Meat play a prominent role in Finnish cuisine, if anything more so than in other countries. This could be because historically fresh fruit and vegetables were only available for about three months of the year due to the cold climate and poor growing season. Pork and beef are the most common type of meat eaten in Finland, but also deer, moose and bear meat is eaten, as well as reindeer meat which is eaten particularly on holidays and special occasions. You won’t however find many restaurants serving moose due to strict health & safety restrictions, so moose is generally eaten at home.
As well as meat, there is a lot of fish in Finnish cuisine, invariably from Finland’s many lakes as well as from the sea. In Finland, smoking fish is very common – perhaps this is due to preponderance of multi-functional smoke saunas in the past. Salmon is particularly popular, either served raw with lemon juice (graavilholi in Finnish, or gravlax in Sweden or Ikea!) or as cold smoked salmon, and as in many neighbouring countries, Baltic herring is popular too. This is just the tip of the iceberg however, as there are many more varieties that are fished in Finland’s lakes and along the Baltic coast. Crayfish are a very popular food, and can be found in many lakes in Finland – in August, crayfish and beer parties are quite common!
Hunting and fishing are very popular pastimes in Finland, but at least as popular is gathering! In the summer time, berries are everywhere, particularly bilberries which cover the forests of Finland and area eaten fresh, baked in pies or made into jam. Other berries include lingonberries, cranberries, wild strawberries and raspberries. Considered by many the most exquisite and sought after though is the cloudberry, which is considered a delicacy in Finland. They are eaten fresh or are made into tarts, pies, jams and juices, as well as being made into rich, sweet liqueurs. Despite their popularity, cloudberries are rarely farmed and mostly available by picking from the wild. If you now have a sudden craving for cloudberries and aren’t in Finland, don’t worry as they are found in quite a few countries in the far north, including Russia, Norway, Alaska, Canada and even Scotland.
Gathering is not just restricted to berries, as mushroom picking is also very popular in Finland, particularly in the north where most edible varieties are picked and eaten. Chanterelles, ceps and milkcaps are all found in abundance. Mushrooms are commonly used in soups, stews, sauces and other dishes, most of the recipes originate from Russia. Why? Apparently, in Finland, mushrooms were traditionally used for dying fabrics rather than actually eating! This really is a thing it turns out (check out http://mycopigments.com/), and many different colours of dye can be obtained from fungi and lichens, often just by boiling the mushrooms in water for an hour or so. Some mushrooms give up their pigments, others don’t, and some don’t give the colour you might think. Anyway, I’m really digressing from Finnish food here, so get back on topic here’s some traditional Finnish dishes to round things off.
Leipajuusto – Finnish squeaky cheese. Often made from cows milk, but can also be made from goat or reindeer milk. First curdled, it is then fried or baked and then cut up into slices. And it is squeaky when you cut into it, hence the name!
Korvapuusti – this literally translates as “slapped ears” and is Finland’s take on the cinnamon bun.
Kalakukko – This is a pie and filled with fish, typically muikko, a small fish like a herring which is found in the lakes of Finland.
Karjalanpiirakka – This is a Karelian pastry dish, traditionally made with rye flour and often filled with rice and spread with egg butter spread on top. There are many different variations with all sorts of different fillings though, including potatoes, fish, meat and cheese.
Pulla – A sweet finnish roll, flavoured with crushed cardamom seeds and sometimes raisins and sliced almonds. Traditionally served with coffee which Finns consume like no one else!