It’s difficult to identify a most Finnish national dish, so just go down the following list.
Start with Lohikeitto creamy salmon soup or Valkosipuli garlic soup. You can accompany the soup with Karelian pasty (karjalanpiirakka) which is a thin rye crust with a filling of rice. When in Finland you might notice that butter is often mixed with boiled egg (eggbutter or munavoi) and spread over the hot pastries before eating.
For the main dish choose fried Baltic herring which goes with boiled or mashed potatoes. Fried vendace accompanied with garlic sauce is another summer-time delicacy in Finland.
When it comes to meat dishes, you can choose from lihapullat or lihapyörykät meat balls, makkara traditional Finnish sausage or lenkkimakkara loop sausage, which is best when grilled and topped with a dab of sweet Finnish mustard (sinappi).
Other options include Karelian stew (karjalanpaisti) made from beef and pork, carrots and onions, usually served with potatoes, liver casserole (maksalaatikko) of chopped liver, rice and raisins.
When in Finland, do not miss a chance to try reindeer dishes, especially sautéed reindeer shavings (poronkäristys), served with potato mash and lingonberries.
For dessert or just as a snack, Finnish pastries abound and are often taken with coffee after a meal. Look for cardamom coffee bread (pulla), a wide variety of tarts (torttu), and donuts (munkki). You might also like raw cakes with blueberry and licorice. They are not as sweet as regular cakes and leave you with a fresh and light sensation.
Raw food has been a huge food trend in Helsinki for a while already. Raw food is not cooked in more than 45 degrees and thus is believed to have many health benefits. The ingredients include berries, fruits, vegetables, root vegetables, legumes, seaweed, seeds, nuts and oils.
You might also fancy trying salmiakki salty licorice, which is actually ammonium chloride flavored black or dark brown candy. Originally it was manufactured as a cough medicine in pharmacies, but by the 1930s it has become a beloved Finnish confectionery. Salmiakki is a flavour that a Finn grows up with and therefore it holds a special place in Finnish hearts. The affection is all-embracing, you can find this flavour everywhere – salmiakki lollipops, salmiakki chocolate, salmiakki fudge, salmiakki ice-cream, salmiakki flavoured vodka and a crazy powder – strong pulverised salmiakki.
When in Helsinki, don’t be surprised when you stumble upon the Salmiakkikioski selling 91 varieties of the salty liquorice candy. People put salmiakki powder in espresso coffee, yoghurt and all sorts of pastries, and even make salmiakki-strawberry jam.
However you use it, and whether you love it or hate it, salmiakki offers an unforgettable taste. Mind that Salmiakki can be addictive and the black stuff can be hard on stomach for those introduced to it for the first time. As the locals say, if you are not a Finn you will probably not get it.
In summer, a wide range of fresh berries are available, including the delectable but expensive cloudberry (lakka), and berry products are available throughout the year as jam (hillo), soup (keitto) and kiisseli pudding.
You’ll find berries in many of the local pastries and chocolate varieties. Different berry smoothies are also great local treats. Give a try to a street food novelty – Mustikkamaitopyörä, a circulating bike stall that sells blueberry milk.
The market squares are the best places to buy fresh berries from. Take your time to enjoy them as you sit on a cliff admiring the city’s silhouette.
Finnish chocolate is also rather good, with Fazer products including their iconic Sininen (“Blue”) bar exported around the world.