Of all the places I have visited, the food of Finland was the biggest surprise. I really had no idea what to expect and was a bit worried I would not like Finnish food.
There are some amazing traditional dishes in Finland and others I could take or leave. But here are the most memorable.
Beginning with the Helsinki Market – you definitely need to stop here.
Traditional Food of Finland
Karjalanpiirakka / Karelian pies
Karjalanpiirakka or karelian pies are traditional Finnish food specifically in the Karelia region.
This Finland traditional food is mainly rye flour-based. But some regions like Karelia Lagoda and North Karelia prepare a mixture of rye flour and wheat to improve cooking.
Traditionally, fillings are made of barley and roasted flour mixture of oats, pea flour, barley and rye.
Today, a variety of fillings are available like chopped hard-boiled egg and butter mix, mashed potatoes, cheese, fish and meat.
Many versions of this pie have been made since it was introduced in the Finland food culture.
Gourmet level Karelian pies are filled with smoked salmon or reindeer meat.
From a simple pie, Karelian pies are not an integral part of Finland cuisine.
Nowadays, Karelian pies are also filled with sweets, a common Finnish breakfast served with milk or buttermilk.
Kalakukko / Fish Pie
Kalakukko is a traditional Finnish food originally from the region of Savonia.
This food from Finland is made from fish like salmon or vendace baked inside a loaf of bread.
The preparation of this popular Finnish dish involves two phases- dough and filling production.
The dough is a simple mixture of mainly rye flour, a little barley, and wheat flour. The filling consists of pork, fish, and bacon.
Kalakukko is a practical Finland diet for workers away from home since the pie can be kept for a long time.
Kalakukko is also a popular food in Finland when traveling because you can cut into the bread to get to the tasty fish filling.
Perunarieska / Finnish Potato Flatbread
Finland foods like bread are a staple food in Finland and you’ll often find one or the other for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Perunarieska is mainly made of mashed potatoes then mixed with flour, barley, wholemeal, or oats.
This traditional Finnish flatbread is round, and it is usually baked until golden brown for that crispy crust.
Perunarieska is usually served during breakfast or as a light snack.
Fresh from the oven, this Finnish food can be paired with hot soup, milk, or omelet.
It also makes for a good pair with smoked salmon, herbed cheese spread, butter, or any other spread type of your choice.
Lihapullat / Finnish Meatballs
Although thanks to Ikea it’s mostly associated with Sweden, meatballs are classic Finnish food.
It is basically a combination of ground beef and pork mixed with spices, cheese, breadcrumbs, or soaked bread.
As a popular part of the Finnish diet, different regions of the country have several varieties of meatballs.
Instead of ground pork and beef, some prefer to use ground reindeer meat as the main ingredient.
During Christmas dinner, Finns typically consume meatballs or lihapullat (meatbuns in English) as the main course with mashed potatoes or new potatoes.
But this can also be eaten alone with a creamy sauce or lingonberry jam.
Lihapiirakka / Meat Pie
Finland dishes like meat pies are some of the most common Finnish foods you can find in supermarkets and kiosks.
Lihapiirakka is made from doughnut dough filled with meat and cooked rice mixture mostly enjoyed during the hunting season.
Being a traditional and everyday food of Finland, other variants are made like möttönen which is thicker and larger.
The Karelian region also has its varieties: atomi and vety (atom and hydrogen in English).
Atomi is filled with egg or ham while vety consists of the two.
Finns eat meat pies whole. But these days, meat pies are split in half, filled with sausage, kebab meat, or meat burger.
Meat pies are food to go or street food that can be reheated in the oven. They are known as hand pies in other cultures and are a common PEI food. They also are somewhat similar to the traditional Jamaican food, patties.
Like the regular burger, meat pies are served with ketchup, mustard, and pickled vegetables on the side.
Karjalanpaisti / Karelian Meat Stew
Traditional Finnish foods such as stewed meats are enjoyed on a daily basis.
This Karelian meat stew is an ultimate comfort food commonly made of beef and pork combination, or lamb.
As per Finland food traditions, particularly in the region, Karjalanpaisti is traditionally served during Easter.
Voted as Finland’s national food, Karjalanpaisti is synonymous with family gatherings and celebrations, always present at the festive dinner table.
Braised in a slow cooker for many hours, Karelian meat stew melts in your mouth.
Like Finns usually do, Karjalanpaisti is served with mashed potatoes and lingonberry preserves.
Chianti Beef Stew
Poronkäristys / Sauteed Reindeer
Reindeer is not just Santa’s little helper but the main source of protein common in Finnish foods and dishes.
But sautéed reindeer is more popular in Northern Finland where the animals roam free and feed on local vegetation.
