Finns eat tar: the strangest Finnish ingredient

We already saw on the blog that Finns eat tar thanks to the Bizarre Foods’s video from Andrew Zimmern, Finnish edition. We saw him give his opinion about how tar tastes in food when he went to a marketplace: He actually liked the smokey flavor.

A road made with tar
A Finnish road. Main ingredient: tar.

What exactly is tar?

According to wikipedia, there are several kinds of tar. Some of them aren’t very good for people’s health.

In the North of Europe, Finland included, tar is produced by burning wood in a pile. It was already being used centuries ago in these nordic and scandinavian countries to coat ships… and as medicine.

Finns have a saying: “If sauna, vodka and tar don’t help, the illness is fatal.” The reason behind this expression is that tar is also a microbicide agent.

The word for tar in Finnish language is “Terva“. So if you see this word in the supermarket and you are not afraid to deal with the dark element, you know what to go for. For instance, this shampoo:

Shampoo made with tar
Shampoo with “chimney effect”. Just kidding: Tar is supposed to help with dandruff. Source (CC: by-sa)

This ingredient is also used as a scent for places such as the sauna. The Finns like the familiarity of the smell.

Eating tar

Tar is used as an additive and as a flavoring ingredient. It gives a smoky flavor to the dish you add it to, such as ice creams, beers, liquorice and sweets. In the Andrew Zimmern video we saw tar added to a herring sauce, and as a spray to add a bit of tar to any dish that you wish.

And what does tar have that is liked in Finland? Besides the smoky flavor we talked about, it might have something to do with Finns fondness (love!) for food items that are seen as strange everywhere else and that have unique – acquired taste – flavors, such as salmiakki or mämmi. The tar flavor is the closest thing you have to chewing smoke.

In this photos we can see some people eating tar ice-cream and also some Finnish candy that features the same flavor and that you can get at in many supermarkets and convenience stores. You can check out this Finnish delicacy by yourself and then decide if tar is for you. After all, all the cool Finnish kids are doing it.

tar ice cream
These people are eating tar ice-cream, or so it says the Source (CC: by-sa) of the photo.

Leijona candy
This candy brand is tar-flavored. Source (CC: by-sa)

What do you think of this curious gastronomical variant of Finland? Would you be up for trying it?



Finnish Cuisine: a thorough overview on video

Some time ago we saw how star chef Gordon Ramsay tasted traditional Finnish food. He didn’t like what he tasted but, unlike him, the readers of Big in Finland did like these parts of the Finnish cuisine. Ramsay, as always, brought in the polemic: Some people said that he has no manners, or that he barely put the food in his mouth before criticizing it and spitting it out. the common opinion was that you don’t judge Finnish cuisine like that.

I like Ramsay, though. I see a perfectionist that demands the same of others, or at least no fluff. He can also be a good mentor, as you can see in Master Chef. In any case, I understand that he’s a person not liked by everyone.

When I put his video on our Facebook page, a reader pointed me to another one that also deals with Finnish cuisine: an episode of Bizarre Foods about Finland and its most bizarre foods, with Andrew Zimmern.

Recording an episode of Bizarre Foods
Andrew Zimmern recording an episode of his show. Source (CC: by-nd)

I started to watch it and, indeed, it is a great overview of the whole spectrum of Finnish gastronomy. From family recipes of almost uninhabited islands to a visit to Finland’s top chef Hans Valamaki, from Chef Dominique. His restaurant used to be the only one in Helsinki with two Michelin Stars, but it was closed due to the chef’s lost love with the business side of having a restaurant.

All Finnish cuisine in a single video

The following videos of the Bizarre Foods chapter deal with Finland and its food. The episode is cut into three smaller videos and, above each video, I tell you what’s in it. In almost all the segments and dishes we can see an ever-present ingredient in Finnish food: potatoes.

