Its geographical location in Northern Europe and its cold climate have helped to create the stereotype that Finland has a simple cuisine. Nothing is further from reality, the cuisine of Finland has a long tradition in which the influence of their Russian and Swedish neighbours has shaped the wide variety of ingredients that can be found in Finnish kitchens.
With an ancestral hunting tradition, the Finnish are big eaters of game meat. For the Sami people in the north, reindeer is one of their staple foods. It is an exquisite meat, very lean and low in fat that is also widely used in the south and used on pizzas, or in sausages or salamis. When in Finland you must try the typical roasted reindeer steak sautéed with cranberries called poronkäristis. Other equally delicious specialities are meatballs or grilled liver with bacon, both served with mashed potatoes.
Another speciality is kalakkuko, a regional dish from western Finland where the tastiest fish is cooked inside a loaf of rye bread. This recipe can be made with several types of fish, although the most commonly used is the muikku, a fairly small fish similar to herring found in the Finnish Lake Region. It is a very nutritious and filling meal it is one of the nation’s favourite dishes.
Karjalanpiirakka, are small bread-like cakes with a soft texture that melts in the mouth. They are made from rye flour, and covered with egg or butter and stuffed with potatoes, rice or carrots.
Among the desserts, one of the most typical is the korvapuusti or cinnamon roll. It is a sweet roll made with a dough that looks a lot like bread, and to which, as the name implies, a little cinnamon is added. Many ingredients can be added to the dough, although the most popular rolls are those that carry jams of some of the delicious seasonal berries such as strawberries and even dried fruit such as raisins.
Of all the Finnish liquors, a good choice to wash down a heavy winter meal and most preferred by the Finns is the Koskenkorva, a clear liquor that has the colloquial name of Kassu and is globally known as Finnish vodka. Its flavour can be changed by adding pieces of salmiakki, a salty liquorice very typical in Finland. Another variant is fisu, which has a mint flavour.
Like the reindeer, another of the favourite specialities of the Sami people is cheese, among which the Leipäjuustu, originally from the Ostrobothnia region in the north of Finland. In Finnish "juusto" is cheese and "leipä" is bread. It is a hard cheese with a chewy texture that is usually made with the first milk that cows give after giving birth. Another popular cheese made from goat milk is kutunjuustu.
Grilled, pickled or smoked, salmon, which is known in Finland as Lohi, is the nation's favourite fish. It is eaten raw or cooked and served with a mushroom sauce. Another very popular way to consume it and often eaten to combat the cold is in the dish Lohikeitto, an exquisite soup of salmon, potatoes, onion and dill.
A precious delicacy in Finland is lota roe, too scarce and valued to be exported outside of Finnish borders, you should not miss the opportunity to try it if you have the chance. Served with onions and sour cream, and sprinkled with the famous Finnish vodka it is considered a delicacy throughout the country. Also, the eggs of other local species such as the Farra or the Thymallus, are said to be as good as Russian caviar.
Bread is a staple on Finnish dining table. Finland has a vast variety of different types of breads; made of wheat, oats or barley, although their rye bread is the most famous and widely eaten, known as Ruisleipa. There are many varieties of this bread, but the most popular is a dense, flat and heavy bread in a bagel shape, whose name means "bread with a hole" and which in the past the Finns used to hang from the rafters of their kitchens.
An ideal place to start when trying Finnish cuisine is the silli, a snack that the locals love. Herrings, served in a tin and marinated for at least 2 or 3 days in a mixture of water, sugar, vinegar, onion, carrot and different spices. Salty, sweet and delicious.