Helsinki is only 1000 miles away from Glasgow yet, considering how close it is, in many ways, it could not be more foreign. I think this, in itself is a huge reason to visit! One of the biggest things I have enjoyed investigating is Finnish food (those that know me will not be surprised I’m writing a post solely on food!)
So first – the great foods!
First of all, if you’re in Helsinki everyone has to visit the market at the port! The outside stalls sell amazing fresh fruit and veg and if you go round the corner to the inside market you will be able to get amazing fresh breads, freshly made smoothies and other great wee dishes which I imaging would make lovely picnic lunches in the summer! Outside you can also get some fresh fish cooked in front of you!
Finland was under Swedish rule for hundreds of years and, as a result of this, a lot of Swedish culture is also a part of Finnish culture. In Sweden they have the famous ‘Fika’, the fact there is a name for sitting down with a coffee and a pastry just shows how much these people love their coffee and pastries! In Finland there is a similar passion for them, more specifically ‘Pulla’, a kind of cardamom sweet bun. There are different types of these but by far the best and most popular is the ‘korvapuusti’ which is flavoured with cinnamon. I have fully enjoyed embracing Finnish culture by having one of these with my coffee far too regularly! Absolutely everywhere, from the newsagents to the famous Fazer cafe, sells them (of varying standard) but if you are only going to have one experience you have to go to Cafe Regatta. It’s a tiny wee coffee shop next to the sea which is the cosiest place in the world and full of the smell of cinnamon. The perfect cure for winter blues on a cold day! Whats even better is Ben and Jerry’s have a ‘cinnamon bun’ flavour ice cream over here but I confess I have yet to try it – it’s only list though!
I briefly mentions the Fazer cafe earlier. Karl Fazer is a finnish chocolate factory which has ALMOST filled the hole the lack of Dairy Milk has left (though admittedly not quite). You can buy the chocolate and sweets in any shop but for the full experience it is worth a visit to the original cafe in the centre which opened in 1891. If there is space I recommend sitting up the back under the domed roof! The hot chocolate and literally any of the cakes are highly recommended – as is the all you can eat extensive buffet breakfast!
Traditional meats of Finland include boar and reindeer and it’s definitely your chance to see something new! I tried reindeer whilst in lapland (see earlier blog post) and while it was nice I admit my amateur palette probably couldn’t tell the difference between it and beef – but hey give it a try and see if you have a more sophisticated palette!
Salmon soup is also a staple traditional Finnish dish. I would describe it as a cullen skink but with salmon and dill rather than smoked fish. On a cold day it is a must!
There is also a Finnish tradition of having pea soup (‘hernekeitto’) followed by pancakes and jam for lunch on a Thursday (originally this was in preparation for abstinence on a Friday for Catholics, yet the tradition has outlived the Catholic population of Finland). This is served often in the cafe in uni and why the pea soup isn’t anything to write home about – the fact it becomes an excuse to have pancakes for lunch is definitely a bonus!
And now – the foods I’m too scared to try/not such a fan of!
Liquorice fans will be in heaven here! Those of you who are like me and don’t understand the appeal – be careful, a friend once accidentally bought liquorice flavoured bread (why anyone would eat that is beyond me but if you’re adventurous go for it!). Literally everything you can think of (including bread, apparently) comes in liquorice flavour (including ice cream which seems very popular). The typical Finnish liquorice is salted (‘salmiakki’) which, admittedly, does intrigue me – though not enough to try it yet! You can also buy drinks where it is mixed with Koskenkorva (a kind of Finnish take on vodka – I actually think it’s much nicer than vodka so would recommend you try some, though maybe without the liquorice!)
As Easter is approaching I have been warned about Mämmi! While it is a favourite amongst Fins who have grown up with the tradition, the description makes me fairly wary of it! Basically it is a bowl of black ‘goo’ made of rye flour and molasses. I have been told it is nicer than it sounds but I think I might just stick to chocolate eggs this year!
Now these I have tried and, despite my large indifference, they are hugely popular amongst Fins – maybe it’s just me! Karelian pies are kind of small pies made with rye crush and filled with porridge. Personally I found them fairly bland but I have seen Fins top them with egg mayonnaise or salad so maybe that’s where I was going well. These are a staple breakfast and snack in Finland and, while I wouldn’t eat them everyday, I would recommend everyone living here tries one.
Well there you go – hope that wets your appetite for Finland! While you all probably have greater concerns about life in Finland than the food, it is very foreign in some ways, yet amazing in others so I thought I’d show you the basics!
If you have any other concerns please don’t hesitate to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org – also have a look at the blog I posted just before this where I addressed some of the issues you might be worried about.