The first segment about the Finnish cuisine, Andrew Zimmern tastes…

  • Blood pie (he really enjoys showing us how it is prepared)
  • Salmiakki
  • Lamprey
  • Herring on tar sauce
  • Bear

In the second segment, we see:

  • How to feed bears
  • Seal
  • Herring and salmon leftovers (head, tail, bones) soup
  • Reindeer milk (around 120 Euros/litre, he says, and with a fatty and sweet flavor that stays in the mouth)
  • Reindeer meat (liver, tongue, top round, medallions of the reindeer’s leg)

In the last segment chef Hans Valamaki, the former owner of the only Finnish restaurant with two Michelín Stars, Chef Dominique, prepares:

  • Reindeer tartar
  • Reindeer with the moss that it eats (mixing different ingredients that relate to each other in nature – as in here with the reindeer and the moss that it eats – it is one of the novelties of the new Nordic Cuisine and thus of the Finnish Cuisine)
  • Reindeer with poisonous wild mushrooms (cooked twice until all the toxins are gone)
  • Crayfish, served at a crayfish party

After this, Andrew Zimmern vistis Jarmo Pitkanen, from the Tundra restaurant in Ruka Kuusamo (in Lapland, the north of Finland) who serves him:

  • White fish with a sauté of zucchini, chanterelle mushrooms, new potatoes and sauce hollandaise

Finally, in the forest with other locals, he tries:

  • Birch tree bark (and they take some birch branches to hit each other in the sauna)
  • Cloudberry
  • Leippajusto (“cheese bread”)
  • A just-fished perch, that they proceed to smoke

What is missing for me in this video about the Finnish Cuisine? Maybe he should have traveled to Karelia as well, and tried the most Finnish dish of them all: the Karjalanpasti (Karelian stew), and of course the Karelian pie.

Did these videos about the Finnish cuisine make you hungry? What did you like the most from the videos, and what else should he have shown?



The Linnanmäki amusement park in Helsinki

Some people ask us via Facebook: What to do in Helsinki? Finland’s capital is not only the main entrance point to the country, it is its biggest city too and therefore worth a visit. If you’re going to Helsinki and like to have fun – which I assume you do – read on: we’ll talk about Helsinki’s amusement park: Linnanmäki.

El Parque de atracciones de Helsinki
Down in the Linnanmäki theme park. Source (CC: by).

Linnanmäki’s attractions and opening times

This year’s new season has already begun at Linnanmäki (official page), as they open up in April each year. They close their doors again at the end of October – check the opening times here.

The Linnanmäki amusement park of Helsinki states that it has more attractions than any other park in the the Nordic (and Scandinavian) countries. If you want to check out what you would like to ride, this is the page to do so: probably you’ll find some equivalent of your favorite rides if you are a theme park aficionado.

Of course, the park is also apt for families, in case you visit Helsinki with the ones closest to you.

Linannmäki: a theme park in Helsinki
You’ve got a ticket to ride. Source (CC: by-sa)

The prices of Helsinki’s amusement park and directions how to get there

The entrance to this amusement park is already something amusing: it is free! You can go inside the park and take a walk for no cost, and you can also have fun watching the faces of the people currenty on the rides.

You will have to take out your wallet to ride an attraction though. Each separate ride costs approximately 8€ and the price for a full day of rides is 37€. You can also combine the day ticket with a SEA LIFE ticket and both will cost you 45€. These are, at least, the prices that they show on the English version of the website. The Finnish version has a myriad of ticket options (see them here, if you speak Finnish), like a special ticket for the last 3 opening hours or another day ticket for the next day for just 8€ more. Ask at the entrance of the Linannmäki for explanations in English if needed.

A good tip: Check out the Panorama sightseeing tower and experience Helsinki from 53 meters above the ground. This, alone, is worth visiting Linnanmäki: You get to see Finland’s capital scenery from the high ground… and is also free of charge.

The park at night
The park at night. Although if you visit it during the White Nights time you will see little darkness. Source (CC: by-sa)

The park’s address is the following: Tivolikuja 1, 3km from Helsinki’s centre. There are several options how to get there with public transport – check all the options here.

Linnanmäki also has some restaurants and live events. During recent years they were especially promoting some of their restaurants, where cooks who had 4 Michelin stars altogether were working at.

Have you already visited the amusement park of Linnanmäki? What’s your favorite attraction?



What to eat and drink in Vappu (and recipes)

Talking with Finnish friends on Facebook, they reminded me that the Labour Day, Vappu – which in Finland is also a common day for graduation parties – is just some days ahead. It is, as usual, on the 1st of May and it’s a day where all Finnish flags are high on their masts.

