Nordic food is a smörgåsbord of variety. Scandinavians are masters of seafood, especially coldwater fish like salmon, cod, and crab, but you’ll also find a lot of mutton, cheese, berries, and potatoes on the menu. If you’re heading to Lapland, or anywhere in Europe’s furthest northeast country for that matter, you might be wondering, what is the best food to try when visiting Finland?
Food is engrained in family life in Finland, and Finnish culinary traditions are strongly linked to ancestral practices. Since Finland’s climate varies quite a bit throughout the country, different regions have different specialties, but some things are enjoyed everywhere like the rye bread, cured meat, smoked fish, and hearty stews that you’ll find on our list.
Finnish food isn’t very globalized and you’ll struggle to find it outside of Scandinavia. Still, that makes exploring the cuisine when you’re there all the more important. These 13 foods are staples in the Finnish diet and you have to try them when visiting. Let’s get into it.
Rye Bread (Ruisleipa)
Not a dish, but a big part of most plates in Finland, rye bread (Ruisleipa) is the base for all good sandwiches, any breakfast spread, and for slathering in butter and dunking in a rich stew. Rye bread might be nothing new to you, but all Scandinavian countries have their own recipe, and Finland’s version is made from Finnish yeast which makes it characteristically dark and dense.
Rye bread is a big part of the Finns’ cultural identity and has been for thousands of years. Most families will bake their own bread every week, but you’ll also be served it at any Finnish hotel as part of your breakfast buffet, or in local cafés when it is used to encase a few slices of ham, cheese, and pickled cucumbers.
Open-faced sandwiches are also a typical Finnish dish made using rye bread. The dried and thin slices of rye are topped with everything from cucumber and cream cheese, to cod roe and avocado. Rye bread is also meant to be snacked on with butter and most Finnish restaurants will offer it with your meal. There are other types of bread in Finland, but rye bread is the most iconic and you’d struggle to avoid it when visiting.
Bread Cheese (Leipajuusto)
Known typically as Finnish squeaky cheese elsewhere in the world, bread cheese (Leipajuusto) is a fresh, rubbery cheese made from rich cow’s milk from a cow that’s traditionally just calved. With its soft, “squeaky” texture, it’s often compared to halloumi but has a more mild taste. In fact, bread cheese is usually served as a dessert in Finland and you can put it in the oven or under the grill to make the top layer crisp and almost buttery in flavor.
Bread cheese is best served warm and topped with cloudberry jam – another Finnish staple – and Finns enjoy it with a cup of coffee as a sweet breakfast or afternoon snack. It’s even eaten in place of bread sometimes and Finns can get very creative with toppings. Rich and hearty, it makes a satisfying breakfast but also a warming dessert.
Cinnamon Rolls (Korvapuusti)
Translated as “slapped ears” in English from the Finnish “Korvapuusti”, cinnamon rolls are another sweet snack or dessert, best enjoyed with coffee at any time of day in Finland. Cinnamon rolls are more commonly associated with Sweden, but different recipes hail from all over Scandinavia and the delicious pastry is now popular in most corners of the globe.
The Finnish cinnamon roll uses warm milk, fresh yeast, lots of cardamon, brown sugar, and, of course, cinnamon. Finnish cinnamon rolls are also usually topped with pearl sugar or rock sugar to garnish. They’re more simple than American cinnamon rolls but equally indulgent. Local grocery shops and cafes all over Finland serve them at any time of year. Check out Cafe Regatta in Helsinki for some of the best cinnamon rolls in the country.
Similar to the famous Swedish meatballs served up by the bucketload at IKEA, Finnish Lihapullat comprise ground beef and pork, milk-soaked breadcrumbs, onions, and allspice in bite-sized balls that are browned in a skillet. However Finnish meatballs use fewer herbs and spices than the Swedish variety. They’re also topped off with a generous dollop of kermaviili, the heavy curd cream.
