Food Culture and Tradition

Food, People and Culture Resources

Finnish Meals and Customs

Finns wake up to a morning coffee, pulla (braided yeast bread), or open-face sandwiches of cheese and meats. Many Finns prefer coffee only and save their appetites for a lunch of puuroa (cooked cereal) or, in the country, a heartier meal of meat or fish with potatoes and gravy, bread and butter, and cheese. Not long after the noon meal comes a break when coffee, breads, and cookies or sometimes open-face sandwiches are served. The evening meal is likely to be a baked casserole of meat and cereal, or potatoes, bread and butter, all served with fruit preserves, beets, and cucumbers. Later in the evening coffee will again be accompanied by yeast breads and cookies.

Voileipapoyta is the name given to the traditional Finn “sandwich table.” In Sweden this is called smorgasbord; in Denmark it is called smorbrod; and in Norway it is known as koltbord. The basis of them all is bread and butter and upon this is built the rest of the meal – usually lunch, but occasionally a simplified version serves as breakfast. The Finn sandwich table is similar but differs with the inclusion of more freshwater fish dishes which abound in Finland, and small, hot, stuffed pastries. The ritual of the sandwich table requires that the smoked and salted fish (usually herring dishes) are eaten first, then a fresh plate taken for other fish dishes and cold roasted, smoked, or cured meats and jellied meat loaves. Still another fresh plate is taken for the variety of hot dishes. Fresh fruit or a compote of fruits with cheeses form the dessert. Coffee is served later, sometimes accompanied by simple yeast cakes and cookies.

The other Finn standby is the “coffee table,” the favorite break of the day, anytime in the afternoon or evening, and the popular way to entertain guests. Although usually just a simple serving of yeast cake (pulla) and cookies with excellent coffee, it can be more elaborated for special occasions or special guests. In the latter case, the fare will likely include pulla glazed with egg and crusted with almonds and sugar, un-iced poundcake, several types of cookies, and a layered filled cake. Fine china coffee cups and a bread-and-butter plate will be placed before each guest and it will be expected that not only many cups of coffee, but also a generous helping of each of the cakes and breads, will also be consumed. Not to have tasted each of the baked goods (together with as many cups of coffee as needed) would be considered an insult. And while the plain cakes and cookies alternate with the cups of coffee, somehow room must be saved to enjoy a generous helping of the rich layered cake as the finale!

The roles of mother and father in Finn life are well defined. The rural woman considers not only the housecleaning and weekly baking as part of her work, but also the daily meal preparation and barn chores as part of her share, while the men do the heavy work in fields and forests. Urban women also accept a heavy workload of daily meals, weekly (usually Saturday) housecleaning, baking, as well as shopping. Most city people live in apartments.


Breads and cooked grains form a part of almost every Finn meal and are often accompanied with herring, potatoes, or dairy products. Milk and cheeses are used generously. Because of the short growing season, fruits and vegetables are prized especially in season and accompany meats and fish in the form of preserves, pickles, and stewed dried fruits during winter. Meats and fish are used frugally, with nothing wasted. The staple fish is herring, prepared in many ways and used as appetizer or main dish. The Finns do not consume much concentrated sweets, preferring snacks of sandwiches or very plain cakes and cookies. Coffee is the national beverage, but beer, vodka, cognac, and strong tea have their place as well.

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