Finnish gastronomy: a world of new flavors

The food was a big thing that surprised me on our trip to Finland, many dishes were a novelty and I got to experience so many new flavours.

Argentina, due to its history, has a lot of influence from many cuisines in the world: the tortilla from Spain, the pasta and the pizza from Italy, the “half moon” croissants as a different version of a French croissant. But from Finland, nothing. In this aspect as in so many others, everything was new.

Let’s start with breakfast. The most typical dish in any Finnish table in the morning: oatmeal. I do not know about you, but I had never eaten oatmeal in this way: cooked for a few minutes with milk or water or a combination of both. On top is usually added a bit of butter and berries in any of these forms: fresh, frozen, dried or jam. That is the basic combo, from there everyone adds whatever they want. Omar Tuli (from now on Omar, or Tuli or T) usually adds some banana, peanut butter, nuts, seeds, grated coconut, raisins, dates or all of the above. In addition to this, a breakfast includes always some infusion, which is usually coffee. Finland is the country with the highest coffee consumption per capita in the world: 12 kilos per year!

A typical finnish breakfast: oats, blueberry jam and coconut milk

Another surprise was that in Finland there are almost no small groceries. There are no separate vegetable shops, butchers or fish shops. Instead, everything is bought in supermarkets or complete areas of supermarkets where they stand side by side and which are generally on the outskirts of cities.

The interesting thing is that all the supermarkets that I visited in Finland had a significant amount of organic, vegetarian and vegan products. Finns have very high standards of living and they take very seriously in account their nutrition and the environment. The vast majority of people I met in Finland were vegetarians or vegans. Although, something very curious is that most Finnish vegetarians also eat fish. For some reason they do not consider a fish as an animal, or they see it very different from a cow or a chicken, so they put it in another category and eat it too. I am not making a judgment at all, but this was something that caught my attention.

Another option to make purchases are the traditional market halls. There are not many and they are not usually used for daily purchases, but more let’s say if you are going to buy something specific for a special occasion. There are small very specialized stalls with the best of the best. They are also very popular with tourists. And besides being used for small purchases they are an excellent option to eat there, or at least I love it. There are usually menus at noon and food by weight, so you can try a lot of typical products in one place. Also, during the summer, there are some open air markets, which serve fresh groceries, handicrafts, second hand products and street food.

Kauppahalli, the Tampere market hall

In Kauppahalli, the Tampere market hall, among other things, I tried the typical dish of the city. It is the black pudding sausage, very similar to the one we have in Argentina, only it is accompanied with cranberry jam and a glass of milk. Yes, as you read it, black pudding with cranberry sauce and milk. Nothing more to add, draw your own conclusions.

Mustamakkara, literal translation: black sausage

And speaking of milk, in Finland it is normal to accompany meals with this drink. Omar tells me that he remembers the lunches at school and some large milk dispensers, from which he could serve all he wanted to accompany the lunch.

A supermarket in Finland, the dairy paradise

And is not it the dream of every child to eat sweets? And how many times our parents do not let us do it because it’s bad for our teeth? Well, Finland is a paradise for sweet-toothed kids. There are some chewing gums that are good for the teeth! So much that dentists recommend children eat them after every meal. This is because unlike most chewing gum, these are sweetened with xylitol, which is a natural sweetener that is extracted from the birch tree, one of the three typical trees of Finland, along with spruce and pine.

Something that is never missing in any Finnish food table is the bread, but not any bread, but the rye bread. This is the alma mater of gastronomy in Finland. Argentines who read this will know that this type of bread is very difficult or almost impossible to obtain in our land. Only in some very special bakeries and paying exorbitant prices. When Omar moved to Argentina the rye bread disappeared from his life and as he missed it so much, after our trip to Finland I learned to make homemade rye bread with sourdough (which means, without yeast). It turned out so well and was so successful that for a time I sold rye bread to a small colony of Finnish expatriates living in Buenos Aires, many of them co-workers and friends of Omar. Even my breads came to be present at official events of the Embassy of Finland in Buenos Aires, where Omar worked during part of his stay in Argentina.

Something that has a lot to do with the Finnish lifestyle, the structure of their society and also their love for nature, is to collect berries and mushrooms in the forest. Either in your own garden or wherever you find them. In Finland there are many berries that grow wild and by law, all wild edibles, whether it grows on public or private land, (except the gardens of houses), can be collected by whoever wants to do it. This is simply a genius manner and the Finns enjoy it very much. During our visit to Finland, we often went out to collect various types of berries with which we made dozens of jars of jam to keep for the winter. We also collected the best of the world, the kantarelli and boletus mushrooms! A total delight that later became the perfect accompaniment to my homemade pasta in a cabin in the woods.

Cloudberries, some of the most exotic berries that we found
Collecting kantarelli mushrooms in the Suodenniemi forest
Harvest of the day: kantarelli and boletus mushrooms

And to close Omar’s favorite dish: the pies of Karjala. This was the first typical Finnish thing that we tried a few minutes after landing in Finland. These are very thin rye dough pies, slightly open at the top, which can be stuffed with rice pudding, smashed potatoes or carrots with rice. On top they usually have butter with chopped eggs, a delight!

A Pie of Karjala stuffed with smashed potatoes, also called Kakkara

Karjala is a region of southeastern Finland, currently “shared” with Russia. This was the origin of Omar’s maternal grandfather, who by the time when Karjala was taken by the Russians during the Second World War, was relocated along with his family in the Lempäälä region near Tampere, where the government compensated them with the same amount of land they had lost and they had to start life from scratch. Eventually he met Omars grandmother and when they got married she learned this recipe from her mother-in-law, Omar’s great-grandmother, and she continued to do it all her life with such success that, when it was a baking day, all the neighborhood’s family and friends passed by the house to look for their part. Omar tells me that he remembers being sleeping in his grandparents’ house and waking up with the sounds of an early-morning cook and the smell of hundreds of freshly baked pies of Karjala, is this why it is his favorite dish?

PostScript 1: If you want to help me to continue with this project, don’t forget to share!

If you have any questions, queries or suggestions, you can leave it in the comments below. And if you think someone can serve or interest this information, I thank you very much for sharing it!

PostScript 2: do you want to read more?

If you want to read more about Finland, don´t miss this two posts, in which I tell you everything about Finnish culture and Finnish sauna.

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