Food in Finland
Finnish cuisine is strongly inspired by its neighbors, with potatoes and bread serving as mainstays, with a variety of fish and meat dishes on the side. Milk or cream has historically been seen as an essential component of the diet and is often used as an ingredient in meals and beverages, even for adults. Cheeses and other milk products are also made. While traditional Finnish cuisine is notoriously bland, the culinary revolution that followed Finland’s accession to the EU has resulted in a surge of sophisticated restaurants experimenting with local ingredients, sometimes with great results.
The Finnish palate is mild, and spices are employed sparingly. The traditional culinary experience featured more oil and butter than is now advised, and it was notably more down-to-earth, but no less tasty. Contemporary Finnish cuisine incorporates flavors and influences from across the globe. Because components make up a large portion of food, agricultural goods in Finland may suffer from the cold environment. Despite their tiny size and rarity, the fish are delicious. Salmon is often imported from Norway and sold in Finnish stores and marketplaces. When going through the center of Finland, there is an unique opportunity to buy freshly caught and cooked fish from one of the thousand lakes. The “Kalakukko,” a delicious and amazing mix of fish, beef, and bread, is maybe one of the most renowned and delectable meals.
Fish is a mainstay in Finland, which has tens of thousands of lakes and a lengthy coastline, and there’s a lot more on the menu than simply salmon (lohi). Among the specialties are:
- Baltic herring (silakka), a tiny, fatty, and delicious fish that may be coal roasted (hiilisilakka), pickled, marinated, smoked, grilled, and prepared in a variety of different ways.
- Gravlax (“graavilohi”), is a pan-Scandinavian appetizer made of raw salted fish.
- Smoked salmon (savulohi), not just cold, thinly sliced, semi-raw smoked salmon, but also completely cooked “warm” smoked salmon.
- Vendace (muikku), an eastern Finland specialty, is a tiny fish wrapped in panko flour and salt and cooked in butter till crispy. They’re often served with mashed potatoes and may be found at most music festivals.
Other local fish to keep an eye out for include zander (kuha), an expensive delicacy, pike (hauki), flounder (kampela), and perch (ahven).
Every year in October, Helsinki hosts a traditional Herring Fair. That is a fantastic experience to partake in; the fish is delicious, and a large crowd has gathered. The same might be said about Turku and other coastal cities.
- Karelian stew (karjalanpaisti), a hearty stew consisting of beef, pig (and possibly lamb), carrots, and onions that is often eaten with potatoes.
- Liver casserole (maksalaatikko), an oven-cooked dish of chopped liver, rice, and raisins; it tastes very different from what you’d anticipate (and not liver-y at all)
- Loop sausage (lenkkimakkara), a big, lightly flavored sausage that is best grilled and served with a dollop of sweet Finnish mustard (sinappi) and beer.
- Meat balls (lihapullat, lihapyörykät) are as popular and delicious in Finland as they are in Sweden.
- Reindeer (poro) foods, particularly sautéed reindeer shavings (poronkäristys, served with potato mash and lingonberries), are a tourist attraction and popular in the North. Aside from poronkäristys, reindeer jerky (ilmakuivattu poro) is a well-known delicacy that is difficult to get, and mildly smoked reindeer meat cutlets are accessible in all stores, but they are also costly (delicious with rye bread)
- Swedish hash (“pyttipannu”), (originally from Sweden, Swedish: “pytt I panna”) a substantial meal of fried potatoes, onions, and any meaty leftovers on hand, topped with an egg
- Makkara is a kind of traditional Finnish sausage. Because the real meat content is likely to be minimal, it is often referred to as “the Finnish man’s vegetable.”
In Finland, cheese and other milk products are extremely popular. The most popular types are mild hard cheeses like as Edam and Emmental, although there are also local specialties such as:
- Aura cheese (aurajuusto),a native Roquefort blue cheese that is also used in soups, sauces, and as a pizza topping.
- Breadcheese (leipäjuusto or juustoleipä), a mildly flavored grilled curd that squeaks when eaten, is best served warm with a dab of cloudberry jam.