Finnish meatballs are loved by children, but the whole family can enjoy them. They’re best served alongside mashed potatoes and lingonberry jam. You can also have brown gravy poured over the top.
Finnish meatballs aren’t refined and you won’t find them in gourmet restaurants, but every good casual lunch spot, cafeteria, and service station will dish up plates of meatballs and mash that won’t cost you very much. Finnish meatballs are also a typical midweek dinner for Finns to cook themselves at home.
Salmon Soup (Lohikeitto)
This simple Nordic chowder is a comforting dinnertime meal, packed with umami flavors and deliciously soul-soothing. Finnish salmon soup is popular no matter the season and it comprises salmon, potatoes, carrots, onions, and cream (or full-fat milk) in a light broth seasoned with allspice and dill which is both hearty and healthy.
Finland is known for its salmon-rich waters and the fish is wild and naturally reproducing in rivers like the Tenos and Näätämöjoki, which flows in the Arctic Ocean, as well as the rivers Tornionjoki and Simikoli that flow in the Gulf of Bothnia and the Baltic Sea. Salmon has always been a big part of the food culture in Finland, with cured salmon present on every smörgåsbord in Scandinavia, but salmon soup is the most popular Finnish fish dish and its appears on menus and dinner tables up and down the country.
From grocery stores and casual lunch spots to the fanciest fine-dining restaurants in Finland, every Finn has their own take on salmon soup but it will be equally soul-warming wherever you enjoy it.
Rice Pie (Karjalanpiirakka)
The Nordic answer to the calzone, Karjalanpiiraka are Finnish pastries from the Karelia region, often called rice pies since they’re stuffed with rice porridge and topped with butter and egg. The pastry became symbolic of Karelia in the 1900s, but the first documented recipe dates back to 1686.
Karelia is an area of Northern Europe that encompasses northwestern Russia and Finland but is also historically and culturally linked to Sweden. It’s known as “the country of lakes” with one-quarter of Karelia’s surface being covered by water across around 60,000 lakes. Nevertheless, the rustic rice pastry is the most popular food shared across the region and an emblem of Karelia.
The thin rye crust makes them easy to pick up and eat in your hand. Rice pies are usually eaten as a breakfast, a snack, or even at weddings.
Sautéed Reindeer (Poronkäristys)
You can’t get quite more Finnish than this venison dish—Lapland is the unofficial birthplace of Santa Claus after all. Poronkäristys is the steak or back cut of a reindeer which is sliced, spiced with salt and pepper, and fried in fat before being sautéed in water, cream, or beer until tender.
Fried reindeer is enjoyed all over Scandinavia, especially in frosty northern regions like Finnish Lapland where the number of reindeer surpasses the human population by about 20,000 (that’s 200,000 reindeer by the way).
There are local variations but sautéed reindeer is often served with mashed potato, pickled cucumber, and cranberry or sugar lingonberry sauce in Finnish. Reindeer meat is very lean and different to beef, but also much less tough than other venison. It adds a slight tang of metal to the palette, but the meat is revered for being delicate and delicious.
Salty Liquorice (Salmiakki)
This is another one of Finland’s odder delicacies and certainly an acquired taste. Licorice is already a Marmite of the sweet world in most parts of the world thanks to its strong, bitter taste and aniseed flavor punch, but Salmiakki is even more peculiar since it’s flavored with ammonium chloride, or salmiak salt, which gives it a distinct astringent tang.
Finns love their salty licorice snack, and while it is eaten alone as a candy, it’s also a common flavor in alcohol, ice cream, sauces, milkshakes, and muffins in Finland. For Finns, Salmiakki tastes like childhood but it’s adored by all ages.
Blueberry Pie (Mustikkapiirakka)
Another well-loved sweet treat, Finnish blueberry pie isn’t so hard to get on board with. Mustikkapiirakka is a cross between a pie, a tart, and a cheesecake comprising a simple shortcrust casing, with a generous layer or two of blueberries encased in a creamy custardy filling.
