Finland is a mix of many, yet always an original. A true superpower in music and design, it’s unknown territory for foodies, but that is about to change. And as in the arts, there is always something genuine to be found up here: a true Finnish food experience. It’s the perfect destination to Eat Pilsner
From the composer Sibelius to the artist Tom of Finland, the Finns have always managed to stand out. Even in warfare: their brave fighting to keep Stalin out gave the country a special place in the history books. Later, it was through designers such as Alvar Aalto that Finland established itself as a powerful force in modern expression. It’s a country renowned for its originality and proud natives.
This transformation from a rather poor country on the outskirts of Europe to one of the most progressive in the world was made possible through the paper industries. It was an industry that produced an awful, smoky odour that couldn’t be ignored when the ships arrived from all over the world. “What is that awful smell?” a young sailor wondered. “The smell of money,” was the famous answer. That horrid fog from the chimneys created great wealth and built the foundation of modern Finland, and maybe there is something deeply profound within the Finns and their adoration of smoke. They love to be surrounded by it, sweating together in cramped cottages, enjoying a beer. And they love to smoke anything they can eat.
“When we were asked to create a dish for Eat Pilsner, it was obvious we wanted to do something that really felt Finnish. And for us, that was to smoke some ingredients the traditional way – in a cottage. Or as we call it, mökki,” says Antti Lappalainen at Fisken på Disken in Helsinki – the first restaurant in Finland to be chosen to spread the message of beer gastronomy.
Finnish cuisine has come a long way since the country was a rather rural province of Sweden and later Russia. As with other Nordic countries, this was not a place of plenty. Everything had to be used up thoughtfully. “For us Finns, simplicity is important,” says Lappalainen. “Nothing should be used if it’s not really needed. Just as in our design tradition. Less is… enough.”
Like many other countries, Finland has had to dispel some prejudices regarding its food culture. Just over a decade ago the French President Jacques Chirac claimed, “After Finland, [Britain] is the country with the worst food.” But just as in the British Isles, the restaurant culture in Finland has gone through a reformation. Helsinki and other Finnish cities are now regarded by many as the next destination for anyone who’s become hooked on Nordic cuisine. Somehow, gastronomy in Finland has preserved its own unique traditions better than others.
“In many ways, we have kept our ways up here,” says Lappalainen. “You have to remember that we have a very homogeneous population and therefore fewer imported food cultures than other Nordic countries. We hardly have any immigration. But naturally we have learnt from our history, being at the crossroad of so many different food traditions. And we’re curious people. We like to travel!”
Featuring a natural and historic culture clash between the Arctic circle, Russia, the Baltic Sea, the Finnish lake district and a huge continental influence among the old bourgeoisie, Finland’s food scene is already one of the most schizophrenic in Europe. Yes, they love their bear meat, carrot à la porkkanalaatikko and that beloved mustard they always brag about, but Finns also love oysters and rare wild game. And now new restaurants combining all these traditions in a new way are popping up like forest chanterelles. They are combining the new with the old. Purifying the traditions. And one of the traditions in Finland is actually using beer in cooking.
“Cooking with beer is something we’ve been doing for ages in Finland,” Lappalainen continues. “I use it frequently in my reindeer stew and in my mustard. But as we’re a seafood restaurant, we decided to use beer gastronomy with one of the classics – mussels – but in our Finnish way.”
Very far removed from French moules, this dish combines typically Finnish ingredients such as radishes, dill and buckwheat. The mussels, an example of Swedish interaction through the centuries, are poached in butter and pilsner – everything with a distinctive smoked undertone. As we said, the Finns are seriously obsessed with smoke. What else could you expect from the homeland of the sauna? Up there, they do things their way.
Eat Pilsner is an invitation for restaurants all over Europe to create new dishes using Pilsner Urquell – the original pilsner – as a key ingredient. Mökki Mussels Urquell was created by Fisken på Disken, Helsinki; fisken.fi
Words by Tor Bergman
Special thanks to Pilsner Urquell
1. Finsch Landschap Eno Herajärvi, No. 734 Ståhlberg, Helsinki (1998), by IK Inha
2. Photograph byTiina Törmänen
3. Sunset at Lake Tuusula (1902), by Pekka Halonen