Before Finland’s entrance in the European Common Market in the 1990’s, traditional food could hardly be termed cuisine.
Fresh fruit and vegetables were unavailable for almost nine months of the year. There was a heavy reliance on root vegetables, dark rye bread, fermented dairy products, and occasionally preserved fish and meat. Spices were scarce and fresh herbs limited to the summer months. Most dishes were stewed for long periods of time, and at best could be described as bland, but hearty fare.
Perinneruoka is the Finnish term for traditional dishes which are often regional and saved for specific holidays.
Mammi is an Easter dessert pudding flavored with dark molasses and Seville orange peel, and eaten with a vanilla cream sauce or ice cream.
Joulupoyta are Christmas dishes like ham; casseroles of liver, turnips, or carrot; potato salad; beetroot; and apple salad.
Kotiruoka refers to “home-made food”, and includes daily staples like meatballs, soup, and black bread made of rye flour and dark molasses.
Whole grain and whole meal ingredients, such as rye, barley, and oats are valued; as are potatoes, turnips, and mushrooms.
Fish, fresh from local waters are a mainstay. Cold smoked salmon, gravlox, and cold smoked perch are popular. Pickled herring with small white potatoes is especially enjoyed.
Hunting small game such as hare, ducks and grouse for the table is traditional. The moose population is culled annually and the meat usually consumed in households.
You are most likely to be served reindeer steaks in the northern Lapland region, where salmon and cream soup is also popular.
Kesaekeitto, or summer soup, has many variations to the milk base. Other ingredients might include potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, peas, and string beans.
The southern city of Tampere, near the Russian border, proudly serves the blood sausage for which it is famous. It is often accompanied by lingonberry jam.
This is also the home of Karelian pies that came to Finland from Russia. They are most often filled with grain or rice porridge. The crust is rolled thin “as a paper”, and the edges crimped to hold the filling. After the pies have baked in a very hot oven, they are spread with a boiled egg butter. Karelian pies are delicious snacks served either hot or cold, or to accompany fish newly caught in the icy waters and fried to crisp deliciousness.
Berries like blueberries, strawberries, lingonberries, sub-Artic cloudberries, and sea buckthorn thrive during the growing season and are stored and highly prized during the winter.
Water is clean and pure and widely consumed by locals.
Coffee is not native Finland but is popular. Traditional beer, moonshine whiskey, and homemade liquors are traditional and widely used.
Finns believe their cows produce the best milk in the world; cheese, yogurt, and buttermilk are considered food and drink. Drinking fresh milk, is popular among adults and children.
More contemporary cooking includes dishes highly influenced by European and American cuisine with smaller servings and a greater variety of vegetables and lighter food.
Since joining the European Union, Finland enjoys an improved economic situation that allows the development of a new and healthful way of eating, now emerging as Nordic Cuisine.
Jyrki Sukula, one of Finland’s best-known chefs, seems to have it right: “….We are just now beginning to see signs of Nordic cuisine becoming the next big thing. . . Our food is safe, hygienic, from a clean environment and we have honest staff in our restaurants.” The result is the emergence of a new and exciting food adventure.