Finland

Guide to Finnish Cuisine: Weird Finnish Food Is Best Food to Have!

Finnish food is the ultimate Beauty and the Beast style combo. They are notorious for fusing simple recipes and haute cuisine techniques.

We’ve got to give it to the Finns, they do have some amazing dishes. Jump on board for an adventure in Finnish food culture.

Stop With The Whining Already!

Finnish food is delicious and it’s fresh, and it’s a great way to explore the Finnish culture. So what is up with tourists flocking to McDonald’s?

This is your official warning to stop with it already!

You have the opportunity to travel the world, see Finland and it’s wonders. There is no need to get weird about the (slightly weird) food combinations. Here are a couple of amazing local foods to replace that Big Mac.

Grillimakkara

Finnish Food

This is the quintessential Finnish barbecue food. Sink your teeth into this thick sausage and wash it down with some cold beer like the Finns do.

For some bonus points, eat them around the campfire while gazing at the stars. Finnish people love to spend their summer weekends in cottages and guest houses around the countryside. Sunny days and warm(ish) nights are a big deal in Finland.

Silli Ja Uudet Perunat

When fresh produce comes around, Finns are quick to use what is in season. The harvest even makes it to the newspapers.

In June, when new potatoes come out on the market, you’d be crazy to order anything else on the menu. Restaurant chefs come up with new (sometimes wacky) toppings every season.

Here are a couple of our favourite options:

  • Herring
  • Hard roe
  • Simply dill, a dash of salt and tons of butter

So why are new potatoes a big deal? They are harvested early and they are still tiny, that’s what makes them a speciality. Most Finns do not even consider that summer has started before the new potatoes have come out. Virve Räisänen of Helsinki’s Restaurant Sunn describes his recipe:

First you boil them with lots of salt and dill – nothing else. Then serve them with butter – some people use onion, but butter is the main ingredient.

Fresh Produce And Finnish Food

Finns instinctively know the importance of eating fresh and local. In a country so far up north, you take everything nature can give. In summer, this means taking advantage of everything that’s in season.

Apart from the potatos, expect plenty of fresh fruit and veggies to pop up in creative, sometimes completely unexpected forms.

One beloved Finnish recipe calls for fresh peas (yes, straight out of their little pod) and new potatoes for a cream soup. You might associate cream soup with fall or winter.

I know my favorite is pumpkin and carrot soup with some buttered toast on the side. Well, that’s absolutely not what this pea soup is.

It’s fresh, you can really taste the vegetables, and it goes great with that sausage we talked about earlier. Or bacon. Because everything goes well with bacon.

A less common way to make use of everything nature offers is by cooking nettle. Yes, nettle may be unorthodox but it tastes great in soups and in different appetizers. You would even find nettle pancakes.

Salmiakki

For dessert… something salty! Salmiakki is salty liquorice that all Finns adore. Well, maybe not all Finns, let’s not generalize, but Salmiakki is still surprisingly popular in Finland.

Salty liquorice is a flavor you will hate. It’s liquorice, flavored with ammonium chloride. The chloride gives it a salty, “tongue-numbing” taste. Does not exactly sound mouth-watering, right?

Scientists have a name for flavours like that. They are called an acquired taste. It’s taste for something that you’re not likely to love the first time. For instance, it’s not hard to find a kid that loves candy? Why?

Because the sugar in it triggers pleasure hormones and because we are hard-wired to like sweet things (an evolutionary advantage, they have a lot of calories). On the other hand, no child loves coffee, wine, or bitter chocolate.

Contrary to what you might think, whether you like or hate the taste of something can be changed. Taste is acquired as you grow and various factors play a role – exposure is one of them.

What does that mean for salmiakki? You will probably hate it. If you haven’t every had salty liquorice in your life, it’s unlikely that you enjoy salmiakki.

Give it some time and it might grow on you (just like coffee did). Or don’t. But either way, try it with an open mind.

