My response is months late, but I had to comment:
Passadumkeg, you said:
"But I guess that when the national dish is pea soup w/ blood pancakes, that is to be expected."
While many people in Finland do like pea soup and eat it (at home or in workplace/student cafeterias, not in restaurants) that does not make it the "national dish" by any measure.
You would be hard pressed to find it in a good restaurant in Helsinki today.
You have to either look for an old fashioned restaurant (usually a cheap dive),
or a student cafeteria (where the emphasis is = cheap food) to find pea soup regularly on the menu.
By the way, what you call "lija pirraka" is "lihapiirakka" (a meat & rice filled pie, or pierogi, if you will) - which is just Finnish junkfood.
If that is the kind of cuisine you liked in Finland, in that case you never got acquainted with real Finnish restaurant cuisine.
Lots of Finns eat fish, seafood, different meats and lots of vegetables, prepared in varied, creative ways. Finnish bread is so delicious, and you just it cannot get bread like that anywhere else. Finnish cheeses are also really good.
If I would name any dish the 'national food' of Finland, it would have to be something local that Finns eat in the summer, like those small, delicious, tender (local) new potatoes, topped with dill & a bit of fresh finnish butter, paired with fresh summer tomatoes, and some sort of fresh fish (smoked on the grill maybe), meat, or maybe pickled herring. So good.
Finns of today eat in restaurants a lot (much more than just two decades ago),
including a growing number of young adults, so the dining scene has developed immensely during the past decades. They do not go to these restaurants to eat pea soup.
What people (foreigners) do not know, is that Finland, just like most countries in the world, have different regional foods & food favorites. There are so-called Finnish foods (mostly from Eastern / North Eastern Finland) that I have never tasted, nor will I ever taste them.
Finnish game, like reindeer (from the North) & elk, are delicious seasonal foods.
Finland has a long coast line, both to the south and to the west, with a stunning archipelago (hundred thousand islands) ...and also -inland- about a hundred thousand lakes, both huge and small) and lots of fishermen; lots of tasty fish on the plates of Finnish homes and restaurants.
Many people also do not know that the food in a large part of Finland, especially the coastal areas, is very similar to the rest of Scandinavia, especially Sweden. I sometimes smile when people talk about 'Swedish meatballs' or 'Swedish herring', "Janssons Frestelse", cured salmon, smoked whitefish, etc,
because to me they are 'Finnish meatballs', and 'Finnish herring' ... etc.
Yes, it is true that these dishes probably were an import from the era when Finland was under Swedish rule, which ended 198 years ago, so I think you can say, that that was just one of the many influences on Finnish cuisine, along with trends from the East and Europe (and who knows from where else). I think the Finns took what they liked (and could grow or get) and abandoned the rest.
I once looked at the Christmas menu at (the now closed) Ulrika's (on 60th Street, Manhattan), thinking that it could be fun to (for once) not have to cook the whole thing. But going through the menu, and asking the staff for more information, I rejected the idea, since the Swedish version of a X-mas table did not have enough vegetables and vegetable based dishes on its menu for the Finnish taste. But I did go to UIrikas quite a bit, because even though they served "Swedish cuisine", for me it tasted like Finland, like my old home.
By the way:
Every October there is the "Herring market"-event in the old South Harbor Market of Helsinki, when fishermen from both the southern and western coasts come to the harbor every day during that week, and sell all kinds of herring and smoked & cured fish and fresh fish directly off their fishing boats. It is all soooo good!
Also for sale is the divinely delicious Åland black bread, Tyrnimarja-berry products, which berries are loaded with vitamin C, etc. If you are lucky enough to be in Helsinki during that October week, do go to the market, buy from the fishermen, eat food that is prepared there: For example, the different kinds of smoked fish with sides. It is cheap, it is fresh, it is delicious.
All true 'chowhounds' would truly appreciate this event. There is nothing too fancy, nothing too expensive (well, I cannot help the exchange rate) - just honest, fresh & delicious food.
I want to add some previously written information about the Helsinki
Restaurant scene, so here is a part of what I wrote about Finnish cuisine
on another thread in chowhound:
The HELSINKI DINING SCENE ROCKS! Helsinki has many, many
excellent restaurants - large and small, formal & casual - including some
that have been awarded with “Michelin stars” & so called Michelin “rising
stars” & Bib Gourmand mentions - several years in a row. (Not that
I really care about Michelin stars, I often disagree with them).
Numerous Finnish chefs are super-talented and, while
internationally trained and experienced, as a general trend (in all of
Scandinavia now) have the so-called “New Nordic Cuisine” as their guideline.
("Clean" lines, local fresh ingredients, etc, etc)
Just in case,
if someone is interested, I will include this non-commercial Helsinki link:
This site includes 3 pages of Helsinki Restaurant "reviews", some with
photos. Even if some of the reviews are a few years old, they still stand.
There are links to all the restaurants, and links to other restaurant lists.
The site also provides other very useful Helsinki info, on it’s other pages.
As my husband and I have vacationed in Finland throughout all these years, the food scene has just gotten better and better. One of the very reasons we travel to Finland is its excellent food & great restaurants. Every time we go there, there are many quite a few new & delicious restaurants to eat in.
Unfortunately, because of the current exchange rate, traveling to Finland (and the rest of Europe) is very expensive for us Americans right now, but we cannot wait to get back there again.
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