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Food, Dining, & Drinks in Finland

Culinary Influences

Finland's food had essentially no outside influences until the fast food industry and immigrants arrived in the late 1900s. Well, the Swedes and Russians also influenced Finnish cuisine, but didn't make too many significant changes.

The Finns have almost no growing season so the people traditionally ate wild game like fish, elk, reindeer, and small ground animals, plus any wild grains, berries, and fruits they could find. Due to the limited number of ingredients and the cold winters, soups and stews were the most commonly consumed dishes.

In the past few decades, fast foods, both local chains as well as international chains and international ethnic foods have become popular. There has been a small immigrant population, but with a strong demand for new foods and creative cuisine, dozens of ethnic restaurants have opened, primarily in large cities like Helsinki,

Staple Foods

Bread: dark rye bread is served with nearly every meal that doesn't contain another starch
Potatoes: commonly served with Finnish dishes as a base or side

Regional Variations & Specialties

Karelian Pie: bread made of potato dough

Dining Etiquette

Finnish Food - Finnish soup
Finnish soup

As you arrive (on time) for dinner at a local's house, you should offer to assist in any way, from bringing a dish to helping prepare once you arrive. As you are seated, let your host show you your seat; in more traditional settings, men will sit on one side of the table and women will sit on the other.

In general, dining in Finland is relaxed and social. You're expected to have your hands above the table at all times and to eat everything (but bread) with silverware (cutlery) in the continental style (knife in the right hand, fork in the left), but this isn't as important as socializing.

After you finish all the food on your plate (leaving food on your plate is considered wasteful) you may drink and talk for another hour or two. Excusing yourself before these casual conversations are finished is considered rude so make sure you don't have plans after dinner.

If you're in a business setting, don't discuss business over dinner. In some situations, business can be discussed over lunch, but let your Finnish host bring up the topic to avoid offending them.

When eating at a sit down restaurant with a server, you should round up or tip about 10% of the bill. In bars a tip is appreciated but not necessary.

Drinks

Milk is served with many meals in Finland and is, in many ways, the de facto drink of the Finns. For many however, they prefer their coffee, perhaps only to wake them up. No matter your preference, all popular drinks are available, including soft drinks, juices, tea, and others.

For alcoholic drinks, Finland is well known for their vodkas, some of which have been popular international exports. On most evenings out for a Finn, though, beer is the drink of choice, although nearly everything is available, including other beers, hard liquors, and wines.

Generally speaking, the tap water is safe to drink in Finland, but check with locals for any particular regional differences. Also, many people may have troubles adjusting to the local tap water, as it will most certainly be different from what your system is used to.

This page was last updated: March, 2013