Literally covered by extensive forests and thousands of lakes Finland is a country that, if to be described with just one word, natural would be the your best choice. This Nordic country spends most of the year covered in snow and in sub-zero temperatures, and with just 17 people per square kilometer (making it the third most sparsely populated country in Europe) there is no lack of space for wildlife and vegetation to grow on its own, naturally. As a result animals herd freely and vegetation can follow it’s own growth patterns, making the most of the rich soil and clean air. Of all the meals you’ll find here there are three key ingredients that make up the essence of traditional Finnish food that you’ll find in many variations: reindeer, Arctic char and berries, and with them come some of the best dishes I have tried anywhere.
Reindeer Stew With Mashed Potatoes and Lingonberries
This traditional specialty I first tried when I visited Lapland (North of the Arctic Circle) soon became my favorite dish. It’s a combination of different flavors, textures and temperatures that become a unique mouthwatering meal that somehow feels pertinent to the surroundings you’ll find in this part of the country, and best of all you can try your own variation if reindeer is not available where you are (which is most probable). Preparation is quite simple: assuming the meat you’re going to use is frozen let it unfreeze but not completely when you start frying, add salt and pepper and some beer as broth. On a side prepare mashed potatoes with two or three times more butter than you usually would and the crushed fresh lingonberries.
Arctic char is a cold water fish of the salmon family that lives in the lakes, rivers and coastal regions of the Arctic and sub-Arctic. It is very popular and eaten in all sorts of forms, from warm and tasty soups and broths to pan fried variations with vegetables, berries and rice. Its meat usually has a “pink-ish” color with a few scattered spines other than the central but lots of meat which is high in protein and very tasty. I recommend you first try a soup if you’re visiting Finland during a very cold time of the year as the warm broth and extra ingredients will warm you up quickly while enjoying its full flavor.
One of my favorite fruits anywhere in the world that are not always easy to come by are berries. From raspberries to blueberries, cranberries and strawberries I like them all. In Finland, however, you will find variations of them that you will not find elsewhere (other than in nearby territories), namely cloudberries and lingonberries. Finnish food makes a good use of their abundance and luckily you’ll find them in main course meals, jellies, as ad-ons yoghurt and cereal, desserts and more.
Modern Finnish Cuisine in Ravintola Rafla
I have to admit that I absolutely loved traditional Finnish cuisine. As locals say they don’t use extra sauces because the natural ingredients are full of flavor already, and that is a philosophy I really follow and appreciate when it is true- which is the case in Finland. However, I also wanted to try new meals and see how ingredients from the North are used in the South, as well as how people in Helsinki eat versus their neighbors in the north do. I made my way to Ravintola Rafla after visiting a Finnish sauna, a modern restaurant in central Helsinki that had been suggested by the city’s Tourist Information Bureau and quickly found an empty table. With about 12 tables Ravintola Rafla is a stylish restaurant decorated with wood that caters for those who’re up for a combination of traditional staple ingredients served in modern style. The menu had many dishes to choose from but as a budget traveler I went for the set menu of the day that was more affordable yet sounded very chic.
My first course was reindeer soup with seasoned vegetables, an exquisite combination of flavors that made eating reindeer a completely new experience.
Up for seconds was Arctic Char with asparagus foam sauteed with vegetables.
As for dessert, I genuinely enjoyed the berry cheesecake with chocolate ice cream, a beautiful way of wrapping up a fantastic meal.
Finnish food definitely has an entity of its own. While may of the dishes have Arctic char or reindeer as the main course these are cooked, grilled or boiled with different side vegetables and broths that define a unique flavor in each case. My favorite was reindeer stew with mash potatoes and lingonberries, a dish I will attempt to cook on my own with beef instead of reindeer if I can ever find lingonberries- or something similar. In any case make sure you try these foods and you’ll soon understand why Finnish food does not need extra sauce to ad flavor: the natural ingredients are full of it already.
I had the opportunity to try Finnish food during my recent trip to Finland sponsored by Tourism Finland, and was also a guest at Ravintola Rafla Restaurant , but all opinions in this article remain entirely my own. The food in Finland is really one of a kind.
Have you visited Finland? What did you think about the food? What is your favorite local dish? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below and this post too if you think it might help others find good food!