7 Finnish foods that blew me away

Crayfish open sandwhich

Open sandwich with crayfish and fish roe

I had no expectations about Finnish food before I touched down in Helsinki. I craved seafood, I had my fingers crossed for cloudberries, but that was about it.

So it was a wonderful surprise to discover that this unassuming country has plenty of culinary highlights. Jacques Chirac had no idea what he was talking about when he declared that ˝Finland (is) the country with the worst food

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There is a refreshing simplicity in traditional Finnish food (maybe that’s why Chirac baulked) which is due largely to the reliance on what can be found in the forest and ocean. The cuisine has also been influenced by Germany, Russia and Sweden over time, so you might recognise a dish or ingredient here and there.

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Kauppatori market hall beside Helsinki harbour

The Finns have a fantastic market culture and Helsinki in particular has some brilliant market halls including Hakaniemi and the recently renovated Kauppatori, positioned right next to Helsinki’s bustling harbour.

If you find yourself in this northern neck of the woods then promise me you will try the following…

Lightly fried vendance

Lightly battered and fried vendance

Vendance (muikku)
These tiny fish are a traditional summertime delicacy, especially popular at markets during summer. Similar to whitebait, the fish are lightly breaded and fried, then eaten whole with garlic sauce or lemon. The mild umami flavour and crunchy texture were sensational and they were the perfect snack to enjoy on the boat over to the Suomenlinna fortress.

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Yep, that’s Rudolph in a can

Reindeer (poro)
There is a long tradition of hunting in Finland, focusing on reindeer, moose and bear. Put those warm and fuzzy childhood memories of Rudolph aside right now because you will be seeing him everywhere; in kebabs, as thick steaks, cold smoked, even canned. He’ll be sitting right next to the canned bear.

Reindeer kebab anyone?

Reindeer kebab anyone?

Comet, Cupid, Donna and Blitzen...

Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen…

Reindeer meat has a rich gamey flavour, very similar to venison, and is very lean. The slices of cured reindeer were very tasty but I didn’t go as far as buying reindeer in a can.

100% bear meat with only 90% bear...

100% bear meat. Ingredients: bear meat 90%. Go figure.

I was curious about the canned bear meat, but with a price tag of €20 for a tiny can, I decided my money could be better spent elsewhere… like on these babies!

A perfect Karelian pie

A perfect Karelian pie

Karelian pies (Karjalanpiiraka)
These addictive little pies have a thin wheat and rye crust filled with rice or potatoes and are often served with a mixture made from butter and mashed cooked eggs. They originate from Karelia, a region currently divided between Finland and Russia.

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Even 7/11´s are stocked with Karelian pies. And they taste fantastic!

They are absolute delicious and available everywhere, including supermarkets and 7/11´s. Not a day passed when I didn’t eat one or two… sometimes three : )

Salmon as far as the eye can see

Luscious salmon as far as the eye can see

Fish, fish and more fish
I couldn’t get enough of the fish, especially at the markets. There was so much! It was so fresh! The Finns are masters at the art of smoking and preserving, a necessity to get them through the winter months. Salmon is always a popular choice and you´ll find it cold smoked, raw with lemon, and served on open sandwiches.

Open faced sandwiches with fresh seafood

Open faced sandwiches with fresh seafood

I particularly fell for the open sandwiches, especially those being sold at the fish stands in the market halls. Toppings included cured salmon, crayfish and sardines. There was something magical about the combination of dense rye bread, lashings of butter and cured salmon in particular. So simple but so beautifully executed. I couldn’t get enough of them.

Fresh chantarelles at the market

Fresh chanterelles sit between other mushroom varieties

Chanterelles
These delicate mushrooms grow in abundance in the forests and mushroom hunting is a hugely popular pastime. The Finns use them in soups, sauces and stews and also love to pickle them. My favourite way to eat them is simply pan fried with garlic and butter. Lots of butter!

Rare fresh cloudberries

Rare fresh cloudberries

Cloudberries – so special they warrant their own post! If you are fortunate to be in Finland during the two or three weeks these precious berries are in season then YOU MUST BUY SOME. Read my previous post to find out why.

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Excuse me bartender, what is that brown stuff beside my cocktail…?

Mämmi
I discovered this magical stuff in the cocktail bar, Liberty or Death. My cocktail of choice, Kyröntappelus, came with a serving of strange looking gloopy dark brown stuff which my bartender informed me was a dessert called mämmi, made from rye, molasses and orange zest.

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More mämmi please!

I gingerly took a bite and fell in love instantly. It had the consistency of a thick porridge and an amazing sweet flavour with malty undertones. I’d never tasted anything like it and i just wanted more. Luckily my lovely bartender acquiesced with some more samples.

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Mämmi with chocolate

Mämmi is traditionally eaten by the Finns at Easter, served cold with either milk or cream and sugar. I searched high and low for it afterwards and eventually found a variation with chocolate in the frozen section of the supermarket. So far I’ve had zero luck finding it outside of Finland so I am going to have to start making it myself and I think this recipe by the Finnish Food Girl could be a winner.

Do you have a favourite Finnish food that I´ve missed?

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4 comments

  1. dimshum · November 12, 2014

    The food looks so interesting!

    Like

  2. annaethain · November 13, 2014

    I have always wanted to visit Helsinki, now even more so! 🙂

    Like

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