And yes, all of this alliteration is necessary – Finland is fantastic! Despite hearing that Finnish cuisine really was excellent, the recent nature of the proclamation hadn’t planted much of a seed before I visited the country. Fortunately I was staying with a friend, a born and bred Finn, who knows a lot about both food and hospitality. Thus, I left Finland craving most of what I ate while I was there. The best five Finnish food experiences, in my opinion, are:
Freshly smoked fish
Probably the best welcome gift I’ve ever been given; my friend’s dad smoked a salmon for us for our first dinner at their home in the Helsinki suburb of Espoo. The salmon was served warm, bone-in, and her dad kindly covered the fish’s eye with the under paper – not that I really minded; I was too distracted enjoying the incredible fish.
Now, describing food flavours is not my forte, but I can tell you that I eat a lot of salmon. A lot. And this was easily the best warm smoked salmon I have ever tasted; it was spectacular. I don’t know how her dad did it (asked and I don’t remember), but apparently it’s a fairly common Finnish method of smoking fish. When you get to Finland, try your best to get your mouth around some freshly smoked warm salmon. You won’t regret it.
The Best of Finland® Breakfast
At the Klaus K hotel, a modern boutique hotel in Helsinki, The Best of Finland Breakfast was a highlight of our trip. Served in the Ilmatar Restaurant, all of the food is locally produced, and it is all immensely high quality. The smoked trout was exceptional, and the selection of freshly baked breads were delicious, particularly the rye. A nice touch is the card on the table that identifies where in Finland most of the food comes from. Makes you want to jump in a car and drive up and down the country in search of more deliciousness, but for €21, you know you can only do this brunch once.
Another of my friend’s family meals, and a Santa-riffic one at that. Reindeer is a common meat in Finland, often cut down for stews. Seeing as it’s similar to caribou and moose, relatively common Canadian meats, I knew what to expect from Rudolph. My American companion, however, was so terrified that with one bite, Santa wouldn’t be able to fly this Christmas, had to be somewhat coaxed to enjoy dinner. She did, and her guilt melted away almost as quickly as the beer-marinated reindeer did in our mouths. The rich broth and stew were spooned over a nest of mashed potatoes, and garnished with a lingonberry-type compote. Naturally, seconds were in the cards for me. When in Finland, get a red nose and eat some Rudolph.
Traditionally eaten at Easter, I’m told, and originating in Karelia, an area formerly of eastern Finland, now formally of Russia, these breakfast creations had me hesitating at first. I’m not a huge fan of rice pudding, and when I was informed that these pies are made of thin rye bread topped with rice pudding and folded over (leaving most of the rice pudding exposed), then oven-baked, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But hey, when in Finland…
Karelian pies are usually topped with things like Finnish cheese, red peppers, gherkins, and deli meat (likely ham). I dug in, topped my pie with some cheese and ham, and took a delicious bite. I don’t think they’ve completely changed my mind about rice pudding, because baking it definitely changed its texture, but these little pies came pretty close. I loved the idea of picking different bits to top the pies with, and their small-ish size (about the size of an iPhone) makes it easy to enjoy more than one.
Karl Fazer chocolate
Who knew Finnish chocolate would be so fantastic?! I definitely didn’t. Karl Fazer, which has a coffee-and-dessert shop slash chocolate store in the middle of Helsinki, has some excellent chocolate bars, including raspberry mousse and toffee. Little more explanation is required, because chocolate is pretty self-explanatory, so just do yourself a favour and indulge in Finnish chocolate.
So, yes, I realise that this food post is rather short on photos. I’m sorry. I was too busy nomming to take any pictures. I did, however, take pictures of other food.
In downtown Helsinki, in the harbour, there’s an outdoor market selling Finnish crafts, coffee, and food. This stall smelled incredible, but we’d already had a Finnish picnic consisting of meat and Karelian pies on the boat, so I didn’t get into the market food.
And this was a super sweet and really enjoyable dessert made by my friend. It’s caramel-y, topped with lingonberries (I think) and powdered sugar. I had seconds, and had to really force myself not to ask for thirds.