It might be the most important Finnish party if we look at how much people enjoy it collectively. Christmas and Juhannus (midsummer) are more family oriented or celebrated with a small group of people, while Vappu is a day where all Finns take to the streets and celebrate together.

In our previous post about Vappu we told you what the celebration is about and why it is so important. Today we take it a step further and tell you the right things to eat and drink during Vappu in Finland.

If you are visiting the country, be sure to order them in restaurants or at food stalls when you see them! Or, if you are staying in Finland for a longer time, you can follow this post for instructions how to make these dishes yourself. They are sima for drinking, and tippaleipä and munkki for eating.

It's Vappu time, folks

Sima, the Vappu drink

Sima is a sweet and mildly alcoholic drink that is mainly consumed on Vappu, and mostly home-made. Its color is orange and you’ll always see some raisins floating on top of it. A nice refreshing drink for a day that is, hopefully, one of the first days of warmth in Finland.

In order to prepare Sima – a kind of Finnish mead – you’ll need: 8 liters of water, 400 grams of sugar, 400 grams of brown sugar, 0,2 liters of golden syrup, 3 lemons, some raisins and 1/4 teaspoon of yeast.

You prepare it like this: Boil half of the water. Put all the sugar and the syrup in a pot, then slowly add the boiling water while stirring until everything is dissolved. Wash and cut the lemon. Add the rest of the water to the pot.

When the water is lukewarm, add the yeast and the lemon. Let it ferment a day at room temperature.

The next day, add a teaspoon of sugar and some raisins to the mix. Pass the Sima through a strainer, then bottle it. Close the bottles (not too tightly) and let them rest in a cool place. The Sima will be ready for consumption two or three days later, when the raisins rise to the surface.

Tippaleipä

“Tippaleipä” can be translated as “funnel cake” – and that’s what it is. The batter, coming out of a funnel such as a pastry bag, is poured into hot cooking oil and deep fried. Afterwards it is sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Tippaleipä and Sima
Some Tippaleipä, along with a glass of Sima. Source (CC: by).

This Vappu dessert will need the following ingredients: 2 eggs, 1/2 teaspoon of yeast, 0,3 liters of milk, 0,4 liters of flour, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 2 teaspoons of sugar. You’ll also need powdered sugar for sprinkling the Tippaleipä at the end and oil to fry it.

Beat the eggs and the sugar in a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the yeast and the milk at room temperature, then add salt and flour and mix all of it with the beaten egg. Put the mix in a pastry bag with the smallest funnel. Heat the oil in a deep frying pan or pot.

Pour the batter into the hot oil and, with a spoon, move the batter slightly so it acquires curves before hardening. Keep on adding batter until it becomes a more or less rectangular shape. When the batter has a golden color, turn it around so it can fry on the other side. Take the Tippaleipä out of the pan and place it on some kitchen paper to drain the oil. Make as many Tippaleipäs as you want. Before serving, sprinkle with powdered sugar (or Nutella or marmelade, up to you).

Munkki

The third recipe for Vappu is for Munkkis: the Finnish doughnuts. This is what I ate during my first Vappu in Finland, with great pleasure. It is a home-made donut.

Some Vappu doughnuts: Munkki
The Vappu donuts. Source (CC: by)

The ingredients for making Munkki: 1 cup of milk, 25 grams of yeast, 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of cardamom, 2,5 cups of flour and 1/2 cup of oil.

In order to make this Vappu dessert, you have to mix all ingredients and leave them in a warm place, until its batter doubles its size. Make small rings and let them grow again. Heat up the oil in a pan or pot, and when it is hot put the Munkkis – one by one – into the oil. Turn them around several times until they have a golden or brown color (have it your way). Take the Munkkis out of the oil and let them dry on a plate with some kitchen paper, so the excess oil gets drained. Sprinkle with sugar and you are ready to go (and eat).

If you want to go further, you can try the Berliininmunkki. It is a hole-less doughnut that is filled with marmelade and that is actually called Berliner in Germany.

If you had to pick your favorite food or drink from this post, what would it be? What do you do on the 1st of May?




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