What better way to immerse yourself to local culture than tasting the local food and beer. Meeting the flavors is like shaking hands with the nations psyche. Helsinki Food and Beer tasting is designed for this. Welcome aboard!
What do Finns eat?
Finnish cuisine, for the most part, shares its foundations with the Nordic cuisine. This is, of course,
due to our shared climate, which places its restrictions on the cultivation of agricultural products.
Here, way up north, the growing season is short and frost during season rather common. The
Finnish forests, however, more than make up for what is lost in terms of agricultural products, in
terms of the treasure chest of berries, mushrooms and game it offers. Out of the Nordic countries
Swedish influence is especially significant, mostly due to the 500 years that Finland spent under
the Swedish reign. There is a constant debate over which of the two countries came up with what
Ikea has branded “Swedish meatballs”, for example, much as there is a competition over which of
the two countries came up with the (Finnish) sauna. The Russian cuisine is, for the most part,
rather a distinct thing and has not all that much in common with the Finnish one, but can
nonetheless be sensed in Helsinki, for example, via the many excellent Russian restaurants one
finds here. Try Saslik or Bellevue for Russian food.
Nordic cuisine is all the rage in the global gastronomic scene nowadays, partially due to the
restaurant found in Copenhagen that has been voted as the best restaurant in the world multiple
times, “Noma”, so actively promoting it. The growing popularity is also backed up by customers
and consumers becoming more aware of the health, ecological as well as ethical perspectives on
what we eat. The manifesto of the “New Nordic food:” – loosely defined as “pure, simple, safe and
seasonal food, produced to a high ethical standard, with the emphasis on local and sustainable
food” – has been signed by ministers of the Nordic council. Signing the manifesto means abiding
by its governing principles in public meals as well as branding and promoting each of the
somewhat distinct Nordic cuisines from their shared Nordic foundations. In concrete terms,
signing the manifesto means, for example, taking into account the set of values described
previously in things such as the public meals offered at, say, schools in each of the Nordic
countries. In general, public meals in the Nordic follow the “Nordic nutrition recommendations” on
top of which emphasis is placed on environmentally friendly, sustainable as well as fair and ethical
food production. To reflect some of the former mentioned standards, in schools in Helsinki, one
day a week only vegetarian food is served.
Through this general emphasis on locality and seasonality comes, of course, the specific outlook of
the Nordic cuisine that is defined by the products found in our nearby nature. This means, for
example, wheat products, with the very special emphasis on the healthy (rich in dietary fibers) rye
bread (“hapankorppu”, “reissumies” etc), but also including such things as archipelago bread,
potato-loaf, pulla and näckebröd. Wheat is also extensively present in the Nordic breakfast, in
terms of cereal, granola, but especially porridge, a traditional, humble dish that also has lately
become quite a trendy food in the Nordic food market, where “pimped up” porridge is all the latest
craze. Try El Fant on Katariinankatu in the City Museum for a taste.
Potatoes are an integral part of the Finnish cuisine too. Finns eat a lot of locally caught fish that we
enjoy mostly with potatoes on the side (mashed or baked): salmon especially, but also European
whitefish (siika), European perch (ahven), zander (kuha), vendace (muikku), atlantic herring and
northern pike. Rye bread, fish and potatoes (in moderate amounts; say one quarter of the meal,
backed up by half of the plate comprising of veggies) are some of the cornerstones of healthy
Nordic diet. Also all sorts of cabbage are an integral part of the local cuisine.
In the summer Finns eat a lot of pie with vanilla ice cream or vanilla sauce on top, with fillings
picked from the garden, such as rhubarb (which many make juice out of as well), apples and ribes.
What is seasonal?
In the archipelago this time of year (late July until late October) is crayfish season, so many Nordic
people have crayfish parties that involve eating crayfish, drinking vodka (for swedes aquavit) and
The Finnish forest is a real treasure chest if one was a hunter-gatherer. Indeed, many Finns have
an extremely close relationship with nature and like to go picking berries, mushrooms or hunting
as a pastime activity. In fact, 6 per cent of the Finnish population hold a hunting license, which is
more than anywhere else in Europe. Thus in Finnish cuisine one finds a lot of game. The most
hunted game being capercaillie, (black and hazel) grouse, hare, moose (elk) and deer. Semi-
domesticated reindeer are herded in Lapland and make up the main ingredient of one of the most
distinct Finnish dishes: reindeer, lingonberry jam and mashed potatoes.
At the moment it is mushroom season in Finland, with a lot of Chanterelles, Yellow foots and
Boletaceae around. In fact, this time of year many gastronomy enthusiasts come from countries
such as Italy and France to search for the Boletus edulis – the crown jewel of the numerous
mushrooms found in the Finnish nature. Berries are also plenty, with forests at the moment filled
with lingonberry and blueberry, for example. Also common sea-buckthorn is plenty this time of
year. Cloudberries are a genuine specialty of the northern parts of Finland, i.e. Lapland, that are a
must try. Cloudberries, as well as cranberries are found in swampy areas, such as mires. Although
the peak season has just gone by, one can find a lot of cloudberries at the Market square, on top of
which cloudberry jam with cheese from Lapland is a fine souvenir to bring back home from a store
such as Stockmann department store.
What is “trendy”?
On top of porridge in particular and Nordic cuisine in general, superfood, meat substitutes (and
vegetarian food in general) as well as street food are some of the big trends at the moment. The
Finnish diet is often rich in fibers and nutrients, and blueberries, as well as the rather bitter
common sea-buckthorn are considered “superfood”, the latter of which is often consumed in terms
of shots of juice that really have you wake up in the morning (on top of coffee, which Finns are the
greatest consumers of on a global scale). A Finnish meat substitute, “pulled oats” is taking over its
market niche as we speak, with the producers caught by surprise with the tremendous popularity of
the product, unable to keep up with all the overwhelming demand. When weekly deliveries to the
local grocery stores are made, the product is queued for and the shelved emptied in a matter of
minutes. “Pulled oats” mimickd the taste of pulled pork, but is entirely vegetarian, with a lot of
fibers, more protein than pork, and of course, less of a carbon footprint. Eating insects is also
promoted with an annual food carnival concentrating on meals made out of these creatures we
have plenty of all around us and that place practically no burden on the environment when
consumed. The street food scene is very lively in Helsinki indeed, with many food carnivals taking
place throughout the year. The “restaurant day”, a concept that has expanded to more than 100
countries, was started here in Helsinki. A day on which anyone is able, allowed and encouraged to
hit the streets and start their own food stall. On the restaurant day – that has been organized 4
times a year – hundreds of “pop-up” restaurants can be found on the streets of Helsinki.
What to buy to bring home as souvenir?
You can find all of the following at the basement floor of Stockmann department store.
Cheese from Lapland with cloudberry jam. You fry the cheese on a pan with butter and put jam on
“Hapankorppu” and “reissumies”, the particular rye breads consumed in Finland.
Lingonberry jam and/or common sea buckthorn juice.
Reindeer meat (one can get this in a can, although it is not quite as good as the fresh one).
Atlantic herring (in a can: my favourite is in mustard sauce); i.e. “Silli” in finnish.
Salty liquorice, i.e. “Salmiakki”.
Finlandia vodka, Napue gin (elected best gin in the world last year), Salmiakkikossu (liquorice
vodka), or Fisherman friend’s vodka. You might also want to try “Long drink” (or “Lonkero” for us
In terms of milk products, it is of course inconvenient to bring any back home, but you might want
to try Buttermilk and “Viili” – a yogurt-like fermented milk product.
Written by Leo Aarnio