You’d think pickings would be thin on the national menu of a country that’s mainly mountains, forests, lakes and snow – but Finland has the rest of Scandinavia beat for unique and hearty foods! Come with me as I explore the cuisine of a realm that extends even farther north than Iceland!
Finnish Cured Salmon: A national favourite enjoyed round the world…
Yes, they do feature Pickled Herring as one of their national dishes – like most of the other countries that share coastlines on the Baltic Sea. But, as I hinted in the teaser paragraph, there’s much more to Finnish Food that that!
It’s the forests, lakes and sea that provide a lion’s share of Finland’s food. And according to those familiar with the cuisine, the Finns prefer their fodder fresh and minimally processed.
You may have seen, in the news, that Finland was recently proclaimed the Happiest Country in the World, as rated in a global survey. One reason for that may well be their food!
On our menu today:
Pickled Herring: Okay. Let’s get it over with right off the top (see photo, top of page). Finland is famous for its Pickled Herring. (Have you guessed that I’m not a fan?) The Finnish version, like its Polish cousin and others, is usually served with Slivers of Red Onion, fresh bread and beer or Vodka. Al;so like the pickled fish of other cuisines, the Finnish variety is often home-made, with each cook adding their own nuance of herbs and spices. It’s enjoyed as an hors d’oeuvre, a snack or the protein component of a full meal, with boiled new potatoes.
Lihapiirakka: Looks like a jelly-filled doughnut, but it’s bigger, and the filing is usually a mixture of cooked rice and minced beef. Then, it’s fried like a doughnut. Fillings may also include sausage and fried eggs. And there’s even a vegan version called ‘vihis’. Pretty much the closest the Finnish menu comes to ‘street food’.
Poronkäristys: You’ve been wondering, haven’t you? Well, here it is. Yes, Finland is the world’s foremost consumer of Reindeer. Called ‘Caribou’ in Canada and the Arctic, and ‘Elk’ in the lower 48 U.S. states (and more-southerly European countries), the Reindeer is actually farmed for food in Finland, as well as husbanded as a means of transport, sort of like sled dogs in North America.
Sautéed Reindeer: A Finnish favourite that doesn’t require low, slow coking for hours…
A favourite presentation, Poronkäristys features chopped, sautéed Reindeer with mashed potatoes and lingonberry compote on the side. But you can also get steaks and roasts. It’s a game animal, and as such has a strong flavour and is low in fat. Being low in fat, larger cuts need long, slow cooking to come out tender and juicy.
Ruisleipä: If you ask for bread in Finland chances are you’ll get a slab of their signature Rye Bread. It’s the official Finnish National Food, as voted in a national poll in 2017. It’s eaten at all meals and as a snack in between. Ham and cheese on rye is a favourite casual nosh.
Fish: A big part of the Finish diet:
Paistetut muikut: This is Fried Vendace, a small freshwater whitefish, prepared much like Sardines in other European countries. After gutting the whole fish is rolled in flour and fried in what one source refers to as ‘a generous amount of butter’. It’s traditionally served with mashed potatoes and a squeeze of lemon.
Kalakkuko: Finnish Fish Pie consists of whitefish, pork and bacon wrapped in a bread/pastry crust of rye flour. You could almost call it a ‘Fish Wellington’.
Finnish Fish Pie: Think of it as a sort of Fish Wellington!
It’s traditionally baked low and slow – for hours, actually – allowing the fish bones to soften and all the flavours to meld into something truly unique.
Lohikeitto: Like all northern countries with lakes and rivers, Finland boasts a plentiful supply of Salmon. They smoke it, fry it, roast it, and even pout it in soup called Lohikeitto. The fish is simply simmered with potatoes, carrots, and leeks. The dish can be made with a clear or milky broth and cream is often added before serving. In deference to the Salmon, a sprig of fresh Dill is often added as garnish.
Beloved Finish specialties include…
Leipäjuusto: Reminiscent of Indian Fried Paneer or Greek Halloumi, this dish is like a big pancake of Cheddar Cheese Curd; it’s slightly rubbery and squeeks when you bite into it. It’s often served with a topping of Cloudberry Jam. You may also find it cubed in a Finish Salad.
Karjalanpiirakka: Also known as Karelian Pie, this slipper-shaped delicacy consists of a rye flour pastry ‘boat’ usually filled with a sort of thick rice pudding and topped with ‘munavoi’, a spread made of chopped hard boiled eggs and butter.
Karelian Pie: A pan-Finlandian favourite! Often topped with chopped Hard Boiled Eggs.
In some places, they also fill the Pies with a mixture of shredded carrots and rice, or with mashed potatoes.
Salmiakki: This is REAL licorice the way the Europeans love it – not at all like the Licorice we know in North America. It’s rock hard and salty in the extreme. Finns call it ‘black gold’, and swear it’s addictive. Many folks carry a small bag of it when travelling to whet their palates.
And that’s your eye-opener on Finnish Food! Hope you’ll try some or all of the dishes profiled above. But I’ll give you a pass right up front on the Pickled Herring…
~ Maggie J.