Nature throws open her larder door: Finnish cooking brings the produce of the forests and the lakes to the table. Nordic cuisine – Finnish cuisine included – is taking the world by storm. Fish, berries and meat in hearty stews and casseroles, it is comfort food Finnish style. Check out Marco Polo’s tips for the real Finnish culinary experience!
Traditional Finnish cooking is nutritional and plain, intended to make sure that a hard-working population gets through the long, cold winter. Depending on the time of year, restaurants serve the typical Nordic range of home-grown food prepared to tried and tested recipes. ‘Food fills you up’, so many a Finn says – and a lot of dishes taste like that, too.
The national cuisine has not always had the reputation of being star quality. But, if you keep to traditional dishes and regional ingredients, you will experience some praiseworthy culinary delights. On top of that, a lot of food is organic even if it does not come with a green stamp of approval – especially in the far north. Fruit and vegetables grow a long way from any industrial centres or towns and are pollution free. And, obviously, the meat of wild animals comes from those roaming free in their natural habitat.
Due to the climate, the selection of native fruit and vegetables is limited, one could even say paltry. But the Finns are proud of what Nature has in store for them and of what they make with it, and for a good reason. The Nordic cuisine has been right at the top of the food trend lists for a few years now. Traditional ingredients like beetroot, swedes and white cabbage are n being ingeniously transformed into gourmet experiences. However, hotpots, soups, casseroles, roasts and pies, such as the world-famous Karelian pies, still dominate everyday cooking.
International cuisine is very popular in Finland, especially in the larger cities. The standard repertoire in the restaurant scene comprises Finnish, Scandinavian and Russian restaurants, but these are now being joined by pizzerias, Asian restaurants and the fast-food chain Hesburger – a Finnish product. Vegetarian restaurants are also popping up in many cities.
If you like fish, you’ll enjoy going out for a meal. In a country with 200,000 lakes there are lots of excellent edible fish and a lot more off the coast as well. A particular speciality can be sampled in January in the Kainuu region: eelpout soup. The animals’ roe is served as caviar on blinis with sour cream. Ice fishing for pike, perch and bream starts as early as in March. Small whitefish that are commonly found in the lake district are grilled whole – a typically Nordic speciality.
On the coast you can savour wild salmon from the major rivers. The beginning of the crayfish season on 21 July is a culinary highlight which, due to the diminishing number of crustaceans, is becoming an increasingly expensive treat.
The summer is short and it is only after midsummer that the market stands start to fill up. Delicious strawberries, bilberries and raspberries – Finland is rich in such fruit – are longingly awaited. The yellow cloudberry, lakka, from the moors of Lapland, is a rare speciality. It is served as a dessert with junket and distilled to make a liqueur. If you want to know what a cloudberry looks like, keep your eyes open for a two-euro coin on which Lapland’s emblem is shown.
Autumn is the best time to enjoy game. Traditional Finnish restaurants serve elk, reindeer and wild duck; Russian restaurants also have bear on the menu. Game can also be taken home in the form of salami or ham. This can be bought in the markets in Helsinki, for example.
What you will find to buy in abundance in Finland are sweet things. Chocolate (preferably from Fazer) keeps the northerners happy during the long winter months. The same goes for ice cream. No, this is not a misprint – Finns love their ice cream despite arctic temperatures. Berry cake and pulla, a dessert bread with crushed cardamom seeds, are also very popular. One dessert that you can expect to find in the most remote corner of any national park is munkki. This is a yeast-based bread sprinkled with sugar that is not dissimilar to a doughnut.
Kahvi ja munkki: you will see this sign outside every café and also many a restaurant, inviting you in for a snack. Kahvi means coffee – the Finnish national drink that is consumed in huge quantities. Finland heads the EU statistics for coffee consumption and, at almost 12 kilos per capita, is far ahead of anywhere else. By comparison, the Americans drink on average 4.2 kilos and the British a mere 2.8 kilos.
Lots of alcohol is also consumed but is still very expensive, especially in restaurants. An ‘A’ licence denote that all alcohol drinks can be served; a ‘B’ licence covers wine and beer; a ‘C’ licence just low-alcohol beer. High-proof beverages and wines are only available in branches of the Alko concern.
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