Finnish forests are overflowing with berries throughout spring and summer and the local cuisine reaps the benefits. Lingonberries and bilberries, the blueberry’s stronger, more tangy cousin, are also used to make sweet seasonal desserts but blueberry pie is one of the most quintessentially Finnish.
Recipes vary, but some call for a sour cream and egg base, while others comprise potato flour and powdered sugar that is baked on top of the shortcrust pastry base until browned. Mustikkapiirakka is best served warm and topped with vanilla sauce, cream, or ice cream.
Pan-fried Potatoes with Sausage (Pyttipannu)
A derivation of the Swedish word for bubble and squeak which translates to “small pieces in a pan” (“Pytt i Panna”), Pytiipannu is a simple Finnish sausage potato hash made from leftovers and best enjoyed for breakfast or tea. The cooked potatoes and meat are fried in butter and onions and make a true comfort dish served in Swedish homes.
You can top Pytiipannu with a fried egg and throw in whatever leftover food you have in the fridge like cooked vegetables or pickles. Pyttipannu isn’t a meal to have at a restaurant unless you’re at a very casual local place, but if you’re lucky, your Finnish host might whip it up for you. Or if you’ve got access to a kitchen, it’s very easy to make from anything you haven’t finished the night before.
Stuffed Cabbage (Kaalikääryleet)
Every Finnish child’s worst nightmare, Kaalikääryleet is Finland’s answer to the brussel sprout but is loved by the older generations, especially grandma. Kaalikääryleet is blanched cabbage leaves that are stuffed with ground beef, breadcrumbs, rice, and onions and baked in rolls in the oven to be served with mashed potatoes and lingonberry jam.
You’ll find Kaalikääryleet in traditional restaurants and cafeterias, but they’re best when made fresh at home. They can be fiddly, but bulging misshapen forms are expected of this rustic snack. You can eat Kaalikääryleet as a main meal at dinner if served with potatoes and sauce, but they also make a good appetizer or pre-dinner snack.
Meat Pie (Lihapiirakka)
Lihapiirakka is an everyday Finnish food made with yeasted pastry dough, that’s similar to doughnut dough, and filled with minced meat and cooked rice. The pies are deep-fried until golden and crispy on the outside, but soft and doughy within.
Ths meat pie is a popular street food but you can also get them from small kiosks and cafes all over Finland. Grocery stores sell them in the fridge section for you to warm up at home in a microwave and eat with ketchup.
Minced Meat Soup (Jauhelihakeitto)
This cozy mince meat soup, best served with rye bread and cheese, comprises ground beef or pork, carrots, onion, potatoes, and cabbage in a hearty broth that’s stewed for a few hours. Jauhelihakeitto is a family dish and is enjoyed when the cold seasons have their grip over Finland.
The Finns might refer to Jauhelihakeitto as a “mother’s hug” since it’s warm and comforting and reminiscent of childhood. Finns also eat Jauhelihakeitto when they’re under the weather as it’s good for the soul, and your immune system.
What is Finland’s most popular food?
Although not a dish, and also loved by many countries worldwide, rye bread is widely considered to be the food of Finland since it was voted the national dish in 2017—the same year that Finland celebrated 100 years of independence from Russia. Rye bread is eaten at breakfast, as a snack with butter, as an open-sandwich base for just about any topping, and dunked in every soup you can think of.
What meat is popular in Finland?
Pork, chicken, and beef are the most common meats used in everyday meals across Finland, much like the rest of the west. However, on special occasions, like weddings and holidays, specialty native meats like reindeer, elk, and bear are served. In Lapland, these meats are more commonplace. Seafood is also a big part of the diet with salmon and cod being the most popular.
What is Finland’s national drink?
Lonkero, also known as the “long drink” in the unofficial national beverage of Finland, comprises gin, distilled juniper berries, and grapefruit soda. However, milk is the national non-alcoholic drink that Finns enjoy by the glass all over the country. It is often served curdled. Kilju is another well-loved non-alcoholic Finnish beverage made from water, yeast, and sugar.