I´ve never visited any other place where food is treated as it is in Finland. It is a destination in which local ingredients and elements of nature are part of a single dish. Sauces made from berries will be accompanied by drinks made from their leaves; It seems like Finnish cuisine makes the most of elements that you can simply find in your garden. And while traditional cuisine is still at the core of Finnish food, modern cuisine and new tendencies are being integrated at the same time. From all the cities around the country I have to say that Kuopio stands out when it comes to food. It has not only attracted the attention of renowned local chefs, but also the rest of Europe.
Tradition comes first
It is very difficult to describe Finnish food. From the aesthetics and presentation if feels like contemporary cuisine. Modest and colorful plates look like small pieces of art in which you expect to find exotic ingredients from remote parts of South America or East Asia. Still, it´s unusual to find a local restaurant which uses an ingredient from outside the region. You often hear that the meat comes from the farmers outside the town, the fish from the lake surrounding the city and the vegetables and berries from the garden just next door. Finnish cuisine has found a way to make traditional food look appealing in the contemporary cuisine.
I´ve been to Northern Savonia before and right after landing in the city of Kuopio, memories of soft tender beef and refreshing berry juices came back to my mind. I was already fascinated with traditional Finnish cuisine and I couldn´t wait to visit old restaurants and try new ones. However, my priority on this journey was to understand what makes this cuisine so special.
It was my second day in Savonia and with the quiet waters of lake Haapajärvi surrounding me, I wanted to walk around the area and get lost in the silent forest. I was staying in Haapaniemen Matkailu, a small pension right next to the lake, weather was mild, and the sky was blue. While picking up black and red currant in the wild, Sanna Nissinen, owner of the pension, told me about the importance of fresh ingredients. “We try to serve meals made from the ingredients we find in this area”, said Sanna. “The deer we had for dinner was hunted by my father just a couple of days ago”. We talked about the quality of the ingredients and how fresh they must be. Every single element used in my meal had been picked up by hand by the chef. What a big different in taste it makes, when the ingredients come from thousands of kilometers far away.
The uniqueness of Finnish cuisine lies in the way it´s still connected to its roots. Every meal represents the country and at the same time is prepared in the most raw and natural way possible.
Recognition all over the continent
Using local ingredients and more ethical practices, when it comes to food, are not new ideas in Europe. Our generation is a lot more concerned about the source of their food and willing to pay more for a better quality. This is changing the way restaurants are seeing their dishes and it feels like Finland already took that step ahead.
Of course, it´s difficult to expect that everyday your fish gets caught meters away from you or the hotel owner hunts the deer you eat himself. Still, regional and fresh ingredients are the basis of every single restaurant in the region.
The uniqueness of this contemporary local cuisine has not gone unnoticed and attracted the attention of the International Institute of Gastronomy, Culture, Arts and Tourism (IGCAT). Kuopio was selected as the European Region of Gastronomy 2020 and with the goal of presenting the importance of Finnish cuisine, integrating food as a part of tourism and stimulating gastronomic innovation, Kuopio deserved that spot they have been working for for so long.
“Food is part of our lives and we want to bring visitors in touch with our traditional heritage”, says Ilona Sares, director of Pro Agria in Northern Savonia and one of the event organizers in 2020. Visitors are learning more about Finnish cuisine when visiting Kuopio, as the city hosts two of the most important culinary events in the country: SATOA goes Wild and SATOA Kuopio Food Festival. Here visitors can get small local dishes ranging from 3-6 EUR and with delicacies like smoked pumpkin soup with goat cheese and honey or cold smoked salmon burgers, this was an event I was happy not to have missed.
Every visit in Kuopio amazes me. I don´t only learn more about its cuisine, but also about its culture and tradition. In three days I have tasted more than 20 different bites and I feel I have just experienced a very small bit of everything this culinary region has to offer.