Fascinating Finland: Finnish food

by Chris on November 1, 2011

Finnish food: If you don’t eat fish or reindeer, you may be out of luck. But for those who do, the simple ingredients and clever preparations will win you over.

Finnish cuisine, salmon

I grew up in Minnesota, so I knew a bit about the good – and bad – aspects of Scandinavian cuisine (lutefisk, never again!). But I was surprised to discover that the simple flavors and natural ingredients of Finnish food suited me, and we ate well on our visit, particularly in Helsinki and Lapland.

Finnish food, salmon

I thought the Pacific Northwest was salmon crazy. Turns out that they have nothing on their Finnish brethren. I ate salmon at least once a day, sometimes more. No need for fish oil tabs! In the above picture, snapped at K17 Kitchen Cocktail in Helsinki, notice the cool silverware. Finnish design, of course.

Finnish food, mushrooms

Foodies have to visit Helsinki’s market , down on the waterfront. It was mushroom season while I was there, and the stalls were full of bright orange and yellow chanterelles.

Finnish food, lingonberries

Berries are also popular, and you’ll find lingonberry garnishes on many dishes. Their bright red color perks up any dish, no doubt appealing to the Finns’ innate sense of color and design.  They taste tart, somewhat similar to cranberries.

Finnish food, Lingonberries

 The Finns have been on to foraging for years, even before it became a trendy culinary movement. All the Finnish forestland is public, which means that anyone can go into the woods and pick all the berries and mushrooms that they want.

Finland vodka

Helsinki has a reputation for drinking and I had visions of Russian-style vodka shots flowing all night. We did see this culture in action at a restaurant located on one of the city’s islands   (although I think the drinkers in question were actually Swedes). They sang a drinking song every time they took a shot; we stopped counting after the 10th song. Kippis!, as the Finns say.

FInnish food

Our meal at K17 did include drink pairings, testimony to the craft cocktail movement that you now find around the world. I’m not a huge cocktail fan, but I did swoon over a dill-infused drink that paired perfectly with salmon tartar. Forget sake, this is what I want to drink with my sashimi.

Finnish food, reindeer

Perhaps the best meal of the trip took place in Lapland, on a reindeer farm just outside of Rovaniemi. After feeding and playing with reindeer, we settled inside a smoke tent where we….ate them. Yeah, a little weird. But reindeer meat has been a major food source for the Sami (the native Laplanders) as well as the Finns for years. You can eat it smoked, sauteed or ground, and it’s apparently lower in fat than beef.

Finnish food, reindeer

I enjoyed the simple, stew-like preparation that we were given. The ground reindeer tasted like hamburger, only more savory and little heartier than venison. The snap of the lingonberries and the creaminess of the potatoes complemented it well, and it’s the perfect meal for a cold climate. We exclaimed over the deliciousness – and asked for more.

Finnish food, reindeer

I also had a reindeer panini at a golf course that sits on the Arctic Circle. The reindeer meat was cured, almost the same as prosciutto, with a slightly gamier aftertaste.

As with anyplace I visit, I start imaging what I would do if I went back. I would have loved to have sampled some of Helsinki’s Michelin-starred restaurants (while our lunch at Salurget down at the waterfront was lovely, I’m sure there’s more exciting preparations going on), visited more of the markets and indulged in their crayfish eating rituals (which sound suspiciously close to those down in Louisiana). And we were way too exhausted to sample Helsinki’s famed nightlife. Next time, next time.

Thanks to The Eurail Group, which sponsored my trip to Finland. 

| Chris Gray Faust is a veteran journalist, travel expert, social media butterfly - and editrix of this site. Like what you read? Check out her writing, editing and social media services.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Angela November 2, 2011 at 1:41 am

Great photos, those dishes look delicious!

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Cailin November 2, 2011 at 8:02 pm

Ok when I was in Iceland I had a reindeer burger and I thought it was amazing (or so says my video, I might of been a few drinks in…haha) but I didn’t pat the darn thing before hand! haha I don’t think I could do that, I need to be a little more unattached from my food….
Those berries sound delicious!!
I’ve been to Iceland, Denmark and Sweden but Norway and Finland are still on my list! Hopefully I get there soon, but I will not be drinking a dill flavored drink! (blech haha)
Sounds like you had a great time Chris! :)

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Sophie November 3, 2011 at 6:37 am

Your lutefisk comment made me laugh. It is probably an acquired taste. Up here, it isn’t a proper Christmas if you don’t eat lutefisk at least once during the advent season :)

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Chris November 3, 2011 at 9:02 am

Sophie – Many families in Minnesota, where there’s a large Scandinavian population, have continued the tradition. That’s how I ate lutefish in the first place! I’m glad that you’re liking my posts from your corner of the world. If a piece passes muster with a native, that’s a huge compliment!

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Cam November 6, 2011 at 8:33 am

Yum! Never thought of Finland as a culinary destination?

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Passport Stamps November 6, 2011 at 6:49 pm

Everything looks delicious. Does Finnish cuisine have a lot of vegetarian options? The vodka looks smooth…and lethal.

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Claire November 15, 2011 at 3:25 pm

Wow, the food looks so good!

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Jade Johnston November 16, 2011 at 10:57 pm

mmm Reindeer is soooo good! I had reindeer steak in Oslo and it was pretty much the best thing I have ever eaten

Jade Johnston – http://www.ouroyster.com

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Chris November 18, 2011 at 12:30 am

@Jade – I’m glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t feel guilty about eating Rudolph.

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Sebastian @ Off-The-Path.com November 18, 2011 at 12:37 pm

Great pictures! Now I have to go and get something to eat! :) I wanted to get some reindeer while in Finland last year but I found it too expensive!

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AlexBerger December 6, 2011 at 2:07 pm

That food looks fantastic! Can’t wait to visit Finland and give it a taste =)

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