New Nordic Cuisine is a concept to promote Nordic Cuisine to the world. The Nordic countries include Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland. It’s a mix of regional ingredients, high quality produce and a new generation of chefs’ interpretation of traditional recipes.
As it can get really, really cold in Scandinavia, it is quite hard to grow fresh vegetables. Rye and barley are used to make bread, sometimes sweetened with molasses. Root vegetables, potatoes, mushrooms and berries make up another huge part of Nordic Cuisine. Freshly caught fish is widely popular, as well as meat that a fellow (Argentinian) traveller describes as “the animal that carries Papa Noel”.
Finnish food distinguishes itself from other Nordic cuisines by its Russian influence. Karelian Pies or Pirakkas are one of the most famous Finnish dishes. Those are a rye crust with a rice, potato or buckwheat filling. You are supposed to eat it warm with egg butter. I’d love to see modernized versions of this dish as it has a lot of potential but maybe isn’t too suited for modern tastebuds. Kind of like a reversed New Nordic Cuisine: taking the traditional form but adding new ingredients.
Traditional seasoning is puristic, there aren’t many (any) spices available, so often salt is the only way to give food more flavor. Dishes are heavy on dairy products though, ranging from Finnish creamy vegetable soup (kesäkeitto) to a dish made from milk, cream, cheese and eggs. A vegan’s dream =)
Speaking of cheese, a typical Finnish cheese is leipäjuusto or bread cheese, a mild white cheese with a dotted charred surface, it can be eaten as a dessert with cinnamon or with cloudberry jam. Modern takes use it in similar ways as halloumi.
Any berry is popular in Finland, but cloudberry is the most expensive one. They are hard to store because of their delicate nature and therefore often preserved by making cloudberry jam. Where I look, prices for fresh berries were around €8 for 250g, so indeed very expensive, but good for busy pickers as it is mostly a wild plant. The plant is even featured on the Finnish €2 coin, stating its importance for Finnish culture.
The lingonberry is another Nordic berry, probably more well-known thanks for Ikea and their Swedish meatballs. I try lingonberry Finnish style, made into a porridge and served with milk.
Finnish people love their licorice, out of my two Finnish hosts, one raves about licorice ice cream (Finnish people love ice cream!), the other recommends licorice chocolate (try Karl Fazer licorice chocolate if you dare).
Finland has the highest per capita consumption of coffee. Good coffee and good cafés are important for Finnish lifestyle. University cafés are a great place to meet, study or just to get a caffeine booze.
The unfortunately really high prices in restaurants are mostly due to high wages and salary costs. Salaries are higher after 6pm and doubled on Sundays, which means almost all restaurants are closed on Sundays and evening menus are significantly more expensive. Mostly I see tourists, a few locals and some businesspeople eating out. All of my Finnish friends confirm that they simply cannot afford to eat out that often. Lunch menus are a great option to save some cash.
In recent times, other cuisines have become immensely popular, due to globalization and immigration. Emphasis is on healthy, lighter food. I see a great number of Nepalese restaurants as well as other Asian influenced food that are winning over a lot of young, health conscious Finns. With those new ingredients and cooking styles, amazing fusion food and healthier takes on Finnish classics are introduced. I notice a lot of Finns are vegetarians, so restaurants often offer dishes tailored to their preferences.
Markets and supermarkets are great to dine for cheap, get some leipäjuusto with cloudberry jam in any supermarket and you can taste traditional Finnish food for very little money. Or get a cinnamon roll at a bakery. Because as my Finnish host tells me: “It is always good. Sometimes it is very good, but it is always good.”