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10 Foods to Try in Finland

This author spent a glorious week in Finland trying all the best and strangest delicacies and lived to tell the tale.

One of the things I love to do when I travel is eat and buy local. I want to experience things I can't have at home and try the things that make a place unique.

I recently visited Finland for the first time and had the chance to try lots of Finnish treats. I had the benefit of advice from Finnish friends while visiting, as well as tips from a close friend who has spent several months living there. If you're visiting Finland or planning a trip there, these are the foods and beverages you won't want to miss!

1. Salt Licorice (Salmiakki)

The Finns love salt-licorice-flavored everything. You can find salmiakki ice cream, cakes, candies, and liquor. In fact, any dessert you find in Finland probably comes in salmiakki. Finns are also quite fond of plain licorice (lakritsi) so check the packaging and make sure it actually says "salmiakki" or you might accidentally end up with the nonsalty kind (which is also good but not as uniquely Finnish).

I'm usually kind of lukewarm on licorice, but I loved all the salmiakki treats I tried. Believe it or not, the salt really does make it better, just like combining sea salt and caramel creates a superior sweet. If you're not a fan of licorice, you should still give it a try. Most candy shops will have free samples you can taste, which is a great risk-free way to try a tiny piece without spending any money or having to buy a lot.

Salmiakki ice cream bar and liqueur.

Salmiakki ice cream bar and liqueur.

2. Cloudberry (Hilla)

Cloudberry (hilla) is another popular flavor. Cloudberry liqueurs and jams are probably the most common items you will find for sale, but you can also find things like cloudberry-flavored yogurts and cottage cheeses if you look around. Though it is bright orange, it tastes a little like blackberries. This is a food that will appeal to most palates.

Hilla liqueur.

Hilla liqueur.

3. Pine Tar (Terva)

Pine/spruce tar (terva) is one of the more unique flavors of Finland. It's not as popular as salmiakki or hilla, but you should be able to find it with a little searching. Terva ice cream and candies are the most common items. Try the jäätelö (ice cream) stands you see in basically every town and city. It has a mild pine flavor that is a little smokey. I was a huge fan. You can also find terva shampoo, soap, etc, in some of the grocery markets if you fancy smelling like a wonderful outdoorsy campfire.

Terva ice cream and liqueur.

Terva ice cream and liqueur.

4. Finnish Blood Sausage (Mustamakkara)

Mustamakkara ("black sausage") is a type of Finnish blood sausage that is a special favorite of the city of Tampere. You should be able to find it in the grocery store and in other cities and towns, but supposedly the ones bought from the street stands in Tampere are the best. The sausage has a porridge-like texture as a result of the rye berries it contains and the flavor is faintly like liver. Mustamakkara is traditionally eaten with lingonberry jam as a topping (lingonberry jam is also pretty easy to find in basically any grocery store).

Mustamakkara in and out of the package.

Mustamakkara in and out of the package.

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5. Elk

Elk (hirvi) is commonly eaten in Scandinavia and it is absolutely delicious. The flavor is similar to deer, but less gamey. You can find elk tartare on restaurant menus, elk sausages at stalls, markets, and grocery stores, and raw elk meat for cooking and grilling. Definitely give it a try!

Elk sausages and elk tartare.

Elk sausages and elk tartare.

6. Viili

Viili is a slimy, slightly stringy yogurt-like fermented milk product. This one is not for the faint of heart. Even many of the locals think it's awful. But if you're a fan of fermented milk products, or if you're particularly brave, give it a try. It's more likely to appeal to people who like things like goat's milk, buttermilk, and kefir. It has a mellow sour tang very similar to plain yogurt. I actually enjoyed it, so adventurous eaters might be pleasantly surprised.

Viili.

Viili.

7. Buttermilk (Piimä)

Piimä is a type of thick, drinkable sour milk. The flavor is similar to buttermilk, though the texture is very smooth like kefir. It's a dairy beverage that is fermented with yogurt cultures, and it's supposed to be very healthy. I liked a little glass of it with my breakfast. If you like buttermilk and/or kefir, you will probably like it. If not, piimä might not be for you.

8. Finnish Lichens

Finland has over 1,500 species of lichens, many of them edible (like reindeer lichens and Icelandic moss). They're hard to find, but try them if you get a chance. They look soft, but they're crunchy in texture and have a very mellow slightly smokey, earthy taste. Reindeer also love to eat them.

If you leave the cities, you may see them growing in the wild, but don't try to collect them yourself. They are not covered under Finland's "Freedom to Roam" law which allows foraging on public and private land, and harvesting them without permission is illegal.

Lichens growing in the wild and a piece of reindeer lichen on top of elk tartare.

Lichens growing in the wild and a piece of reindeer lichen on top of elk tartare.

9. Finnish Ciders

Finland has a strong drinking culture, and the long, cold, dark winters often result in increased alcoholism due to depression. In the 1960s, Finland had the highest consumption of hard liquor and the most arrests for drunkenness among the Nordic countries. As a result, medium-strength beers and ciders were encouraged as a more moderate way to enjoy alcohol. This means there are a lot of fantastic Finnish ciders. Good brands include Cid Siideri and Happy Joe. The ciders tend to be very fruity but not overly sweet.

Cid Siideri.

Cid Siideri.

10. Finnish Sodas

Finland has some very unique and tasty sodas that are made locally. I really enjoyed Pommac, which was invented in 1919 as a nonalcoholic champagne alternative for the wealthy. Kane's soda also has some unique and delightful flavors. Like the ciders, Finnish sodas tend not to be overly sweet.

Pommac and Kane's "California Style" sodas.

Pommac and Kane's "California Style" sodas.

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