Finnish Gastronomy – Experience Reindeer, Fish & Freshness Combined with Design

Written By Kaisa Kokkonen Published March 19th, 2010

The Finnish diet combines traditional country fare and upper class cuisine with modern continental style cooking. Spices have been adopted from both East and West. Finland—the country of over 60,000 lakes, endless forests, over 2850 miles of seashore, long winters and light summer nights—lies between Sweden and Russia.

Despite the high latitude (think Anchorage, Alaska), most of Finland is 18 degrees warmer than other areas at that latitude because of the warm Gulf Stream. In the two months of Finnish summer, the sun never sets, bringing the average temperature as high as 86 degrees F. Due to these factors, fresh foods and fresh fish & seafood are prevalent throughout the country.

Finnish cuisine appeals to both the eye and the taste buds, and has something special for every month of the year. In Finland, design textiles and tableware are an important element in the art of good eating. The names Iittala, Arabia are well known for the most sophisticated shoppers in Manhattan checking out the upstairs at Zabar’s.

Supermarkets and the country’s many indoor and outdoor markets give an authentic picture of eating in Finland. Nowadays a modern Finn shops for food in a self-service store: lots of bread, lots of milk products such as yogurt, milk, viili, rahka (quark), cheese, cold cuts and sausage. Convenience foods are also popular; even children can heat them up in the microwave.

Finnish Meatballs are probably at the top of the ‘best loved dishes’ list in Finland. Chicken is another popular choice, as is trout; often cultivated on fish farms, which has boosted fish consumption figures in recent years.

Salmon is used for making soup, or is grilled, fried or served in a casserole with sliced potato or as a filling in savory pasties (originally Russian, kulibyaka).

The indoor (kauppahalli) and outdoor market is a local attraction shown off to visitors. Many heads of state have tasted smoked Baltic herring straight from a fisherman’s boat moored at the quay by Helsinki market square (South Harbour or Hakaniemi) or sipped early morning coffee with a doughnut or a deep fried meat pasty at a market stall. Trust me – there is a strange attraction about those markets.

In Tampere, you can try the local black pudding with lingonberry sauce, while a must at the Turku market hall is ‘raisin’ or ‘saltwater’ sausage.

At the Pori market the autumn speciality are grilled lampreys, while Pieksamaki and Oulu both have their own versions of rieska flatbread. Rieska is fantastic used even to replace the Russian tradition of blinis.

North Karelia is the birthplace of Karelian patties. Although they are eaten throughout Finland, the Joensuu version, spread with real butter, is the genuine article. The thin rye crust is filled with rice and shaped ‘like a moccasin’, as their shape was once described by a friend of mine. My mother is Karelian – and I still recall my grandmom making those as well as other Karelian specialties. I don’t think some of them are super-healthy but they are excellent.

Pies and fish pasties have come to Finland from the east. The kalakukko fish pie is a well-known local delicacy from the province of Savo. The marketplace in Kuopio – where I spent 5 years – has caravans selling these round, loaf-shaped pasties filled with fish and fatty pork. Vendace (muikku) , perch (ahven) or rainbow trout (kirjolohi) and pork are wrapped in a rye pastry. Baked slowly at low heat, the fish will be as soft as sardines and the filling nice and juicy.

This article gives you just a basic glimpse into the Finnish cuisine. There is more to it. Think of a country that shares both Russian and Scandinavian heritage…how could it be boring!

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