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What is Finnish Food?

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“What do they eat in Finland?” I asked Mike, almost immediately after we found out we were headed there (this was quickly followed by “how do we not freeze to death?”). I couldn’t name a single Finnish dish, and I really had no idea what to expect. I mean, in a place so frozen most of the year, what could they possibly be eating?

Well it turned out Finnish food was pretty good. It’s simple and fresh, mostly local and organic. Much of it seemed utilitarian (food isn’t quite the pleasure and art form it is in say Italy- more on this next week), but pretty tasty nonetheless. Here are the highlights:

Meat and Potatoes

Of course. Any country so far north and so close to Russia is going to have a strong emphasis on these hardy staples. Nearly every meal came with some sort of potatoes (sometimes two!): mashed, boiled, fried or baked, sometimes with some other root vegetables thrown in for variety.

Meat was common too, usually pork, beef or reindeer. One of my most memorable meals was actually my first dinner on arrival. It was a traditional Karelian stew, which originates from near the Russian border. It was a rich baked stew of pork and beef in a kind of gravy. Served over mashed potatoes, it was warm and heavenly on a cold night.

Reindeer

Sorry to all of you Rudolph fans, but the Finns don’t just farm reindeer for fun- they are a major diet staple here. Very little of the reindeer meat is exported, it’s nearly all eaten domestically, in a variety of creative ways.

And yes, as I already suspected, reindeer are delicious. I would describe the taste as similar to buffalo- like beef but a tad tougher and more gamey. Over the course of a week I tried reindeer stew, reindeer roast, reindeer steak, reindeer pate and even reindeer pasta carbonara.

Fish

Finland is known for its many lakes and rivers, which means that fresh fish are a popular staple here, even in the winter time when ice-fishing is a popular past time. Whitefish, herring, salmon and or course arctic char are popular. I’m told the sushi in Finland is really quite good, although I didn’t get to try any.

Not being much of a seafood lover, I was nervous about eating fish in Finland. The one dish I did try though was incredible. At the traditional restaurant Laanilan Kievari, fresh caught white fish was grilled over the fire in front of our eyes than served on a bed of lemon scented mashed potatoes (natch).

Rye Bread

I love me a good bread and Finland really did not disappoint on this front. Most finish bread is dark rye bread- dry and sour, but so delicious with a generous pat of butter on top. You can find rye bread at nearly every meal and rye crisps are a popular snack.

Rye bread developed popularity because it is easy to store and takes a long time to go bad, however there are also some really delicious crusty wheat breads as well as barley and oat bread.

Berries

As I mentioned before, Lapland is known for its vast variety of berries, which by law belong to anyone who wants them. More berries than I even knew existed: Raspberries, cranberries, strawberries, bilberries (similar to blueberries), lingonberries, cloudberries, crowberries and more.

Berries are eaten on their own, with yogurt or porridge in the morning, in pies, as jam, with cream, as part of desserts, and even in soup. My favorite was this little bilberry pie with cream and even more berries on the side.

 Vodka

This one I already knew, thanks to Finlandia Vodka. Like all of those far northern European countries Finland distills vodka- sometimes in awesome flavors like raspberry and cloudberry (see my cloudberry martini above).

In addition to vodka there are a number of local liquors. Many are salty liquorice flavored (ick) like Salmiakkikossu or minty flavored (yum) like Mintu.

Chocolate

Shockingly, since they don’t seem to export it, Finland has really delicious chocolate! The market is dominated by Karl Fazer, which produces 65 million kilos of chocolate a year in a huge range of flavors (strawberry yogurt, honey, cloudberry etc.). They use real milk instead of milk powder like most brands.

On our way out of Helsinki Mike and I hit up the duty-free shop for giant slabs of Karl Fazer in dark, hazelnut and peppermint chocolate flavors. I’m currently hoarding them and doling out tiny squares. I can’t bring back the rye bread or the reindeer steak, but at least I have this… for now.

I visited Inari as  a guest of Visit Finland and Northern Lapland Tourism.

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24 Responses to What is Finnish Food?

  1. Mandy March 17, 2013 at 11:43 AM #

    I miss the porridge… its very important to the Finns. :) And the delicious pastries. Did you try some?
    I like you Finland posts, because i’m spending this semester there and last week I travelled to Lapland.

