Although Nordic minimalism has revolutionised food, Finnish cuisine is rarely given a second, or indeed even a first thought. In 2010 the Finnish Institute attempted to redress this with the Hel Yes pop-up in Hoxton, which brought together Finnish gastronomy and design under one roof to great acclaim.
But it’s still a relatively unknown cuisine that deserves a lot more attention. The city of Tampere (nicknamed “the Manchester of Finland” because of its industrial past) has restaurants that give London’s foodie scene a run for its money. Ravinteli Huber is the city’s answer to Hawksmoor, serving exquisite meats in 100g portions so the whole table can share. Revolving restaurant Näsinneula is one of Finland’s top-rated places to eat; located at the top of Näsinneula tower (named after Lake Näsijärvi and the word “neula” which means “needle”) it has the added bonus of being 550 feet tall and thereby boasting spectacular views. Here reindeer meat is a signature, and locally sourced ingredients are put together with typical Nordic simplicity to showcase their flavour.
With 70% of the land covered in forest and another 10% by lakes, pollution is low and foraging is very popular. A charter called ‘Everyman’s Rights’ guarantees every individual’s right to roam the woods picking mushrooms, blackberries, cloudberries and lingonberries regardless of who owns the land. The temperature of the lakes seldom rises above 20 degrees, making them ideal for fish: salmon, trout, perch, herring and pike are plentiful here. A typical way to serve salmon directly after fishing is to nail it to a plank of wood and place it over a fire, then serve it with bread, salad and potatoes.
The forests are home to around 80,000 moose; unsurprisingly game is an important part of the Finnish diet. Smoked and pickled foods like pickled fish, and smoked meat and cheeses are very popular. Finland also produces wine although EU law prohibits any substantial production from grapes, and the weather isn’t the most conducive to cultivating vines (temperatures can drop to –27 degrees in the winter). Instead farms make wine from berries, Titta Sydänheimo-Auer has been fermenting sea buckthorn, cloudberries and even tomatoes for the past eight years at her winery Teiskon Viini in Kämmenniemi, about 15 km from Tampere.
If this is enough to pique your curiosity, hop on a plane to Tampere and get lost in the Finnish forest. To make the most of the experience stay at a lakeside cottage for the fishing opportunities (see Villa Markkola). Otherwise here are some places where you can try Finnish food:
Technically speaking, Finland isn’t Scandinavian, but that hasn’t stopped this charming café and supermarket from including Finnish products on their shelves. You can take home things like blueberry soup mix, lingonberry cordial, dark rye bread, pickled fish and liquorice sweets.
Bread and cake lovers should head to Nordic Bakery where you’ll find Finnish cinnamon buns, date cakes and Karelian pies (rye flour pasties filled with rice, usually topped with butter and chopped boiled egg). Food is available to eat in or to go.
As well as providing a religious and social centre for expat Fins, the Finnish Church by the Docklands has a traditional sauna, accommodation, a shop and café. The café serves inexpensive hot meals like pies and herring and mash, while at the shop you can purchase bread, cakes, confectionery and baking ingredients. They also run Christmas and Easter fairs selling all manner of traditional goodies.
Fly to Tampere from London Stansted with Ryanair, from £57 one way.