A country whose cuisine is like its people -a mix of traditional and Haute culture, Finland is passionate about its food. With most dishes made from ingredients fresh from forests, lakes and farms, each item has its own backstory, with some of them named after famous poets in Finland.
Here are 24 Finnish dishes that are an absolute don’t-miss.
1) Graavilohi (Cured salmon)
With their nearness to the sea, the Finns eat seafood by the dozens. Home to one of the freshest fishing cities, Finland is the home to the freshest salmons, and Finns make sure they make the most of it. Graavilohi is one such dish that uses raw salmon cured in salt and sugar. Thinly sliced till they are curled coils of fish, it is served with a dollop of sour cream, mustard sauce, boiled potatoes with thin slices of rye bread and helpful garnishing of dill weed, which gives it its flavour.
2) Lohikeitto (Salmon soup)
The love for salmon doesn’t end with Graavilohi, because Finns can have salmon everywhere, even in a soup. One of their favourite dishes, this staple soup is made with salmon, potatoes, onions, spice and dill in full-fat milk for a thick creaminess. Served with buttered rye bread on the side, this dish can be found in a lot of restaurants. To have a taste of the traditional salmon soup, head to Ravintola KuuKuu or Ravintola Lappi.
3) Karjalanpiirakka (Veg pastry)
Finland is known to name its dishes after its famous poets, and Karjalanpiirakka is no different. A pastry or Karelian pie as it is often called, it is inspired by the 19th-century poem Kalavela that originated in Karelia. Small pies that fit perfectly into your hands and crumble in your mouth, Karjalanpiirakka is made from a rye crust and is stuffed with delish veggies like potatoes, carrots and other root vegetables along with rice porridge. Served with egg butter spread on top, this is a common breakfast item that Finnish people love to gorge on for snacks as well as in weddings.
4) Kalakukko (Meat Pastry)
Similar to Karjalanpiirakka, Kalakukko is also a pastry with a rye flour crust but instead of rice, this is filled with succulent fish or pork and bacon. The fish used is usually ‘muikku’ which is a small herring, that is cooked with the meat till the juices seep through the bread resulting in soft fish bones and moist filling – an absolute treat to your mouth. Bigger in size than the Karjalanpiirakka, Kalakukko serves as a complete meal, with all the ingredients to fill you up nutritionally and physically.
5) Grillimakkara (Grilled sausages)
With the grill in Grillimakkara hinting at what it holds, this is a dish that the Finnish love, from kids to adults, everyone has enjoyed this around the fire in winter or as snacks in the summer. Big, fat sausages that are made just for grilling are enjoyed with topped mustard and washed down with a beer on the side for adults. Sold everywhere in the markets, you can buy them and grill them yourselves or stop by a street vendor and eat it hot off the grill.
6) Mustikkapiirakka (Bilberries)
During summer months, Finnish forests are overrun by Mustikkapiirakka or bilberries, and in such large numbers that you either get startled if you aren’t used to them or want to pick them all and freeze them for winter if you’re a local. Bilberries are a healthier Nordic version of the blueberries and are best enjoyed in the summer months where you can use them in your own pies or eat them just like fruits. What Finns relish the most is Mustikkapiirakka filled with yoghurt and served with milk, an all-time favourite delicacy.
7) Silli ja Uudet Perunat (New Potatoes)
New potatoes come out every summer, which are harvested early when they are still tiny and are a raging favourite. Summer hasn’t officially arrived until the news of these little spuds’ harvest makes it to the papers. The combinations of new potatoes with toppings are endless, but each equally mouthwatering –herring, fresh lake fish, fish roe, or the simplest version – boil them with a lot of salt and dill and serve it with loads of butter. Simple but too delicious to miss.