  2. Lauren, Ephemerratic March 17, 2013 at 2:43 PM #

    Mmm. That all looks good. I love how local the food is that you ate. Definitely jealous.

  3. Ayngelina March 17, 2013 at 6:48 PM #

    I love the bread there, it made me want to buy more of it at home in Canada but it’s just not as good.

  4. Sherry Ott March 17, 2013 at 8:03 PM #

    Vodka…a food?! Some nights it has been my dinner I guess!

  5. Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) March 18, 2013 at 3:25 AM #

    Oh yum, rye bread! We are currently in Vietnam which, thanks to its French heritage, is laden with delicious bread (a welcome change after 7 months here in Asia), but obviously that is of the baguette variety and no rye is in sight!

    While in Finland, did you happen to try this nasty salty licorice candy called Salmiak? We met a Finnish couple while CouchSurfing in Malaysia and they kept raving about the stuff and made everyone try it… needless to say, they were the only ones who liked it, but apparently everyone in Finland is a fan?

    • Steph March 18, 2013 at 7:59 AM #

      Yes, they are licorice crazy there! Definitely not my thing…

  6. Dalene March 18, 2013 at 4:44 AM #

    I still can’t believe we didn’t have any reindeer steak while we are there. Another reason to return…

  7. Erica March 18, 2013 at 6:32 AM #

    And now I want reindeer.

  8. Britany March 18, 2013 at 9:55 AM #

    I’m sure all that vodka helps people stay warm!

  9. Alexandra March 18, 2013 at 11:44 AM #

    Must try reindeer one of these days! I’m so intrigued!

  10. Hogga March 18, 2013 at 3:41 PM #

    I don’t know how i feel about eating reindeer but everything else looks delicious. Especially the vodka

  11. nicole @thewondernuts March 18, 2013 at 7:53 PM #

    Meat and potatoes…nothing wrong with that! Reindeer, I’m guessing Rudolph is pretty damn tasty! And I have no qualms with vodka.

  12. Amanda March 18, 2013 at 10:29 PM #

    Mmmm, that reindeer looks (and sounds) so good – as does the bread! Yum!

  13. Dariece - Goats On The Road March 18, 2013 at 11:02 PM #

    I love this post! I had no idea what Finnish food was before reading this. The meat and potatoes look delicious. I’d love to try reindeer one day. And of course, the vodka and chocolate look amazing!

    Cheers.

  14. cailin March 19, 2013 at 11:37 PM #

    This sounds so delicious Stephanie! Who knew they would have such great eats in Finland! I can’t wait until I get to visit someday :)

  15. Sarah P | Travelling Is My Passion March 21, 2013 at 7:11 AM #

    Your photos are so gorgeously crisp! Especially the one with the reindeer meat!

    As a christmas fan, the fact that reindeers are eaten is sad! But apart from that, I just wanted to say I can’t wait to make it to Finland! Looks like you had an amazing time eating in Finland! :D

  16. Rebecca Esther March 21, 2013 at 4:07 PM #

    I adore Karl Fazer chocolate!

  17. BeyondtheDiploma March 24, 2013 at 10:13 AM #

    Great list of yummy foodies. Fish looks good and Reindeer? Very interesting…Thanks for sharing Steph :)

  18. Gayla March 25, 2013 at 2:22 PM #

    I’m not sure about eating Rudolph, but I’ll try most any food once ;-)
    It all looks so good, judging by your photos. I’d really love try the Finnish recipes for root vegetables and breads and wild berries, even the fish and that’s saying a lot :-)

  19. eemusings March 27, 2013 at 3:00 AM #

    Oh wow! I’d definitely be up to try reindeer. Am a little surprised about the berries (and jealous – even in summer here we’re paying insane prices for tiny amounts!)

  20. Gordon Lethbridge May 20, 2013 at 4:42 AM #

    I have been to Finland several times and have always enjoyed the food there particularly the berries and chocolate. I also love the fresh salmon grilled over the open fire. The most memorable “foodie” experience was eating a meal, that featured reindeer meat, with the Sami community.

  21. bb October 14, 2013 at 6:42 AM #

    It isn’t `”it’s” it is its. FAAAIIILL

    • Steph October 14, 2013 at 9:41 AM #

      Thank you for the grammar lesson, random superior person on the internet.

    • Masha November 19, 2013 at 12:58 PM #

      You should have inserted a comma after the “it’s” and you missed a period at the end of your comment.

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