To truly immerse yourself in the culture of the country you are visiting, exploring the culinary space is not only educational but delicious. Finland’s landscape of sea, farm and forest offers a diverse food scene filled with traditional items that support their philosophy of eat local and simply, to dining on the dishes created by extraordinarily talented chefs.
The following is a small sampling of foods and flavors that exemplify the Finnish lifestyle. As you plan your trip to this beautiful Nordic country, check out this list of places to visit along your foods of Finland journey and tips on how to try it all.
Foods of Finland
You may have strong opinions on the taste of licorice, but in Finland, it is a well loved flavor. Salmiakki or salty licorice, is different than what you get in the United States. The Finnish variety has a salty flavor that comes from the ammonium chloride. It’s found in many recipes including ice cream, candy and meat dishes. There is even a liquor called Salmiakki that is licorice flavored.
One of the best reasons to dine at the breakfast buffets in Finland is for the vast assortment of breads. Instead of choosing just one type of bread to order, you can try them all at a buffet. And I highly recommend you do that. Most of the breads are dense and filling. You taste the “homemade” in each bite. Finns will top their bread with butter, meat or cheese.
Of all the breads on the table, there is one type in particular that is a staple in the Finnish household. Rye bread. Known as Ruisleipa, the bread is made from sourdough. It is 100 percent rye bread made with Finnish yeasts that give it the dark, dense texture. There are a number of varieties of rye bread including a thin, crisp version that is similar to a toasted pita bread that is eaten for breakfast with butter, soup or as a snack. This is so popular that there is a line of Finn Crisp crackers sold internationally.
A memorable version is the round rye bread with a hole in the center that is called Reikaleipa. Finns would hang the bread on poles from the ceiling in their homes to keep it safe from rodents. This is a unique food from Finland tidbit!
Archipelago bread is a dark black colored bread that is baked all over Finland. With high nutritional value and a unique taste from the use of malt, it is served with cheese or salmon.
One pastry that is made with rye is called Karelian pie. It has a rye crust filled with rice, at times topped with chopped hard boiled eggs and butter. It is found everywhere in Finland as it is eaten as a part of a meal or as a snack.
Food Halls are a great spot to talk directly to the experts about meat, fish and cheese. In this case, we are talking “Aura” blue cheese, one of the most popular cheeses in Finland. Named after the Aura River in Turku, the former capital of Finland, this cheese is a soft and crumbly cow’s milk cheese. Emmentaler is a well known type of cheese that varies in taste based on its ripeness. Black Label emmentaler is a sharp, full-bodied cheese, with a strong and nutty, sweetish-salty flavor. Tiny white amino acid crystals and water droplets — called “tears of joy” — are typically formed in the holes of the cheese.
(Juustoleipä or oven cheese with cloudberry jam)
Sweet Treats (to be eaten with a big cup of coffee)
Cinnamon rolls are nothing new until you try the Korvapuusti in Finland. It’s a Finnish sweet bread (pulla) that translates to “Slapped Ears”. The unique quality found in these pastries are the lovely infusion of cardamom.
Butter Eye Buns are decadently good. Made with lots of butter and cardamom, they are THE sweet treat to try.
Finland has a very strong coffee culture. They have the largest number of coffee drinkers per capita. The average Finnish person drinks 5-6 cups of coffee a day. Their preference is brewing coffee through a drip coffee maker. The Moccamaster is the coffee brewer of choice which is sold in the United States as well. (Note: I have one and love it as it makes very hot coffee) Eighty percent of the population drink really light roasted coffee. Espresso drinks are not yet mainstreamed in the Finnish lifestyle. Tip: Turning down an offer of a cup of coffee is considered impolite in Finnish society. In fact, coffee breaks are standard in the business world in Finland.
Foraging for Foods in Finland
In a country where 70 percent of its land is covered in forest, it’s no surprise that mushrooms, herbs and berries grow abundantly. In fact, foraging for your own food fits in perfectly in with the Finnish tradition of living off the land. The Finnish have a phrase called “everyman’s rights” which allows anyone to eat and pick berries and mushrooms from the forest. While there is a seasonality to berry and mushroom growth, it’s an experience to have when you go to visit Finland. Sign up for tours that will show you what berries and mushrooms are safe to eat, where the best spots are and the specific varieties of each. The ideal time of year to forage for these items ranges from July to October but fluctuates with the weather.
Lingonberry – These are considered an autumn berry and are bright red with a bitter taste if eaten individually. Best when prepared as a dessert, jam or sauce.
Cloudberry – They have the appearance of an orange raspberry. Usually served with cheese in a jam as they are naturally sour. They are considered a delicacy.
Sea Buckthorn – Found in coastal Finland, these orange berries are super tart.
Blueberry – Well known and loved fruit in Finland. Blueberry juice is a staple instead of orange juice.
Bilberry – Known as the European blueberry, they are smaller than blueberries. Finnish forests are covered in these blue gems throughout summer months. Eaten fresh, in jams or pies or a Finnish snack with yogurt.
Mushrooms are everywhere in Finnish cuisine. The selection of types of mushrooms is extensive. As a part of the foraging tour, you are taught the differences in types of mushrooms and which are safe to eat. Some examples of mushrooms found in Finland are:
- False morels
- Funnel chanterelles
With the belief in living off the land, the variety of meats found in simple to elegant meals such as meatballs, stews, steak, roasts and pasta includes the following:
- Reindeer – considered a staple in Finnish diets
When you think of Finnish food, you inevitably think of salmon. Makes total sense given the country’s proximity to the water. Salmon dishes in restaurants and even when browsing the fish section at the grocery store are extensive.
Blazed Salmon (Loimulohi)is a Finnish fish method of cooking the fish on wood placed on an angle in an open fire.
Salmon soup is a tradition in Finland.
Kalakukko, fish pie, is a unique dish where the fish is baked into the rye bread.
From an agricultural standpoint, the Finnish growing season of fifteen weeks makes root vegetables a large part of their diet. Finland offers 50 different varieties of potatoes as a result. Rutabaga, beets, celeriac and other root vegetables are incorporated in recipes found in restaurants and home kitchens.
Herbs found in Finnish dishes include caraway, dill, chives, coriander and fennel plus salt and pepper, of course. These flavors highlight the traditional Nordic taste found in foods in Finland.
(Salmon with root vegetables at Palema Restaurant in Helsinki)
On any vacation, where the next meal will be, is always a subject of conversation. At breakfast, we are talking dinner plans. In Helsinki and Turku, it is no different. When your intention is to learn about the culinary world of a city or country, then the foods of Finland should be on your bucketlist. With the focus on eating local, cooking simple but flavorful dishes and learning about new foods, this beautiful country is a culinary wonderland.