Food is something that completes the experience of a trip in an other country, it is part of the senses to be satisfied for immersion at 360° in a territory and in a culture different from ours. During a holiday in Lapland you cannot miss traditional dishes, those dishes that you can find on Finnish tables all year round and which are represented also during the Christmas holidays. In Finland, the festive table remains almost unchanged whether we are talking about Christmas dinner or New Year’s Eve dinner. We had the opportunity to enjoy a typical Lappish dinner at the end of the year and we will tell you about it. We are very impressed with Nordic cuisine, because it is based on a few ingredients, that are prepared to enhance their simplicity and authenticity. The meat and fish are stewed or smoked, the side dishes are mainly based on tubers, the vegetable salads are enriched with cream and bechamel sauces. Okay, it is not really a diet cuisine, but the cold temperatures of the Nordic winter can justify these choices. So now we show you what we ate during our Finnish holidays.
Leggi in italiano ⇒ clicca qui
In the buffets of the Christmas holidays the courses consist mainly of meat/fish and side dishes, rarely soups. Fish dishes are based on salmon and are prepared in different ways, there is always smoked or marinated salmon with sugar, salt and dill (the famous Scandinavian gravlax ), but you can also find preparations with herring.
Among the meat dishes, poron käristys is indispensable, it is stewed reindeer accompanied by red fruits to create a sharp and fresh contrast with the sweetness of the meat. If you are in a restaurant and you order the reindeer, it will be served with its traditional side dish made with mashed potatoes and red fruits. In Lapland reindeer meat is more easily available than in the rest of the country and is the most popular, despite its high cost, for its proven nutritional properties: being an animal that feeds on wild pastures, its meat is lean, healthy and rich in vitamins. On the festive table, joulukinkku is never missing, the Christmas ham, originally from Sweden but widespread in all Scandinavian countries, is slowly baked in the oven (traditionally during the night before Christmas).
The side dishes mainly consist of carrots, potatoes, turnips and are presented in many different ways: in the form of hot pies or rice porridge, roasted or au gratin, in cold salads with cream or mayonnaise. Typical of the Christmas table are two delicious preparations similar to baked and au gratin pies based on Swedish turnips (lanttulaatikko ) and carrots (porkkanalaatikko) respectively. One thing is certain: the addition of the fat component is widely used in Finland to enrich and flavor the dishes, in fact cooking cream (ruokakerma) and butter (voi) are used a lot and they are very high quality products. On the other hand, Finnish cuisine is really at 0 km, it is based on simple, natural and nutritious ingredients that follow the normal rhythm of the seasons and the surrounding territory. You will realize this fact in the supermarkets: fruits and vegetables from other parts of the world are not so many and they cost a lot. If you want to diversify your diet, rather buy frozen vegetables.
Another indispensable dish of the Finnish holidays but which we have not had the opportunity to try is the Christmas porridge: it is rice-based and goes well with a sweet blueberry, strawberry or cranberry sauce. Traditionally, an almond is hidden in the porridge bowl and whoever finds it will have a very lucky year. In families it is used to fill the almond tureen so that everyone can find at least one, as a sign of good auspice for all the guests. Another typical holiday dessert is the Christmas cake (joulutorttu), that is a chocolate base cake stuffed with plum jam.
Most of the dishes listed actually form the basis of Finnish cuisine all year round, so don’t be discouraged if your trip to Finland isn’t scheduled for the Christmas holidays. During these days you will simply have the advantage of finding all these preparations in a single buffet, but otherwise you can taste traditional dishes in any restaurant on Finnish territory. In addition to those listed, other typical Finnish dishes you will come across are the following:
- karjalanpiirakka, a Finnish savory cupcake that literally means “Karelian tart” as it originates from this east Finland region. It is a small savory pie in which an external rye flour crust encloses a soft filling based on rice porridge (in this case it can also be called riisipiirakka) or barley or potatoes. It is a snack that can be consumed throughout the day but it is a typical preparation of the Finnish breakfast. The first time we found it at the supermarket, curious and unaware of what it was, we took it as a “sweetie” for the next day breakfast…so we guessed the right moment to eat it but unfortunately it was not as sweet as we would have expected;
- leipäjuusto, a typical Lapland cheese cooked on a flame, is made with cow’s milk or reindeer’s milk or goat’s milk. It is like a low circular cake (similar to a bun, from which derives its name that literally means “cheese bread“) and has darker spots given by the flame cooking in a pan. Although it is a cheese, the Finns consume it as a dessert, accompanied by cloudberries jam (the typical arctic blackberry with an orange color) or with coffee. Its flavor is very neutral and lends itself to be consumed with savory ingredients;
- elk meat, is another type of meat very common in Finnish cuisine and expensive as the reindeer’s one. The most typical way to eat it is as meatballs (lihapullat) served with cranberry sauce (lingonberry), mashed potatoes and gherkins.
And what about breakfast? It is certainly abundant and composed of nutritious and substantial foods, mainly salty. The dark rye bread (ruisleipa) with butter, fresh cheese, salami and cucumbers (yes, the oversized cucumber with a shiny and smooth skin that we have not yet mentioned is a must for Nordic nutrition), porridge, vegetables, herring, salmon, berry desserts and cakes. Needless to say, once we returned from our holiday we tried to reproduce a Nordic breakfast even at home but the flavor of the ingredients purchased in our supermarkets did not give the same result.
The strenght of Finnish cuisine is the authenticity of the raw materials, taste the salmon here, with an intense and natural flavor and you will change your mind about your previous idea of salmon. Reindeer meat is tender and its sweet taste reminds that of game, try it and you won’t stop eating it for the rest of the holiday! Despite being poor in taste, the vegetables are flavored and velvety by creamy and buttery notes and you will eat them willingly. After telling you about the charm and tranquility that these lands infuse, we want to leave you with a further starting point for reflection on the harmony between man and nature also about food. We just have to wish you an unforgettable experience in the far North, a land that lets itself be loved, a land that you will not forget.
See you soon