- Piimä, is a thick and sour buttermilk beverage that includes naturally beneficial lactic acid bacteria.
- Viili, is a yoghurt that is gelatinous, stretchy, and sour.
Viili, a kind of curd, has the texture of super-stretchy liquid bubble gum yet tastes like plain yoghurt. It is usually served with cinnamon and sugar sprinkled on top. Fermented dairy products assist to regulate the digestive system, so give them a try if yours is unsettled (those without jam or those labelled AB are probably best for this use).
Yoghurt, typically combined with jam, is widely consumed. Skyr, an Icelandic cultured milk product, has become a popular yogurt alternative. Flavored Kefir is growing increasingly popular as a cultured dairy drink and is now available in bigger stores. Soya, almond, hazelnut, rice, and coconut milk drinks are available in bigger supermarkets, occasionally flavored, and typically in long-life packaging near the dairy fridges. There is also cream and (sweetened) condensed milk available.
A lot of cheese (juusto) is eaten, a lot of it locally made mild to medium aged. Imported cheeses are widely accessible, while local farm cheeses may be tasted and bought in open air markets (tori) and market halls year round. A baked egg cheese (munajuusto) block is a popular culinary component produced from milk, buttermilk, and egg that may be eaten cold with (cloud berry) jam, in a salad, or warmed with meals.
- Pea soup (hernekeitto), typically eaten with a dab of mustard and served on Thursdays; but watch out for the flatulence!
- Karelian pies (karjalanpiirakka), an oval 7-by-10-cm baked pastry typically made with rye flour and contains rice porridge or mashed potato, best served with butter and chopped egg (munavoi)
- Porridge (puuro), most often eaten for breakfast, is prepared with oats (kaura), barley (ohra), rice (riisi), or rye (ruis).
Bread (leipä) is eaten with every meal in Finland and is available in a wide variety of flavors. The most popular bread in Finland is rye bread (ruisleipä, rgbröd). It may be up to 100% rye, and it is typically sourdough bread, which is darker, heavier, and chewier than American-style mixed wheat-rye bread. Unlike in Swedish tradition, many Finnish rye breads are unsweetened and therefore sour, if not unpleasant. Malt is often used to sweeten the sweet kinds (sometimes also with treacle).
Keep a look out for mämmi, a kind of brown sweet rye pudding, around Easter. It has a notoriously ugly appearance but really tastes very nice (best eaten with creamy milk and sugar). Throughout the year, larger stores sell frozen pool mämmi. Tippaleipä, a palm-sized funnel cake typically eaten with mead, is one delicious specialty for May Day. It is customary to offer the first potatoes of the year with herring during the Midsummer festival in late June. From the end of July until the beginning of September, it’s worth asking about crayfish (rapu) menus and pricing at nicer restaurants. It’s not inexpensive, you don’t get full from the crayfish alone, and there are numerous rituals involved, the majority of which involve huge amounts of ice-cold vodka, but it’s worth trying at least once. Or attempt to get on the guestlist for a business crayfish party; spots are highly sought after at some. Baked ham is the traditional star of the Christmas dinner table, with a galaxy of casseroles around it.
Regional specialties include Savonia’s kalakukko, which is small vendace or other fish wrapped in bacon and enclosed in rye bread dough and baked for a long time so the fish bones soften to become actually quite pleasant in texture, and Tampere’s fast food black sausage (mustamakkara), which is basically blood, fat, and soaked barley kernels made into a sausage and is best with lingonberry jam. Vetyatomi (hydrogen atom) is a pie with meat and rice content and fillings (ham and fried egg) offered at grillikioski, not just in Lappeenranta since it is very excellent if you want to consume local flavor quick food.
Finnish pastries abound for dessert or as a snack, and are often consumed with coffee after a meal. Look for cardamom coffee bread (pulla), as well as a broad range of tarts (torttu) and doughnuts (big ones are called munkki but the small ones are called donitsi). In the summer, a large variety of fresh berries are available, notably the delicious but costly cloudberry (lakka), and berry products are available all year as jam (hillo), soup (keitto), and kiisseli, a kind of gooey transparent pudding.