Midsummer Celebrations

From one cultural particularity to another. Midsummer is when the day is longest and the night the shortest. It is celebrated throughout the country with music, bonfires, and huge get-togethers that usually involve eating outside.

Finland is usually way too cold to eat in the open air. Only a few summer nights allow it and Midsummer is usually one of them. Needless to say, the food plays a huge role.

The muurinpohjalettu are an absolute must. These buckwheat crepes are prepared over the open fire. The goal is to get them as crispy and thin as possible.

Then they are paired with fresh cream and forest fruit – usually wild strawberries or blueberries. If you are having your Midsummers picnic in the countryside, you might even get to pick them yourself.

Roaming around in the fields is perfectly fine, even in areas where it would be trespassing if you were in the US.

Changing Tides

Finnish food is both simple and incredibly complex. Finns have embraced their traditions and love local products. At the same time, they don’t shy away from fusion trends and incorporating them into typical recipes.

The obvious trend in Finnish cuisine is going green. Finns are the third-biggest per capita consumers of Fairtrade products in the world.

They are rediscovering their cultural heritage and consuming more and more otherwise weird but traditional plants. Nettle is the perfect example here.

The carbon footprint of our diet is huge, Finns realize that. This is why more and more people are going vegetarian or vegan. Often it’s not an ethical or a health decision, it’s a decision of consciousness.

Restaurants cater to different dietary requirements a lot more. You could easily find a place your vegan friend will enjoy as much as your steak-loving dad. The gluten-free trend is in, too, with non-gluten options available almost everywhere.

Back To Bread

Sausages are nice and liquorice is kind of funny to try, but the true staple of Finnish food is bread. Rye bread is the epitome of Finnish cuisine and different regions have different ways of preparing it.

In the North, you would usually find unleavened flatbread. It goes well with the thick stews and soups they enjoy. Yes, it even compliments reindeer mear.

Go West for sweet and fluffy loaves. They are not big on toasting, but buying fresh from a local bakery is a must. The delicious smell will bring you there anyway.

In the South, where there are plenty of islands just off the coast, you have what is known as islander’s bread.

It’s a thick, sweet-ish bread, that doesn’t really go bad. When it gets a little dry, you would put it over the stew or whatever it is that you’re cooking and it reabsorbs moisture.

It will be very long before you have to do that though. Because they use such dark flour, the bread comes out thick and not too leavened. This consistency retains moisture very well and it’s as good as fresh for up to two weeks.

Sadly, this means you can’t have a nice crust. This is why Southerners love their toast. They usually pair it with salmon or herring.

You will find a lot of these tiny open sandwiches at events or even as a lunch option at restaurants.

Chefs are getting more and more creative with the topics, incorporating Italian spices or Japanese-style raw fish. Give both a chance, they are 100% worth it.

Functional Products

From age-old basics to futuristic food. The Finnish trend of scientifically designed functional products has been taking off outside the country, too.

Xylitol is the perfect example. This “tooth-friendly” sweetener may actually allow enamel to remineralize before dental cavities form.

But this is not all. You will find all sorts of smart foods in Finland, like gold-colored potatoes that have been enriched with carotenoids.

If you have lactose intolerance, you would be happy to discover the variety of lactose-free products available in Finland.

Since a lot of Finns are intolerant to lactose, there are tons of options. Virtually all cafés have a lactose-free option and a nut-based option for their milk. You can get all sorts of cheeses, yogurts, and other dairy products that don’t contain lactose either.

Ultimately, though, Finnish food is about enjoying what you have in a sustainable and respectful way. You would be fascinated to see how different food traditions come together into what is one of the most fun and diverse food scenes in Europe.

Get ready to eat Finland! Or, as the Finns would say, hyvää ruokahalua. Bon appetit!

Arlen Tanner

Arlen is your regular geek-turned-blogger who left the traditional 9 to 5 in the US behind for location independent lifestyle and constant travel. After exploring Eastern Europe first (mainly Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia), he settled in the much colder but even more beautiful Scandinavia area since 2016. And he's now here to share with you all the good things about living in the magical 5.

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