8) Rapu (Crayfish)
When summer hits Finland after months of gloomy winters, the Finnish people celebrate it with style – huge crayfish parties in summer cottages with tubs of freshly boiled crayfish, which are not cheap and hence is a big deal. Rapujuhlat is the crayfish festival in which the fresher the crayfish, the better its success. The crayfish tails are pulled from their shells and sandwiched between slices of buttered bread along with a sprinkle of dill, salt and a dash of zesty lemon. For the best Crayfish around town, head to Ravintola NJK in Helsinki which serves more than 30,000 of these favourite crustaceans every season –in fennel broth, in a risotto or in the traditional bread and buttered way.
9) Poronkaristys (Reindeer meat)
An absolute lip-smacking delight, along with being rich in so many important nutrients, this dish is made from the steak on the back of a reindeer. The steak is thinly sliced and fried in fat, originally the deer’s own fat, but now in butter or oil. The fried meat is seasoned with salt, pepper and cooked in water, cream and beer till it becomes tender. Served alongside mashed potatoes and lingonberry jam and sometimes cucumber pickles, you can’t miss this dish if you’re in Finland.
10) Salmiakki (Salty Liquorice)
Liquorice is a favourite sweet most people like to suck on, but Finnish people have their own version – salted liquorice that is flavoured with ammonium chloride for an astringent taste. Dark-hued blue in colour, this is an unusual flavoured candy which most tourists can’t stand the taste of, but like salted caramel, this quirky flavour soon caught up too, with the locals incorporating it in ice creams, alcohol and even meat dishes! Salmiakki can be found in most candy shops or supermarkets in Finland, along with ice-cream parlours now as well.
11) Ruisleipa (Rye bread)
Rye bread may not seem like a big deal to you but Fins swear by this 100% genuine rye bread made from sourdough with a dark dense character due to the local Finnish yeasts. A staple food in Finland, people have sent it through the post when living abroad, such is the attachment to this loaf. Dense, flat and heavy, this bread is eaten with almost everything –simply buttered, dried in thin slices and used in sandwiches, with soups, with cheese and ham or if you are feeling fancy, add cucumber and tomato slices too. If you are living in one of the luxury hotels in Finland, you will find this Rye bread sandwich on their menu, otherwise, it is advisable to eat it homemade instead of cafés that charge too much for something so simple.
12) Riispuuro (Rice porridge)
Like most cuisines in the world, Finland also has its own rice porridge made from a mixture of full-fat milk and rice. For the extra wholesomeness, add a slab of butter and sugar on top, or simply sprinkle cinnamon. Heavy, thick and delicious, Riispuuro is a common breakfast to fuel up for the day. Most locals are too busy to make it at home so you can get readymade Riispuuro at grocery stores or find it in the menu of most restaurants.
13) Hernekeitto ja Pannukakku (Pea soup and pancakes)
A Thursday speciality in Finland (throwback to when Friday was a fast day), pea soup is made from fresh peas in the summer and dried peas in the winter. Cooked with pork, onion, bay leaf, salt and pepper, Hernekeitto is served with oven-baked pancakes on the side that are topped with whipped cream or jam. Also served with a side of rye bread or rye cracker that is thickly spread with butter, it is irresistible with buttered bread dipped into the warm soup. Found in most restaurants, the best place to have it is Moko restaurant.
14) Siskonmakkara (Sausage Soup)
A sausage soup might sound like something pretty simple but the sausages used here are made specifically for this soup. Instead of the normal sausage shape, the balls of sausages used are squeezed out of the sausage casing. The raw sausage is cooked with a broth till it attains a creamy consistency and the best Siskonmakkara can be found in granny’s kitchens because this unusual soup is not something every restaurant serves on their menu.
15) Lihapullat (Meatballs)
A Finnish favourite, this dish is the most popular item on most restaurant menus. Succulent meatballs which are usually served with mashed potatoes, brown gravy, lingonberry jam and pickled cucumbers, Lihapullat is a dish every child in Finland grew up eating and craving. Every restaurant serves it but the best meatballs can be found in Ravintola Tori in Helsinki.
16) Makaronilaatikko (Baked macaroni)
Similar to the American mac and cheese, Makaronilaatikko is made of macaroni, minced meat and full-fat milk instead of cheese. More filling and richer in taste, this is one of those hassle-free dishes that kids have grown up eating and college students still swear by because it’s cheap and easy to make yourself! Not a dish that makes it to Finland’s cuisine dishes, Makaronilaatikko is an anytime-anywhere dish for someone who’s broke because it can never disappoint a hungry stomach!