Finnish chocolate is also very excellent, with Fazer goods such as the famous Sininen (“Blue”) bar being sold all over the globe. Licorice is a more Finnish specialty (lakritsi). Ammonium chloride, in particular, gives strong salty liquorice (salmiakki) its distinct (and acquired) flavor.
Following a meal, it is customary to munch on chewing gum (purukumi) containing xylitol, which is beneficial to oral health. Jenkki is a popular xylitol-containing chewing gum brand in the United States (many flavours available).
Places to eat
Finns prefer to dine out only on rare occasions, and restaurant costs reflect this. The one exception is around noon, when corporate cafeterias and almost every restaurant in town provide set meals for about €8–9, typically consisting of a main dish, salad bar, bread table, and a drink, due to a government-sponsored lunch voucher system. University cafeterias, many of which are accessible to the public, are especially inexpensive, with lunches in the €2–4 level for students, but if you don’t have a Finnish student ID, you’ll typically have to pay about € 5–7. There are also public cafeterias in office / administrative areas that are only available during working day lunch hours. While not very fashionable and often difficult to locate, they generally provide a high-quality buffet lunch at a moderate price (8.40 Euros).
The café culture has grown rapidly, particularly during the 1990s and particularly in Helsinki. The selection of cakes and pastries may not be as extensive as in Central Europe, but the local unique coffees (lattes, mochas, etc.) are worth trying at the two major local coffee house chains: Wayne’s Coffee (founded in Sweden) and Robert’s Coffee (Finland). Starbucks is expanding into Finland as well.
Dinner options are restricted to generic fast food (pizza, hamburgers, kebabs, and so on) in the €5–10 range, or you must spend more than €20 for a meal at a “good” restaurant. Look for grill kiosks (grilli) that offer sausages, hamburgers, and other portable, though not very health-conscious, food late into the night at affordable rates. Aside from hamburgers and hot dogs, seek for meat pies (lihapiirakka), which are similar to large savory doughnuts filled with minced beef and your choice of sausage, fried eggs, and sauces. With a comparable menu, Hesburger is the local fast-food counterpart of McDonald’s. A few meals, such as a sour-rye chicken sandwich, have a “Finnish” twist. Of course, most international fast food companies are available, including McDonald’s, which provides sour-rye buns as a replacement for several of their sandwich buns on request.
The Finnish term for buffet is seisova pöytä (“standing table”), and although it is increasingly being used to refer to all-you-can-eat Chinese or Italian restaurants, the original connotation is similar to Sweden’s smörgsbord: a large variety of sandwiches, fish, meats, and pastries. It’s typically eaten in three rounds: first the fish, then the cold meats, and lastly the heated meals, with the first being the main attraction. Though costly and uncommon in a restaurant environment, if you are lucky enough to be officially invited to a Finn’s house, they will almost certainly have prepared a feast for their visitor, as well as lots of coffee. Breakfast in nicer hotels is similar, and it’s simple to eat enough to cover lunch as well!
Self-catering may save you a lot of money if you’re very tight on cash. Ready-to-eat casseroles and other basic food that can be swiftly cooked in a microwave may be purchased at any supermarket for a few euros. It’s worth noting that you’re usually expected to weigh and label any fruits or vegetables yourself (bag it, place it on the scale, and press the numbered button; the correct number can be found on the price sign), and green signs indicate potentially tastier but unquestionably more expensive organic (luomu) produce. One should be mindful that inexpensive food often includes a disproportionate quantity of fat.
Despite the high costs, servings at restaurants are very modest, at least when compared to the United States, Canada, and many European countries. Finns are used to having a big breakfast and lunch, thus supper does not need to be very filling and may be two- or single-course. Dinner is typically served about 5 or 6 p.m., although it may be as early as 4 p.m.
