What are the best countries in the world for food? You might think of Thai, Mexican or French food. But Finnish cuisine?

The Nordic country’s bleak reputation in the kitchen doesn’t take into account the Finns’ passion for food while remaining true to their culinary roots. Weekly markets are full of seasonal products and local delicacies.

Simon Bajada, a photographer and food writer living in Stockholm, has a favourite: Karelian pies, traditional rye flour pasties from the eastern Finnish province of Karelia.

Filled with rice, potatoes or carrots, they are spread with a mixture of hard-boiled, crushed eggs, salted butter and dill while still warm. Rye is also popular in making traditional Finnish bread.

“Rye bread is part of our culture, just like the baguette is in France,” says Finnish cook Mira Thate.

“Although you can buy anything in Finland nowadays, we like things fresh and down-to-earth,” Thate continues.

finnish food

Karelian pies. Photo: dpa/Simon Bajada

Finnish cuisine is influenced by traditional country fare, which, in contrast to Sweden or Norway, originated from a peasant society.

Common ingredients include potatoes, mushrooms, root vegetables, berries, fish and meat. “The basic idea behind all Nordic cuisine is to exploit nature’s bounty, from forests, fields and water,” says Margareta Schildt-Landgren, who has written a book on Nordic cuisine.

Experienced chefs such as Markus Maulavirta, who was the first Finnish chef to be awarded a Michelin star, can conjure up a real gourmet menu from what nature has to offer.

To let the natural flavour of the food develop, seasoning is kept to a minimum. Salt, pepper, sugar and a few garden herbs such as dill and chives are all you need, explains Thate.

finnish food

Finnish dishes are often prepared simply. Photo: dpa/Tine Guth Linse/AT Verlag

Traditionally not big on sauces, Finnish dishes are often only prepared with melted butter or stock. Even reindeer meat is traditionally served with just mashed potato, cranberry sauce and butter.

Traditionally Finnish food is prepared with cast-iron pots and pans.

“In contrast to nonstick pans, cast iron ensures that the food is cooked or fired evenly and slowly,” explains Simon Bajada. In addition, whatever you cook in a cast-iron pan is naturally enriched with iron, be it mushrooms, pancakes or hot-smoked salmon.

Potatoes grow almost everywhere among Finland’s wild terrain and are a staple food. An example of a popular dish is new potatoes with herring or fresh fish and wild mushrooms.

finnish food

Herring with juniper berries and apple. Photo: dpa/Tine Guth Linse/AT Verlag

Known as the Land of a Thousand Lakes, fish is another popular item on the menu, including salmon, trout and herring.

Over 20 edible berry species grow wild in Finnish forests, including the famous cloudberry. The yellow, raspberry-like fruit has a unique, slightly bitter taste. Schildt-Landgren likes to emphasise this with chilli and ginger and often makes a chutney with honey and cider vinegar. This is best served with smoked reindeer or other wild game.

finnish food

Finnish cinnamon rolls. Photo: dpa/Simon Bajada

Still got room for something sweet? Finns love a warm cinnamon roll, ideally with a cup of coffee.

When it comes to alcohol, Finnish cuisine has a wide range of homemade spirits such as rosehip or cranberry-juniper liquor – cheers! – dpa/Anna Karolina Stock