17) Karjalanpaisti (Meat stew)
The softest meat that melts in your mouth, Karjalanpaisti is your go-to dish when you need something comforting in your stomach. Although time-consuming to make, for it involves cooking the meat and broth in a pot for hours till the meat is soft, it is a food item locals swear by in cold Finnish winters. Served with mashed potatoes and rye bread on the side, Karjalanpaisti is more homecooked than popular in restaurant menus.
18) Kaalikääryleet (Cabbage rolls)
A Finnish speciality, Kaalikääryleet is a cabbage roll where cabbage leaves are blanched, and then minced meat, spices, fried onions and steamed rice are rolled into it and cooked in the oven. Commonly served with mashed potatoes and gravy, it is topped with lingonberry jam which goes with every Finnish dish, because why not! Not every restaurant would serve this dish but one can find it readymade in grocery stores or indigenously in grandma’s kitchens.
19) Paistettu Muikku (Fried vendace)
Finland has food varying with the seasons and this snack is only found in the summers. Sold in streets or squares, Paistettu Muikku is made by covering vendace with a mixture of rye and flour, after which this fish is fried in butter or oil till its irresistibly crispy and golden. Served with aioli and a slice of lemon to squeeze on it, Paistettu Muikku is very popular amongst locals and tourists alike and can be found everywhere during summers.
20) Lihapiirakka (Meat pie)
A recommended street food that you can never miss, Lihapiirakka is a meat pie that is usually eaten as an after-party snack late in the night after giving yourself an appetite after all the alcohol and dancing. Locals would tell you that the greasier the Lihapiirakka, the better it tastes. Sold in many small kiosks in Finland, it is stuffed with meat, garlic sauce, pickled cucumbers, mayo, steamed rice and then fried in oil. This savoury meat pie is a snack Finns swear by.
21) Korvapuusti (Cinnamon Rolls)
A type of ‘Pulla’ which is Finnish cinnamon bread, Korvapuusti is a sweet bread made from cinnamon roll in butter and sugar filling. Fluffy and baked to perfection, these rolls smell heavenly and taste even better with coffee, which is how you can see most Finns enjoying Korvapuusti. Found everywhere in Finland, you can enjoy them at most local cafés or buy them from grocery shops. For the best experience, head to Fazer Cafe and Cafe Regatta in Helsinki.
22) Mustikkapiirakka (Blueberry Pie)
There’s no dearth to bakery items in Finland, and Mustikkapiirakka is another famous Finish pie made from a mix of frozen blueberries, powdered sugar and potato flour that is placed on top of a pastry and baked till it cooks a nice golden brown. Served warm with vanilla sauce or vanilla ice cream, you can grab a piece of this pie at any café or bake it yourself if you have fresh blueberries available.
23) Runeberg Torte (Rum cakes)
A name that comes from Finland’s national poet, Runeberg Torte are small rum cakes which the poet enjoyed immensely, and as the tale suggests, were invented by his wife. These tortes are available exclusively from January till Runeberg’s birthday on February 5th. Individually portioned cake, Runeberg pastries are topped with raspberry jam encircled by icing on top and packed with almonds, ginger, orange zest and rum. An absolute Finnish favourite, grab one from a café and accompany it with dark coffee.
24) Leipajuusto Lakkahillolla (Cheese bread with Cloudberry Jam)
A rare and funny combination of things, Leipajuusto is a fresh cheese made from rich cow’s milk and is known as ‘Finnish squeaky cheese’ in English. The milk is curdled, fried/baked and then cut in wedges that is most delicious with cloudberry jam which is made from indigenous Finnish berries that actually look like little fluffy clouds. This traditional Finnish dessert goes well with coffee, just like most Finnish desserts, and nothing can make your day better than sipping hot coffee with something to satisfy your sweet tooth.