Tuesday, October 15, 2013

New Foods

So I've been here for 7 weeks now and life is good. School has started, projects are developing, and I've even visited some places outside Helsinki. When looking back at all the new experiences I want to share, food always finds its way in there, somehow. That's why this entry will be about delicious discoveries of the sustenance type.

Let's start with lakka (cloudberries). These tart, raspberry-like berries grow in alpine and arctic tundra and boreal forests. They grow here, in Norway, Sweden, Russia, and parts of Germany, but also in Canada, Alaska, and northern parts of the US. In Finland, lakka mainly grow wild in forests, each 10-25 cm (c.a. 4-10 inch) stalk producing only one berry. That, along with the fact that they're hard to find, makes them pretty expensive. Plus, they're only available in late summer and early autumn.

Lakka are consumed in a variety of ways. People make them into jams and jellies, tarts, juices, yogurt, ice cream, and liqueurs. Personally, I like to eat them fresh with just cream and sugar.

Lakka are also often paired with leipäjuusto (bread-cheese).

 Leipäjuusto is a very mild, young cheese that can be eaten hot or cold. Finns dip it in coffee, soak it in cream, sugar, and cinnamon and bake it, or use it as a replacement for Feta in various salads. It can also be fried in a pan with butter (butter AND cheese? Why not!), and served with jam or fresh berries. 

We also need to talk about karjalanpiirakat (karelian pasties). This is a staple of Finnish food, created from rye dough wrapped around various fillings and baked. You can find them in any store, and they are cheap and satisfying. Typically they are filled with rice and then eaten with "egg butter," a mixture of butter and hard-boiled chopped eggs. Sweet potato fillings are also common, and you can find various others, including fish.

Normally, karjalanpiirakat are the size of your palm, but I found these face-sized beauties at the Kekri Harvest Festival in Seurasaari - an open-air museum on an island (more pictures of that to come). The orange ones are carrot and sweet potato, the light ones are rice, and the purple ones are beet and berries. I wish there were harvest festivals every day.

At the same festival, I ran into these odd little lollipops. They are home-made and filled with chocolate- or almond candy. The outside is a soft honey-like coating, and the inside is just like a regular lollipop. Cute and sweet.

Finns love to eat  jäätelöä (ice cream) and no amount of snow will stop them. They are among the top consumers in the world, and proud of it. The seagulls love it too; they will swoop down and snatch it right out of your hand from food tents in Kauppatori (market square). It's become so much of a problem that vendors have set up nets to prevent snack attacks from above. This cone of creamy goodness came from the grocery store though, so no danger in acquiring it. Yes it's cactus flavored, and yes it's good.

While we're on the subject of junk food, I would like to introduce you to the Finnish version of McDonald's: Hesburger. The menu is pretty much the same although a little more limited in the salads/wraps/oatmeal areas, and you can get a ruishampurilainen (rye burger).

I promise this isn't what's keeping me alive over here, but sometimes a burger and fries is definitely in order.


I like to think it's the Swiss side of me that loves bread, but really, who doesn't love it? In Finland, you can get all kinds of great bread (especially lots of hearty rye loaves and buns). Pulla is a type of sweet dough, formed into all kinds of shapes and combined with any jam or topping you can imagine. Pulla are often topped with little sugar chunks, and I could eat my weight in them. Like karjalanpiirakat, they are found in almost any store, and are often sold right next to them. I bought this blueberry pulla on the train from Helsinki to Turku for the American Voices seminar (again: pics to follow).

As there was an actual food trolley on the train, I was hoping to hear someone yell "AAAAAnything from the trolley?" like on the Hogwart's Express in Harry Potter. Sadly, that didn't happen, but it was still just as good.

Well, that's all for now. I hope everyone is doing well, and promise to post a new blog soon.

-Olivia Jamandre

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