Posted by on 14 Nov 2023
Finland, one of the most interesting regions to visit in Scandinavia, with its pristine air, picturesque lakes, and Northern Lights, is a hidden gem for both nature and gastronomy enthusiasts. Finland's cuisine possesses a unique charm, though often perceived as simple. Traditional Finnish dishes are a delightful reflection of Finnish culture and traditions, offering a subtle yet appealing taste that grows on you.
Their cuisine is known for making use of simple ingredients straight from nature’s kitchen and turning them into something familiar that reminds you of home. That means creamy vegetable soups, warm pies from the oven and fresh fish from the neighbouring Baltic Sea.
Of course, the best place to try Finnish cuisine is in the nation’s capital, Helsinki. The city is dotted with plenty of rustic restaurants and cafés where you can try some of the most scrumptious traditional Finnish dishes.
Not sure what to order when you sit down at a Finnish restaurant? Here’s the best food in Helsinki you need to try at least once during your stay.
Silakat (Small Baltic Herring)
In Finland, the abundance of the Baltic Sea offers a special treat: herring, a beloved fish in the country.
There are plenty of ways to cook Finnish herring, also known as silakat. It’s commonly cleaned and filleted before being dredged in flour and seasoning and then pan-fried in butter. They’re then served with mashed potatoes and lime. Some Finns also choose to pickle their herring with vinegar, onions and carrots to give it a tangier flavour.
Herring is also used to prepare a plethora of dishes that are a little more complex, such as herring lasagna, herring rolls and soft, tender baked herring. You can find these in plenty of restaurants in the nation’s capital.
Karjalanpiirakka (Karelian Pies)
Another Helsinki food you need to try is karjalanpiirakka, a traditional pie made with a thin, golden rye crust and filled with mashed potatoes or rice. While this melt-in-your-mouth pie is usually eaten for breakfast, it’s also best eaten as a midday snack.
This pie has roots in the Karelia region of Finland, but it’s such a staple in the country’s cuisine that you’ll find it baked to perfection in many of the cafés and bakeries in Helsinki. The best way to enjoy this flaky treat is to top it off with a dollop of butter.
Lohikeitto (Salmon Soup)
It can get quite cold in Finland, and there’s nothing like a hot bowl of lohikeitto to make you feel warm and cosy in the chilly winter months. This hearty, nourishing soup is made with salmon, potatoes, onions and cream.
This salmon soup is extra delicious when it’s infused with dill, which balances out the dish’s heartiness. The best way to eat it is with some rye bread—another staple in Finnish cuisine in Helsinki and all over the country.
Hernekeitto (Pea Soup)
Another creamy soup you can enjoy as you admire the tranquil capital of Finland is hernekeitto, or pea soup.
The sweet vegetable adds a yellow-green tinge to the soup as its star ingredient. And while peas are generally light in flavour, the soup is slow-cooked with pork to thicken it up and make it rich and smoky. It’s seasoned with black pepper, marjoram and sometimes even mustard for that extra kick, making the soup incredibly satisfying with every spoonful.
This pea soup is traditionally served on Thursdays, following an old Christian custom of breaking the Lenten fast with rich, decadent soups and dishes like this one.
Poronkäristys (Sautéed Reindeer)
You may recognise the majestic reindeer from Christmas cards or perhaps glimpse them in Canada’s wilderness. In Finland, these elegant creatures not only captivate but also provide a source of nourishing protein.
Sautéed reindeer is a traditional Finnish dish usually served during celebrations. The reindeer meat is thinly sliced and marinated with Finnish spices and juniper berries. Then, it’s cooked with butter to bring out that hearty, robust flavour. The meat is served with mashed potatoes, pickles and lingonberries to complement its savoury taste.
Maksalaatikko (Liver Casserole)
Maksalaatikko is a baked casserole made of ground liver, butter, onions, rice and other spices and aromatics. Some recipes of the traditional dish also call for eggs and raisins.
Before it is served, Finns usually add extra sweetness to the dish with a drizzle of syrup or a side of lingonberry jam.
The liver casserole is best eaten warm, right after it is sliced into portions. It’s not unusual to see this dish in school lunches and Helsinki eateries.
Mustikkapiirakka (Blueberry Pie)
We can’t end this list without mentioning dessert! And in Finland, sweet and mouthwatering mustikkapiirakka—or Finnish blueberry pie—is a favourite of many.
Finnish blueberry pie isn’t quite the same as blueberry pie everywhere else in the world. Instead of topping the pie with blueberries, mustikkapiirakka has layers of berries baked into it after being buried in a sweet, delectable custard filling that makes it incredibly creamy. The crust is thin and delicate, kind of like a sugar cookie. The pie also has a dash of cardamom to bring out that authentic Nordic flavour.
This pie is best enjoyed when it’s baked fresh from the oven. It’s the perfect warm and cosy meal-ender during the colder months in Scandinavia.
Savour These Traditional Finnish Dishes on Your Next Scandinavian Escape
Whether you take a spoonful of delicious, creamy salmon or pea soup or sink your teeth into a delectable Karelian pie, these traditional Finnish dishes will be sure to make you feel all warm inside.
When you’re in Helsinki, hit the homey restaurants and trendy cafés to get a taste of this simple yet nurturing Finnish cuisine.
Want to try these inviting dishes as you explore Finland? Check out our Scandinavian holiday packages to see how you can explore Helsinki and the rest of the region on your next Northern Europe adventure.