The dish is prepared by sautéing the thinly sliced reindeer meat in reindeer fat, seasoned with salt and pepper.
Water or beer is added to cook and tenderize the meat.
In Finland, the most common way of eating sautéed reindeer is with mashed potatoes, sugared lingonberries, and cucumber pickles.
The dish is also the traditional meal of the Sami people. Sauteed reindeer is also common in Sweden (renskav) Norway (finnbiff), Russia, and Sakha.
Kaalikääryleet / Cabbage Rolls
Cabbage rolls are probably one of the least favorite Finnish dishes on this list because of the smell and appearance.
You are either team cabbage rolls or not. Personally, I think if you can get over smell and looks they are so tasty.
The dish is mainly a mixture of meat, vegetables, rice, barley, mushrooms, spices, tomato sauce, onion, salt and pepper.
Finnish cabbage rolls are usually a mixture of pork, lamb, or beef. It is wrapped in boiled cabbage leaves, then baked, steamed or simmered.
The popular Finland food is served hot brushed with milk and brown sugar mixture on top. Fresh lingonberry or lingonberry jam on the side is also a must.
But Kaalikääryleet or a version of it, can be found all over the world.
Brazil also has its version of cabbage rolls.
The meat mixture is usually made of pork, lamb, beef wrapped like cigars. Boiled Brazilian cabbage rolls are served hot and seasoned with salt, pepper, and lime juice.
In Russia, Ukraine, and Poland, the dish is called halupki.
It is known as holubki in Czech Republic and Slovakia, halubcy in Belarus, sarmale in Romania.
In Serbia, cabbage rolls are called sarma, kohlroulade in Germany, and krautwickel in Austria.
Paistetut Muikut / Fried Vendace
Finland is blessed with thousands of lakes and surrounded by seas making fishing an important Finnish way of life.
With such abundance in different fish species, Finland has come up with this simple yet delectable Finnish food – fried vendace.
Although small, surprisingly this dish has gained its spot in Finnish cuisine. It reminds me of a Nova Scotia food that I grew up with and love – fried smelts.
The main ingredient is the tiny fish locally known as muikku or vendace in English.
Fried Vendace can be found in most restaurant menus and market stalls across the country specifically in the summer.
Crispy fried in abundant butter, Finland’s version of fish and chips is best eaten when hot paired with mashed potatoes.
But this can also be enjoyed by piling it on rye bread with mayonnaise.
Loimulohi / Smoked Salmon
Most of the salmon is from neighbouring Norway. However, you can find smoked salmon everywhere, including the market where it is prepared many different ways.
Loimulohi is a traditional Finnish fish dish usually prepared when camping or just enjoying the outdoors.
My favourite was with Martin Tillman, Peter’s supplier outside Porvoo.
The salmon filet is seasoned with salt, pepper, and drizzled with lemon juice.
The Finnish way of cooking this cuisine is unique (using soaked wood plank) yet simple.
Pinned on a soaked wood plank with wooden pegs, the fish is then grilled in an open flame.
The filet is then periodically brushed with maple-brandy mix throughout the cooking period.
Squeeze lemon juice or season again before serving.
Also known as garlic, it is fantastic. Finns LOVE soup, they have entire restaurants dedicated to it.
Potato Mussel Chowder
Rosvopaisti refers to the Finnish meat dish and traditional technique of cooking in a pit.
It is said to be of Mongolian origin but has spread throughout the world through the novel, The Lamb Eaters.
The dish can be made with any meat like lamb, beef, pork, mutton, bear, or reindeer.
The meat is wrapped in aluminum foil or layers of dampened parchment paper then placed into the pit.
The meat takes a couple of hours to cook so Rosvopaisti is usually eaten in the afternoon.
Salmon soup with cream, I had this at Kaisa’s house in Porvoo. It was really nice to eat in someone’s home for a change.
Finnish Salmon Soup
It reminded me a lot of home as I grew up in the Maritimes eating cream-based Nova Scotia chowder and soups.
If you’re in Helsinki don’t forget to check out the market to eat with the locals.
Mykyrokka / Blood Dumpling Soup
This Finnish soup is a traditional dish in Savo, Eastern Finland and is made of a palm-sized dumpling.
The dish (mixture of blood and barley flour) was born from the old autumn butchery custom.
When animals were butchered, the innards were made into hams, sausages, and other meat preserves, while some were added in soup.
This is zero waste cooking before it became trendy. It respects the life of the animal but using all of it.
Blood dumpling soup is like a family affair where members gather to assemble Mykyrokka.
This hearty soup is preferred by everyone during autumn or while enduring the dark Finnish winter.
