1. Mämmi

Pronounced ‘mammy,’ this is a black coagulated goo made of rye flour and molasses. We usually eat it at Easter time. If you haven’t grown up with it, you cannot begin to imagine why this would be considered a delicacy; but with a layer of cream and sugar it slips down without grossing us out too much.

2. Kalakukko

Originally considered as lunch for hard-working farmhands from the north of Finland, it’s Savonia’s answer to the Cornish pasty. It consists of a loaf of rye bread filled with fish, usually vendace, pork, and bacon, and baked in the oven. The best ones come from Kuopio, but it depends on what your definition of ‘best’ is. This greasy, fishy hunk of stodge lies in the pit of your tummy and takes hours to finally digest. We usually have to break a sweat to let this settle before we go to sleep.

3. Salmiakki

This is a salty liquorice containing ammonium chloride. It comes in a variety of shapes and forms, including one that looks like ice cream and turns our teeth into a replica of Dracula’s. Sometimes it’s used to enhance liquor when it’s mixed with Koskenkorva (the local hooch), but other than that it’s your typical soft candy or hard candy.

4. Leipäjuusto

Translating to ‘bread cheese’, it looks like a thick slice of slightly burnt toast and tastes pretty much like cardboard unless you smother it in some jam. The texture is interesting — it squeaks when you sink your teeth into it. It has some redeeming qualities when it’s heated up and served with cloudberry preserves.

5. Hernekeitto

This is a typical pea soup served every Thursday, and often followed by pancakes with jam and cream. It’s got bits of pork in it and fills you right up in preparation for the Catholic Friday abstinence. There aren’t many Catholics in Finland, but the tradition from the days of the Swedish army still sticks with us. A really yummy variation is served with warm punch — an arrack-flavored liquor dating back to the 1700s.

6. Karelian pies

These are made up of rice porridge in a rye crust and topped with hard-boiled eggs mixed with butter. Nowadays you get them in cocktail-size which leaves room for something more appetizing. I know it doesn’t sound very good, but these are quite palatable, especially when they’ve been heated up.

7. Kesäkeitto

This ‘summer soup’ seems to light up the eyes of Finns every June, when colorful vegetables are diced and cooked in a broth with milk added. It does look quite pretty against the white backdrop, but could do with a good dose of flavoring of some kind as it’s somewhat bland.

8. Makkara

This is sausage — or as the Finns call it, ‘Finnish vegetable’, because it’s full of everything except meat. This fat string, of whatever you have leftover in your kitchen, can be grilled over an open fire so the skin gets crispy, or it can be eaten without cooking it at all. The latter promises to add on the calories without a single moment of pleasure in the tasting.

9. Nakkikastike

We call this ‘hot dog sauce’. Cut up a bunch of hot dog sausages, fry it with onion, chuck in some stock, thicken it with a bit of flour, and let it simmer away. It couldn’t be simpler, especially with boiled potatoes as a base. It tastes exactly like it sounds — like hot dogs in sauce.

10. Christmas food

Our wintertime tradition usually involves the transformation of perfectly good root vegetables — like carrot, rutabaga, and potato — into baby food, so that our teeth are spared chipping. Why anyone would want to cook the health and nutrition out of these otherwise delicious ingredients is something I can only guess at. To top it off, we sweeten the dishes as well.

Thankfully, the slow-cooked ham and fish-based appetizers save the day. Except there is usually a lipeakala – fish marinated for months in lye, then boiled and served with white sauce. Yes, this is how Finns celebrate Christmas.

11. Fish, berries, and mushrooms

While not necessarily ‘weird’, there are many people who find offense in such ingredients (“I don’t do mushrooms”). Good luck eating in Finland then, because these foods are strongly found in our cuisine. We are lucky because they are usually fresh and found seasonally, something we are eternally grateful for after living in such a cold climate where food is often just ‘safka’, or something to keep the winter munchies away.

View 2 comments