A Finnish banqueting table provides a good general picture of Finnish food. It's a Swedish-type smorgasbord, but with a Finnish flavor.
The traditional selection includes salted salmon or whitefish, and spiced and salted herring or Baltic herring with a choice of sauces. Finnish fish aspics are second to none and Finnish vendace, whitefish and burbot roe is on a par with caviar. The fish is eaten with hot boiled potatoes. Potatoes are a staple food, almost as important to the Finns as to the Irish.
Fish can be prepared in a great variety of ways, one popular method being smoking. Salmon, whitefish, bream and Baltic herring can be cold or hot-smoked, grilled, baked in paper or over an open flame. The latest Finnish invention is a smoke-curing bag.
Koskenkorva or Finlandia vodka schnapps goes well with Baltic herring, lamprey or other types of fish. For 'cheers', Finns say 'hei', 'kippis' or the Scandinavian 'skal'.
The fish is followed by smoked reindeer or smoked ham, meat in aspic, a root vegetable salad and homemade cheeses.
The highlight of the table is often roast meat, but it can also be a meat casserole, such as the Karelian variety, made of different types of meat and cooked slowly in the oven.
The meat is served with liver, macaroni, carrot, rice and Swede casseroles .
Other accompaniments include pickled beetroot and cucumber, lingonberry puree or jam. To go with the meat there is gelee or jam, made from lingonberry, cranberry or rowan berry.
Most Finnish desserts are made from berries. They are served au naturel or stewed and thickened with cornflower or potato starch. Many tourists have first been surprised, then delighted, by the unusual combination of cold, almost frozen, cranberries with hot toffee sauce. Another popular dessert is northern Finnish egg cheese warmed in cream and served with cloudberry jam.
Finnish crepes are small and served with strawberry or raspberry jam. With a bit of luck the traveler might come across a crepe frying party. These giant size crepes are made of wheat and barley flour and fried at the bottom of a huge cast iron cauldron outdoors, weather permitting.
Lapland has had a strong influence on Finnish cooking. Lapp dishes are exotic even to southern Finns and come into their own when you are on a skiing or hiking trek in Lapland, but there is nothing to stop southerners from enjoying the basic Lapp dish, reindeer stew, on a weekday either; besides it's as good a reason as any to make mashed potato, always a hit with Finns.
Salmon, reindeer or willow grouse, followed by golden colored cloudberries for dessert, are part of the Lapp menu on special occasions.