Food plays a major part in the whole travel experience. Not quick take-aways from global chains but sit-down meals at local eateries where (in a lost-in-translation way) you may sometimes wonder what you had actually just ordered… My family visits to Finland can only be described as over indulgence as my Mum likes feeding people, especially hubby and me. Although neither of us is fussed about what we’d have, she wants to know what we particularly like and makes sure she’s got plenty of it in the house when we arrive. No wonder we feel like (happy) stuffed turkeys when we get back home!
Besides my Mum, other relatives and friends treat us to dinners and coffees, too. If you think having a coffee is not a filling affair, think again! In Finland it involves a seemingly bottomless coffeepot and sitting at the table that is laden with goodies from biscuits and pasties to layered cream cakes and ‘voileipäkakku’, a savoury cake similar to a sandwich with large amounts of filling and garnish . Nobody forces you to sample them all but if the offerings are something you only get on those visits, self-discipline usually takes a holiday.
Of course it’s not just the food itself but also the people and experiences that go with it. I know the cloudberries served with the traditional squeeky cheese were picked by my Mum from a near-by forest; the pan-fried hake rolls seasoned with dill and pepper were made with fish that my cousin had caught from a local lake – the same lake we used to swim in as kids; the blazed salmon was slowly cooked over a wood fire in our friends’ garden on a summer afternoon that involved music, cider, and sunshine; the vendace we had with some other friends on a different trip was caught by them, cooked to perfection in their home-made fish smoker, and enjoyed al fresco in good company. (Fish is a big part of Finnish cuisine but on our visits it’s likely to feature even more because neither hubby nor I eat meat or poultry.)
However, it’s not all fishy. We have eaten beautiful, fully vegetarian gratins, pizzas, burgers, oven bakes, and savoury pies in Finland, and no visit to my home region would be complete without the traditional Karelian rice pasties. Vegetarian and vegan protein alternatives to meat have also become popular with foods such as pulled oats (which looks very much like pulled pork) and Mifu milk protein (which looks like cottage cheese but keeps its texture during cooking) developed locally. We had a chance to try both for the first time on our latest visit, and based on those experiences, the pulled oats gets my vote: it has the right texture and at least in a tortilla with all the trimmings it tasted very good indeed. The milk protein, although it went down well with stir-fried vegetables, reminded me too much of cottage cheese even when it was cooked. We also sampled smoked tofu with mustard glazing that was baked in the oven and served with creamy garlic potatoes.It may not be traditional but, NOM, it was tasty!
(Writing about food and going through all these photographs has made me hungry. It might be time to visit our lovely local Italian pizzeria. Buon appetito!)