Yesterday I found myself reminiscing about my visit to Helsinki in late 2019. It was a whirlwind weekend trip, but one that was extremely enjoyable. I was able to see the iconic Helsinki cathedral, the Suomenlinna fortress, and several other sights in Finland’s capital. Part of what I relished most, however, was the coffee and food. Finland’s coffee culture is the stuff of legend. But it’d be criminal to pass up the best traditional Finnish food as well!
The Best Traditional Finnish Foods To Try
I planned my trip to Helsinki not knowing a whole lot about the country of Finland or its culture. I knew they were one of the Nordic nations, and I also knew that they are one of the happiest countries in the world. As always before embarking to a new country, I did some research on both the places to experience and the food to eat. My experiences traveling with my older two kids have shown me that they are not adventurous eaters. But I am! Trying new foods is one of the best parts of travel, in my opinion.
And Finland has some excellent things you’ll want to try. If you’re a foodie headed to Finland, here is some of the top traditional Finnish food you should try during your visit:
Karjalanpiirakat (Karelian Pies)
Hailing from Finland’s eastern region of Karelia, these rye pastries are one of the more unique things to sample. The pastries themselves consist of a thin rye later wrapped and crimped around a rice filling, which is then baked. Some places use wheat flour, but the pastry of a traditional Karelian pie should have 50% or more rye flour.
If you are expecting sweet, they are the furthest thing from it. Karelian pies are a hearty and savory part of a meal. The topping you see? Egg butter. Yes, literally minced hard boiled egg and butter. It sounds so weird, but it’s actually delicious.
Poronkäristys (Sauteed Reindeer)
Yes, it’s true. I ate Rudolph during my visit to Helsinki. I’d seen it on the menu only once before, at an excellent Nordic bistro my wife and I enjoyed in Quebec City. I knew that I had to try it during my visit to Finland. After enjoying a public Finnish sauna, I asked the staff for a traditional Finnish restaurant recommendation.
He sent me to Cella, which was a short distance away, where I enjoyed a traditional meal of sauteed reindeer with potatoes and lingonberries. This is a specialty of Finland’s Lapland region, which is the sparsely-populated northern section of the country.
Reindeer meat is not only delicious, it is extremely healthy. I highly suggest trying it during your visit.
Mustikkapiirakka (Blueberry Pie)
When I imagined pie, I didn’t quite imagine what I was served at a coffee shop during a morning pick me up. Turns out, the blueberry pie is more of a typical pie. What I had was more like a blueberry coffee cake. But it was still excellent. Next time I’ll try a more traditional pie.
The blueberry (or more technically, the bilberry) is one of the most iconic Finnish foods. When I flew Finnair business class on my way to Helsinki, I couldn’t help but notice that pretty much every signature cocktail the airline offers contains blueberry or some sort, whether juice or liqueur. There are a number of berries that grow in Finland’s lovely forests, but the bilberry reigns supreme.
Korvapuusti (Cinnamon Buns)
Finnish cinnamon buns are both smaller and less sticky than their typical American counterpart, but the idea is basically the same; it’s a sugary, cinnamon-y delight.
I had one of these at the super cute Cafe Regatta a bit outside the center of Helsinki, which I recommend visiting. It was delicious alongside my third cup of coffee for the day. Turns out jet lag is brutal when you’re trying to power through your first day with a 10-hour time difference.
Lihapullat (Finnish Meatballs)
Traditional Finnish meatballs were one of the serendipitous finds during my stay. I’d arrived on a flight in the late afternoon, and after settling into my hotel, I decided to head out for an hour or two to explore. Even at 6:30 PM, night had already arrived in late October, and the chilly mist brought my walk through the Kallio district to a quick end.
I ended up at Juttutupa, a century-old establishment that serves a number of Finnish specialties. Traditional Finnish meatballs alongside a glass of red wine sounded like the perfect comfort food. I was not disappointed!
The Weirdest Traditional Finnish Food: Salmaikki (Salty Liquorice)
If there is one thing you must try, it is the salmaikki. I’m a black licorice aficionado, but this is an entirely different flavor.
The “salt” on the licorice isn’t actually salt; it’s ammonium chloride. This adds a bitter flavor that both permeates the licorice and lingers as in your mouth long after you’ve finished. This is probably the food I liked least, but it is so unique that you have to give it a taste!
Traditional Finnish Food That I Missed
Graavilohi (cured salmon) and leipajuusto (bread cheese) are two other foods that I wanted to try but didn’t get to during the visit. I also failed to snag a lihapiirakka (meat pie) during my brief stay. But all is well. Given how lovely my two days in Helsinki were, I hope to return to Finland soon!
A couple other new foods include pickled herring, which is common not only in Finland but other Nordic countries as well. And, of course, I had a few slices of Ruisleipä (rye bread) during my stay, a national staple.
I’m more than happy with the taste of Finland I was able to enjoy over just a couple days. From the delightful coffee, to the tasty pastries, to the flavorful reindeer and fish, don’t pass up Finnish cuisine when you visit this awesome Nordic nation!