Once upon a time there was an Italian Prime Minister who, irked that the EU chose Helsinki as the city in which to headquarter the new European Food Safety Authority, came back from a trip there and proclaimed to his countrymen that the Finns were less qualified to host any sort of food authority because their cuisine sucked.
Ok, he didn’t exactly use those words, but he actually came pretty close.
Then there was the French Prime Minister who once claimed that “After Finland, Britain is the country with the worst food.”
Fuck you, Chirac. You may think that, but you don’t need to say it. Dick.
Finnish cuisine really does take a beating… And to be fair, the Finns definitely aren’t known internationally for their cuisine. But after visiting the country, I’ve determined that there really isn’t a reason they shouldn’t be known for their cuisine. Every meal we had was fresh and delicious, and even the scarier of the foods turned out to taste pretty good.
Let’s start with dessert, because I love to start with dessert. I picked up these lusikkaleivat (aka spoon cookies) from an old lady at the markets. She made them from scratch and sold them in batches of 10 in little unlabelled plastic containers. Essentially, these are the Finnish version of Danish butter cookies. Buttery. Sweet. Absolutely delicious. The jam in the middle is the traditional way of making them in Finland and was a nice touch.
Speaking of the markets, we also spotted many of these:
Lingonberries! More commonly thought of served atop Swedish meatballs, lingonberries are native to Finland too and are found all over. Lingonberries are a bitter berry with a very strong taste (hence why it is often served with savoury foods), but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t make a great dessert too. Our first night in Helsinki, Charlotte and I tried some whipped lingonberry porridge with white chocolate cream. And cream is exactly what I did… Who said that?
If bitter lingonberries are at one end of the berry spectrum, then the cloudberry is at the other. Also native to Finland, cloudberries are orange in colour and very sweet. I’m pretty confident the cloudberry jam was the best jam I’ve ever had, and I’ve been trying hard to find it in Sydney without much luck. We accidentally got a serving of the orange jam as part of a massive breakfast that we had at this cute little cafe that we accidentally stumbled upon. For €15, we got all of this plus a juice and a coffee.
The cloudberry jam was served with the square block of cheese in the bottom right corner. The cheese is called leipäjuusto and is often referred to as Finnish squeaky cheese. I didn’t actually realize what it was at first, but I was in love as soon as I tasted it. It is very similar to haloumi – and I LOVE haloumi – but it’s less salty. It goes extremely well with the sweet cloudberry jam and I REALLY want some here.
Of course, anywhere I go, I have to try the local chocolate, which for Finland, proved much better than the chocolate I tried in Estonia, Russia, or Mongolia. Fazer is the big brand and it was good quality.
If cheese and chocolate are my first two vices, then beer is definitely my third. I heard the beer in Finland wasn’t all that good, but I tried two local varieties and was pleasantly surprised by both.
There is also meat. Up until very recently, the only meats I ate were chicken and turkey. I’m not a big meat eater and didn’t even eat beef until June, lamb until July, and I had my first bite of fish (smoked salmon) only a few days before this trip. So I surprised myself when I tried a bit of herring at the markets. It was actually pretty good, though I only had the free sample so it was quite small. The big ticket item, though, was not the herring… or the squeaky cheese or the cloudberry jam or the lingonberry pudding or the chocolate or the beer or the butter cookies. It was the Italian Prime Minister: Berlusconi.
Back when Berlusconi made his comments about Finnish cuisine, the Finns got angry. And apparently when the Finns get angry, they get even. And “how?” you may ask. With pizza. Finnish pizza. They take an Italian staple and they Finnishize it. And then they enter it into an international pizza competition in New York and take the gold medal, beating out the Italians who come second. Ha! And what did these Finns call their Finnish pizza? The Berlusconi. Never before in history has an entire country so elegantly and cleverly added insult to injury, and I LOVE it. And I also loved the pizza.
Served at a chain restaurant called Koti Pizza, the pizza consists of “a dough that is high in fibre, smoked reindeer, chanterelles, and red onions”. This was our hangover lunch after our big night out on the town, and it really hit the spot.
I ate reindeer. I ate Rudolph. Take that, Christmas!
So, the next time some ignorant leader from some bigger European nation makes a snarky comment about Finnish cuisine, just tell them how delicious squeaky cheese and cloudberry jam and butter cookies are, and remind them that Finland has a Berlusconi too. And the Finns’ Berlusconi is way better than the Italian one. What a turd.