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What happens in Finland… most likely gets buried under a lot of snow

January 7, 2011

Photos are fixed — sorry about that!

Hi all! When my good friend Simone announced she was going to Finland to celebrate Christmas with her extended family, I immediately said she must write a guest post. Thankfully, she agreed and endured her family thinking she was crazy for snapping so many food photos. 😀 I’m en route to Tampa right now and will have a full post tonight so in the meantime, enjoy this wintry taste of Finland.

While Finland may be more readily associated with Nokia, Santa Claus, the best country in the world, and insanely cold winters, the small Nordic nation is a quiet culinary oasis. Quiet in the sense that nothing about Finland is loud really (except maybe the bizarrely popular metal bands). Finnish culture leans more towards the practical, the subtly genius, the quietly innovative. Finland boasts the world’s fastest long distance runner, the most coffee drinkers per capita, hosts the World Air Guitar Championship, was the first country to grant women the right to vote and serve in Parliament, is the least corrupt nation and was voted the all around best place to live. Bring any of these up with a Finn and they’d most likely giggle in disbelief and move on with their day. Despite their ever-growing list of ‘quiet’ achievements, most people would be hard pressed to even find Finland on a map! With a measly 5 million people (there are practically as many saunas as people!), Finland neither flaunts its achievements nor denies them: they simply are. But I suppose that’s Finland’s charm, its can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on-it-or-care-to-brag-about-it-but-just-is awesomeness.

Tucked defiantly between Sweden and Russia, Finland fosters a fierce nationalism born out of a longstanding struggle to maintain a linguistic and cultural identify against neighboring conquerors (the word ‘tsar’ still holds a certain cultural taboo). Finnish cuisine is emblematic of that history, a hybrid of traditional dishes mixed with Scandinavian and Russian influences. An east-meets-west show down of epic(ly delicious) proportions.

As with any country subject to depressingly short days and painfully long winters, the Finnish holiday season (or at least my holiday experience) centers around food. And lots of it. As a primarily Lutheran country, Christmas is kind of a big deal. Foodwise, Christmas is the SUPERBOWL of eating, a multi-day string of family parties, dinners and lunches (in Finland, Christmas literally is a multi-day event; Santa comes and doles out gifts the night before on Christmas Eve, while Christmas Day ushers in another round of eating and gift giving with friends and family). While I may not be religious myself, who am I to knock another country’s traditions (especially when those traditions involve eating dessert three times a day)?? When in Rome, er, Helsinki…

So what exactly is Finnish food? Lapland berries? Dark breads? Mashed unidentified veggies? Gingersnaps? YES and PLEASE.

To stave off the arctic chill, I absolutely adore the seasonal staple drink Glogi. The berry-based beverage is available in every supermarket across the country during the holiday season. Mix in a few almonds, raisins, craisins, a few swigs of liquor, and you’re golden!

Rye and more rye. Finland has mastered the art of making, and flattening, a cagillion varieties of rye breads. Served with practically every meal, they’re perfect for toasting, sandwiching, buttering, jamming, you name it! And you always feel less guilty reaching for that second (or third) piece. It’s rye bread after all!

In the land of 188,000 lakes, fish is king. Finns are self-proclaimed seafood lovers, in every which way, shape and form. As a non-seafood eater myself, I can’t attest to the taste; all I can say is I hope they make the list . For the rest of us, there are plenty of non-aquatic options. Reindeer, beef, deer, chicken… often accompanied by a healthy serving of beets. I’ve never considered myself anything of a beet fan, but after this trip I can officially say I’m a convert! Bring on the beets!

Breakfast. A sacred meal in my book. I’m typically a cereal and Lactaid kind of gal, but I happily mixed up my daily routine for the occasional open sandwich and karjalanpiirakat. Virtually every breakfast was a combination of oatmeal (flavored with lingam berry jam), rye bread, tomatoes, lettuce, cheese, cucumbers, and ham, with the occasional karjalanpiirakat. These vaguely Klingon-shaped snacks are, surprise surprise, made with rye flour and filled with rice pudding. Best served warm.

And, lest we forget the favorite part of every meal, dessert. Though I didn’t get any riisipuuro this trip (my hands down all time favorite Finnish dish), I’m no stranger to rice pudding yumminess. My dad typically whips up several batches a few days before Christmas and keeps churning them out for days after by popular demand! Practically every culture has its own version but your typical Finnish riisipuuro is a delicious bowl of rice, milk, cream and sugar cooked for hours and topped with cinnamon. Every year, one lucky diner finds the hidden almond in the batch, bringing good luck for the year (or, in the very least, they get to make a wish).

No Christmas meal I attended was ever complete without a towering plate of gingersnaps or ‘christmas star’ pastries. Store bought, homemade, they’re all delicious. I’m no straight up ginger fan, but gingersnaps are a whole different bag of potatoes. Er, ginger… The thin, crunchy, spicy deliciousness was too good to resist. I may have eaten my weight in cookies throughout the entire trip…

And true to their reputation, Finns are coffee drinkers and boy can they DRINK. Two cups minimum. I’ve downed a cup or two in my day but these Finns seriously drank me under the table.

Hyvää joulua ja onnellista uutta vuotta

Have you ever eaten Finnish food?

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 7, 2011 8:53 pm

    Absolutely awesome post and pictures 🙂 I read it earlier without the pictures and it was much cooler to see all the food this time. I’d like to go to Finland at some point, maybe in the summer though haha.

  2. January 7, 2011 8:59 pm

    I actually want to visit Finland b/c I know a super cute guy from there. Does this make me shallow?

  3. January 7, 2011 9:14 pm

    I love that coffee chart! I’ve never been to Finland but I’ve always had a fascination with it and really want to check out some Finnish food. Thanks for posting this!

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