Traditional Finnish food primarily depends on meat and fish, although vegetarianism (kasvissyönti) is becoming more common and well-understood, and will seldom cause an issue for visitors. Almost every restaurant has vegetarian choices, which are typically denoted on menus with a “V.” Because egg (kananmuna or muna) is included in many prepared dishes, ready meals, and baked products, vegan meals are not popular outside of select restaurants, but the variety of raw ingredients, specialty grains, and health foods is sufficient for making your own. Similarly, gelatine (liivate) is often found in yoghurt, jellies, and desserts. Labels will always indicate both.
Lactose intolerance (laktoosi-intoleranssi, inability to digest the milk sugar lactose) and celiac disease are two frequent illnesses among Finns (keliakia, inability to digest gluten). Lactose-free choices are often labeled “L” in restaurants (low-lactose goods are sometimes referred to as “Hyla” or labeled with “VL”), whereas gluten-free options are labeled with “G”. However, hydrolyzed lactose (EILA or HYLA brand) milk or lactose-free milk drink for lactose intolerant people is readily accessible, which implies that a lactose-free meal does not always imply milk-free. Allergies are also very prevalent among Finns, therefore restaurant staff are generally highly informed about what goes into each meal, and it is often feasible to order the dish without specific components if requested.
Kosher and halal cuisine are uncommon in Finland, and are usually unavailable outside of a few specialty stores and restaurants catering to the country’s small Jewish and Islamic populations. Keep an eye out for minced meat meals like meatballs, which often contain a combination of beef and pig. In Helsinki, the Jewish Community of Helsinki operates a modest kosher deli.
A variety of substances with more common allergies and dietary restrictions may be written in bold writing in the list of ingredients (ainekset or ainesosat) on all packaged products, but you must inquire at restaurants and stores.
Drinks in Finland
Finland has abundant of water sources because to its hundreds of lakes, and tap water is always safe to drink (in fact, never purchase bottled water if you can obtain tap water!). The typical soft drinks and juices are readily accessible, but there is also a large variety of berry juices (marjamehu), particularly in the summer, as well as Pommac, an odd soda produced from (according to the label) “mixed fruits” that you will either love or detest. Many berry juices must be combined with water, even if purchased in concentrate form; sugar is often added. Take note of the distinction between mehu and mehujuoma, since the latter may include just traces of the nominal component.
Coffee and tea
Finns consume the most coffee (kahvi) in the world, averaging 3–4 cups a day. Most Finns drink it strong and black, although sugar and milk are always available, and more European versions like as espresso and cappuccino are becoming more popular, particularly in larger cities. Starbucks has come in Helsinki, although all of the major cities have had French-style expensive cafés for a long time, and new rivals, such as Wayne’s or Robert’s Coffee, are emerging. You can get a fast caffeine fix at any convenience shop, which will pour you a cup of coffee for around €2. Tea hasn’t taken off nearly as well, but getting hot water and a package of Lipton Yellow Label won’t be an issue. Check out some of the better downtown cafés or tea houses for brewed tea.
Finnish coffee, on the other hand, is often made using filters (“sumppi”), yielding a fairly mild substance. Finding a powerful high pressure espresso may be difficult in certain places, but experiencing the smooth taste of mocca mix is something to consider. Discussing coffee preparation mechanics with Finns is not a terrible idea; they are usually receptive to new ideas and tastes. The Eastern style “mud coffee” is the most traditional choice for filtered coffee in Finland. The ground coffee beans are cooked in a big saucepan in that recipe. Before serving, the ground coffee is allowed to cool before being topped with the smooth flavored coffee. Today, this kind of “pannukahvi” is seldom seen in public cafés, but it is worth a try while visiting private houses or summer cottages. You can even buy specific ground coffee for that purpose in most stores (it is not that fine-grounded like normal filter coffee let alone like espresso). It tastes very well with cream instead of milk.
In Finland, people of all ages drink milk (maito) as a complement to their meals. Piimä, or buttermilk, is another popular choice.