Grillimakkara / Sausages
Grillimakkara is part of the Finland food traditions like the famous Finnish salmon soup, creamy salmon soup, and pulla (sweet bread).
This is the perfect dish to complement the summer season (like blueberry pie when fields during summer are prepped with bilberries).
Midsummer is celebrated nationwide in Finland with family and friends in summer cabins or cottages.
Lighting bonfires and going to saunas to mark the start of the festivities are the typical things to do during midsummer.
Finnish food is deeply rooted in its people and culture. They usually have grillimakkara in midsummer and pea soup to celebrate the winter festival – Laskiainen.
Finns like to eat grillimakkara after hours of a sauna session.
Paired with homemade mustard, ice-cold beer or cider is the Finnish way to end a sauna session.
Ryynimakkara / Cured Sausage
Ryynimakkara is a Finnish sausage traditionally made of barley groats and flour.
But other varieties are mixed with pork meat, tongue, or heart to improve taste and texture.
The Hame region in Finland has its version of ryynimakkara. It is made of potato instead of barley groats and verimakkara from Tampere.
The Scottish traditional haggis is also closely similar to ryynimakkara.
Leipäjuusto / Lapland Bread Cheese
How many times have I said I don’t like dessert?
I didn’t go to Lapland but I did the next best thing, I went to Saaga Restaurant in Helsinki that serves traditional food from Lapland.
This fried cheese dessert was incredible.
This Finnish squeaky cheese comes from Northern Finland. The name is derived from the description of how the fresh leipäjuusto “squeaks” against the teeth when bitten.
The “bread cheese” name is translated from the process of toasting the cheese during the preparation.
Leipäjuusto is a fresh cheese made from cow’s milk specifically from a cow that has just given birth. But other versions are made from goat’s or reindeer’s milk.
Modern leipäjuusto is toasted but traditionally the cheese is totally dried. This is to ensure it can be stored for an extended period of time.
People heat the hard leipäjuusto to soften it which has the same texture as sliced bread. Or cheese strips can be dunked in your coffee to soften it.
Bread cheese Leipäjuusto can be eaten cold or warm and has a mild, sweet, and salty flavor. It is ideally paired with cloudberry jam, other types of berry jams, or drizzle it with honey.
I ate reindeer nearly every day in Finland.
It tastes like really great venison and the interesting thing about reindeer is that none are truly wild, they are all owned by someone and yet they let them all wander wild in the North.
It is fascinating and I am hoping to come back to Finland to learn a bit more about it.
This dish was at Saaga as well where I had dried, cured and smoked reindeer.
Also known as black sausage or blood sausage, it is most famous in Tampere.
I knew I would like this.
I have eaten it a few times in other countries, including Argentina.
But I like that in Finland they add something sweet to it, you need the lingonberries to balance it out.
Surprisingly the first time someone offered me a shot of vodka was in Porvoo.
Finland has an interesting take on shots, in Tampere I had a shot of vodka that was infused with Fishermans Friend.
This may be my new shot when I am sick.
One of the things I was most impressed with in Finland is that there is still a sense of seasonal food.
Many dishes you can only get on specific days or seasons.
Here at Restaurant Lasipalatsi I had a blini, which is typically from neighbouring Russia.
I was told this circular dish is served in the winter when the days are dark and they need a bit of sun to brighten their day.
Smoked Arctic Char
My first dinner in Helsinki at Savotta, it is a restaurant for tourists but there is a reason it is so popular. The food is really good and the servers are so much fun.
The dishes on the menu are traditional and it is a good place to get your footing with food of Finland.
Now that I have eaten this once I probably would not order it again as it is so heavy.
A typical food of Finland, it is a salty minced meat dish and definitely needs a beer.
I actually drank far more beer than vodka in Finland.
Visiting breweries has become one of my favourite things to do in cities even though I know zero about beer.
Although I am not crazy about sweets this was okay and I am happy I had it on the food tour as it is traditional and very popular.
Salmiakki (Salty Liquorice)
Salty licorice, it is ammonium chloride flavoured candy and you can find this flavour everywhere.
On the way to go from sauna to frozen lake Ville picked some up.
We put the liquorice in the vodka bottle and shook it up. You can also buy it pre-mixed.
Ruisleipä or Hapanleipä / Rye Bread
Oh how I love the bread in Finland. I heard it was different in Sweden which is a bit more sweet, here there is no sugar just delicious rye.
I am definitely looking for more of this when I return to Toronto.
A berry very high in vitamin C, I saw this used in everything from cocktails, to vinegars and Peter uses it in his food at Bistro Sinne.
A bit tart but definitely worth trying.
I love fish so it was great to have at breakfast but it is not for everyone. I heard the best way to have it is in the summer with new potatoes.