or in homemade pies. Although most Finnish berries can be made into pie filling, bilberry pie, or mustikkapiirakka, served with fresh milk, is one that’s adored by all.

Chocolate from Finland

Chocolate isn’t exactly a Finnish invention, but it’s prepared and sold all over the country. One place to enjoy it is at Brunberg, a famous chocolate shop in Porvoo. In operation since 1871, this family-owned and operated business offers a wide variety of tasty treats. Favourites include Truffles and Kisses, which have become hits among those who love high-quality chocolate.

Fazer, another family-operated chocolate brand, can be found in any Finnish café, supermarket or kiosk – their products are even sold as souvenirs in the airport’s duty-free shop. The company produces the country’s most iconic chocolate, Fazerin Sininen, which is loosely translated and commonly known as “the Blue.” This chocolate, along with Fazer’s licorices and other sweets, are frequently shipped abroad, and their company-operated cafés are scattered throughout Finland. They serve Karelian pies and salmon soup, too!

Credits:: AdobeStock

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