Alcohol is extremely costly in Finland when compared to most other nations (though not when compared to its Nordic neighbors Sweden and Norway), yet it is very inexpensive in other countries. With Estonia’s accession to the EU, the government has been obliged to reduce alcohol tariffs somewhat. Still, a single beer will set you back about €4–5, or €1 and up, at a bar or tavern, or €1 and more in a supermarket. While beer and cider are accessible at any supermarket or convenience shop from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Alko is your only option for wine or anything stronger. For milder beverages, the legal drinking age is 18, but to purchase hard liquor from Alko, you must be 20. All young-looking customers are typically asked for identification (nowadays all looking to be under 30). Some restaurants have greater age restrictions, up to 30 years old, although these are their own rules that are not usually enforced, particularly during slower periods.
Despite the relatively high expense of alcohol, the Finnish people are widely renowned for their tolerance and party culture. Do not be afraid to attend Finnish gatherings, which are generally not particularly dry. While Finnish people prefer to adhere to separate bills in the bar, when you get together with them in the summer cottage, things typically flip around and everyone enjoys what is on the table jointly.
Surprisingly, the national drink is not Finlandia Vodka, but its local brand Koskenkorva, often known as Kossu in common parlance. However, the two beverages are closely related: Kossu contains 38% alcohol, whereas Finlandia is 40%, and Kossu has a tiny quantity of added sugar, which makes the two drinks taste somewhat different. There are many different vodkas (viina) on the market, the most of which taste quite similar.
Salmiakki-Kossu or Salmari is a local specialty made by combining salty black salmiakkilicorice, the flavor of which hides the alcohol behind it frighteningly well. Fisu (“Fish”) shots are much more deadly when combined with Fisherman’s Friend menthol cough drops. Hipsters in the know like Pantteri (“Panther”), which is a blend of Salmari and Fisu. Jaloviina (Jallu) cut brandy and Tervasnapsi “tar schnapps” with a unique smoky fragrance are two other famous shots.
Beer (olut or kalja) is also popular, although most Finnish beers are virtually similar, mild lagers: famous brands include Lapin Kulta, Karjala, Olvi, Koff, and Karhu. When shopping, pay attention to the label: beers labeled “I” are less costly and have a lower alcohol level, but beers labeled “III” and “IV” are stronger and more expensive. There are no beverages with more than 4.7 percent alcohol in regular stores. You may also come across kotikalja (“house beer”), a dark brown beer-like beverage with a low alcohol content. Imported beers are widely accessible in larger supermarkets, most pubs and bars, and Czech beers in particular are popular and just slightly more costly. Some microbreweries (Laitila, Stadin panimo, Nokian panimo, etc.) have gained a footing in recent years with their indigenous dark lagers, wheat beers, and ales.
Ciders are the current craze (siideri). The majority of them are chemically flavored sugary concoctions that taste nothing like the English or French versions, but more genuine variations are gaining market popularity. The ever-popular gin long drink, also known as lonkero (“tentacle”), is a pre-bottled combination of gin and grapefruit soda that tastes better than it sounds and has the added benefit of illuminating under ultraviolet light. With up to 610 kcal/litre, it also enables you to forego supper, giving you more time to drink.
Glögi, a kind of spiced mulled wine served with almonds and raisins that can be readily prepared at home, is a must-try throughout the winter. Although it was originally prepared with old wine, and Finns often add in some wine or spirits, the bottled item in shops is generally alcohol-free. Glögi is served in restaurants either without alcohol or with 2cl vodka added. Fresh, hot glögi may be obtained, for example, at the Helsinki Christmas market.
There are a variety of unique liquors (likööri) produced from berries available, but they are all extremely sweet and typically served with dessert. Even if you don’t enjoy the berries fresh, cloudberry liquor (lakkalikööri) is worth a try.
You have been cautioned against homemade spirits (pontikka). Anecdotal information indicates that they are sometimes performed as a joke on unsuspecting foreigners, since they are more prevalent in rural regions, illegal, and often distilled on modified water purification facilities – which are now subject to import control regulations. Refuse the offer politely, particularly if you are still sober.
Finally, two traditional drinks worth seeking out are mead (sima), an age-old wine-like brew produced from brown sugar, lemon, and yeast and popular during the Vappu festival in May, and sahti, a kind of unfiltered, generally extremely strong beer frequently flavored with juniper berries (an acquired taste).