6 Fantastically Delicious Finnish Foods
When my Finnish friend Elina visited my small Kentucky hometown, her accent prompted a lot of curiosity. We were sitting in a coffeeshop, and along with the embarrassing blank stares and questions came odd assumptions about food: “You must eat a lot of herring there!”
From what I’ve heard, the stereotypes surrounding Finnish cuisine presume the consumption of much fish and potatoes. Even as a vegetarian with a limited diet, I love Finnish food and have found it to carry options for everyone. Here are some Finnish foods I highly suggest you try the next time you visit Finland.
Why shouldn’t we start with dessert? Pulla is a type of sweet bun (but not super-sweet!) flavored with cardamom. Pulla can be served at any time of day and is usually eaten with coffee. The different varieties of pulla include voisilmäpulla (butter eye pulla), Dallas pulla (origins of this name are unbeknownst to me), and korvapuusti (pulla with cinnamon). The cardamom gives pulla its distinct flavor and is the common link among the various types. Finns tend to drink a lot of coffee, so feel free to sample the different types of pulla while downing cup after cup!
2. Rye Bread
Rye is a Finnish staple. In fact, I haven’t found what Americans consider “white bread” in Finnish shops—not that I would want to eat it when healthier and tastier options abound! Rye bread comes in many forms, but a common and easy way to eat it is to buy the ubiquitous rye rounds in shops. You can slip these in the toaster and top them with butter, cheese, cucumber, or whatever you like. But if you don’t like chewy rounds, you may prefer a different style of loaf. Fun fact: the name of one of the large music festivals, Ruisrock, means “rye rock!”
Pannukakku translates as “pancake,” but it is very different from an American pancake. Pannukakku is basically a baked flour, milk, and egg mixture. It comes out tasty and airy and is best eaten warm and fresh. Pannukakku can be paired with a variety of toppings, from lots of berries to whipped cream to chocolate. It is also very easy to make, so you can bake it at home whenever you miss Finland.
Yes, berries aren’t unique to Finland, but I highly recommend you try some fresh Finnish berries if you visit when they’re in season. Blueberries, strawberries, cloud berries, and lingonberries grow in Finland and feature heavily in Finnish food. Try some arctic berries you may not have tasted before! Spread them over your pannukakku, or taste vispipuuro, a dessert porridge made with lingonberries. In fact, why not go pick some berries yourself in one of the parks like Nuuksio?
Salmiakki must be the most common candy in Finland, because it is really everywhere. It looks like black licorice but tastes salty. It’s flavored with ammonium chloride, so beware—it might not be the kind of candy you expect! Salmiakki was certainly an acquired taste for me. The first time I tried it, I grabbed a piece with what I assumed were sugar crystals on it. They were salt. If you really hate the taste of plain salmiakki, never fear—you can still eat one of the many salmiakki-flavored treats Finland offers! There is salmiakki ice cream, salmiakki gum, and salmiakki chocolate to name a few, all of which have a less harsh taste since the salmiakki is mixed with other ingredients. There is even salmiakki koskenkorva, or salmiakki liqueur!
Last but far from least comes my favorite Finnish food: karjalanpiirakka, or the Karelian pasty. Karelia was a region in Eastern Finland that was ceded to the Soviet Union in 1940 as a result of the Winter War. Almost the entire Karelian population had to be moved to Finland. However, there are still traditional Karelian influences on Finnish cuisine today, and karjalanpiirakat is one of them! Karjalanpiirakat is essentially rye dough folded around a filling of rice porridge, often served with munavoi (egg butter). Though it is of course most delicious when homemade, it is also easily found at the grocery store and can be heated in a toaster. I find karjalanpiirakat to be a wonderfully comforting breakfast food and could eat them endlessly.
So when you’re out and about enjoying wonderful Helsinki and the rest of Finland, don’t forget to eat! I’m sure you’ll find something tasty, or at least something to tell tales about if you spit that salmiakki out. Trust me, just keep trying!
Top image by Elina Innanen