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Finnish Daily Meals and Sauna Ritual

Daily Meals and Sauna Ritual in Finland

THE SAUNA RITUAL All Finn women follow housekeeping routines with almost religious fervor, but the bustle of Saturday’s activities is rewarded and soothed with the relaxation of the Saturday night sauna. The ritual of the sauna occupies such a central place in the lives of Finns that often, as in pioneer times, it is either the first building built or the first item Finns seek out when they emigrate.

The sauna is a small house built of wood inside and out and often located near a lake or a backyard pool. One enters into a small dressing room and from there into the main room where the bathers rest or sit on sturdy wooden shelves. Heat is supplied by a small stove with hot rocks. From time to time water is splashed on the heated rocks to add steamy moisture to the air, and the bathers beat themselves (and others) lightly with a bunch of twigs called vihta. Bathers also douse themselves with cool water as a refresher. A soap-and-water scrub is followed by a shower or a leap into a lake or pool. Some hardy Finns have been known to run outdoors and roll in the snow.

But the sauna is more than a bathhouse. Because of its scrupulous cleanliness, the sauna has often been the scene of a birth. Because of its relaxed atmosphere, it has also been the scene of many business discussions and even sauna parties. Also sauna-cured and smoked meats are common. A snack always follows the sauna ritual: sausages are grilled over an open fire or snacks of salty fish with rye bread and butter may be washed down with homemade Kalja.


The daily menus differ slightly between rural and urban dwellers. Commonly, rural Finns awaken early to coffee and pulla. This is followed between 10:00 and 11:00 a.m. with a substantial breakfast of potatoes, meat, and gravy (or fish) then rye bread and butter and a dessert of porridge. A rest period after this meal is followed by a “coffee table” and then all return to their work. In the country, the evening meal is served in the late afternoon (usually after the cows are milked) and is similar in content to breakfast. Later in the evening the rural Finn relaxes and completes the day with yet another “coffee table.” Generally, the rural meal pattern consists of two hearty meals interspersed with coffee and plain yeast breads and cookies.

Just as rural meal pattern follows the routine of daily labor, so too the urban meal pattern adapts itself to working hours. It is not practical for city people to consume only two meals and to eat them at the odd hours popular in the country. Although breakfast for most is still little more than coffee and pulla, men often have one or two open-face sandwiches of sliced cheeses and meats or fish. The city lunch depends on whether it is being eaten at home or in a restaurant. A home lunch will be little more than a bowl of puuroa (cooked cereal) and milk or buttermilk; while lunch eaten out will almost surely be the voileipapoyta: an array of fish and sliced meats, small hot dishes and then fruits and cheeses, all served with sliced dark breads. Often milk is the noon beverage, but men may take mild beers or Kalja.

The city dinner will be eaten when the men come home from work so that the family can dine together. If this is to be a late meal, the family may enjoy a late afternoon “coffee table” to appease hunger. Dinner will likely be a slow-baked casserole with potatoes and served with pickles, followed by a porridge or fruit dish for dessert. Coffee and breads will be enjoyed still later in the evening as a snack before bed.

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