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Posts Tagged ‘fish’

More Finnish food

Day 1 of NaBloPoMo, a full month of posting every day! Here goes nothing.

When we were in Finland 2 weeks ago visiting J’s parents, they made my absolutely favorite meal from past Finland trips– smoked fish with potatoes, creamed spinach, and some other sides. This time the fish was salmon, smoked outside in a special setup constructed by J’s dad. As usual, it was amazingly moist and delicious.

Not every meal we ate in Finland was homemade and wholesome. Some evenings we were in the city or shopping and chose to indulge in some of the finest fast food Finland has to offer. On our first night in Finland, when we were still traveling towards the north, the weather forced us to stop and spend the night at a friend’s place. We went and got dinner from a tiny local pizza joint.

Pizza is huge in Finland, but I’m not sure how to describe it. It has a thin crust and the most popular toppings are ham, pineapple, mushrooms, and blue cheese, but some also have stuff like shrimp or ground meat on them. Pretty much all the small pizza places have the same prices and quality (plus they are EVERYWHERE), so it’s a good reliable way to get a bite to eat.

Another evening, while shopping in Oulu, we stopped for some kebab. Check out how huge my kebabrulla was:

The flatbread filled with kebab meat, salad and sauce was seriously as long as the entire placemat. There was no way I could finish it all myself, but luckily I had J to help me. I don’t eat greasy, meaty things very often, but from time to time it really hits the spot.

Speaking of meaty, another evening J was craving a hamburger from a drive-through burger shack. I went for a chicken sandwich myself.

Rectangular chicken patty on a round bun. Awesome.

I love the top bun in the middle of J’s burger.

They were your typical non-chain fast food burgers, smothered in plenty of mayonnaise-based sauce. I know it’s not “real food”, but I can’t deny that I kinda liked it.

I’d also like to point out that it wasn’t a lazy vacation by any means– we spent a ton of time out in J’s parents’ yard, gathering up leaves and chopping and stacking wood. It’s nice to be able to help them out (since, as stated many times before, they keep us very well fed!) and enjoyable to spend time outside. I know yard work can get really annoying after a while, but for us apartment-dwelling city folks, it was actually quite refreshing and fun.

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Airplane food on SAS

We flew SAS via Copenhagen to get to America. I’ve flown SAS several times before and think it’s a good airline (although I don’t like how they reduced their baggage allowance for overseas flights to only one bag. Packing for this long trip and to come home after was nearly impossible!). On our first short flight to Copenhagen I chose to bring my own breakfast.

J was rather appalled that I opted for an instant oatmeal breakfast on our first day of vacation. “That’s something people eat because they have to!” I, of course, ate it because I like to. The little cup of hot water I got from the stewardess was the perfect size to mix up my little oatmeal breakfast.

On our longer flight we got a substantial meal (plus one alcoholic beverage free with the meal!). I asked for the fish meal and a little bottle of white wine.

I liked this meal a lot. The salmon was moist and had some kind of quinoa mixture on top, and it came with mashed potatoes and some roasted veggies that included cubes of eggplant, yum. The salad was made of dark greens– no iceberg lettuce here– and the dessert was really delicious. It had a base of crushed digestive biscuits topped with some whipped yogurt-like stuff and a strawberry sauce. That’s a terrible description, but it was sooo good. I also found it interesting that the butter and cream included with the meal were organic products. It’s nice to see that the airline is making an effort to support organic producers.

On the long flight on the way home I also opted for the fish meal, but it wasn’t as good as the first one.

It was some kind of breaded white fish with a creamy sauce. Unfortunately the edges of the fish were really dried out and tough, so I left part of it uneaten. The side dish in the tray– rice with black beans– was pretty boring. There were also no organic products on the flight back to Copenhagen. Overall the food was edible, but for some reason the flight that departed from Europe had much better food. Interesting, no?

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Finnish Christmas eating

The Finns, like the Estonians, have their main Christmas celebration on Christmas Eve, not Christmas Day. I grew up with this tradition as well, and I actually never envied my American friends waking up at the crack of dawn on Christmas Day to see their presents. The way my family did it, we’d go to church in the afternoon on Christmas Eve, return home to see that Santa had visited while we were gone, eat a giant dinner, open our gifts, then have dessert and play (and, when we were older, have a few drinks ;-)) late into the night. Christmas morning we’d sleep in and then have brunch with mimosas, completely relaxed.

With J’s family, the main festivities also fell on Christmas Eve. They don’t go to church, but they do have one tradition that is so beautiful that I have to tell you about it before I get to the food. Finns visit the graves of their loved ones on Christmas Eve and light candles, which they place in covered lanterns. When we arrived at the graveyard soon after sunset to pay our respects at the graves of J’s father’s family, the last light was fading and the place was illuminated by the light of hundreds of candles. It was breathtaking.

After we returned home, we were ready for dinner. First, though, came a round of cocktails– the White Lady, which J’s grandmother used to make for Christmas.

I can’t tell you what was in it, all I can tell you is that J’s dad mixed them rather strong :-). I can also tell you that those gorgeous glasses are made by Iittala.

I helped to prepare the first course of dinner, which was fish. Many, many different types of cold fish. J’s brother’s girlfriend was taking pieces of gravlax (salmon) and rolling them into what looked like flowers. My whitefish arrangement did not come out nearly as fancy, but luckily nobody seemed to mind.

The first course was kicked off with a vodka shot– my family does this too! I was happy to observe a familiar tradition. It wasn’t just any old vodka either,  but Marskin ryyppy, a mildly flavored vodka named after Finland’s great military hero Mannerheim.

And then the fish– oh, the fish. Let me see if I can even remember everything we had. There was salmon (top) and whitefish, both raw; muikku, the fish you eat whole (below the white creamy stuff); two different kinds of herring, one in mustard sauce, one in tomato sauce (two bowls side-by-side); and some kind of roe in a mixture, topped with raw red onions. There was also bread, potatoes, and rosoli salad, which was a salad of potatoes, beets and some other things topped with unsweetened whipped cream.

I arranged the bread on this lovely board! What skill, eh?

I absolutely love fish, so having this spread before me was heaven. Seriously, I could have eaten just this stuff for Christmas dinner and been completely satisfied. However, I knew that there was more to come, so I tried a little of everything, had seconds of my favorites (the roe, OMG… I wished I could have eaten the entire bowl), and then sat back to wait for the main course and the star of Christmas dinner (which I’ll write about tomorrow!).

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Fish face

I’m afraid I’ve lost some of my blogging motivation lately. I know I don’t blog that consistently to begin with, but usually I want to and I just don’t have time. Recently I’ve had quite a lot of free time but I choose to do things other than blog, even though I have plenty of material so it’s not like coming up with a topic would be difficult. Ah well… I’ll try to finish posting about the food I ate in Finland and hopefully that will help to revive me in time to try NaBloPoMo again in November.

So. Since my birthday took place while we were visiting J’s parents in Finland, they prepared a birthday dinner for me that was, I’m guessing, based on one of my favorite meals the last time we were there.  I knew J’s father was smoking siika (siig in Estonian), or whitefish, but it wasn’t until be brought them to the table that I realized we each got our own personal fish!

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J offered to switch fish with me because mine was broken.

I had a moment of mild panic when it seemed like everyone was waiting for me to start eating, since I had no idea where to begin! Luckily J gave me a tutorial– peel back the skin on the top half and gently ease the meat off the delicate bones. Once that was set aside, you were to carefully peel up the spine, making sure most of the small bones stayed attached, and then you were free to attack the other side.

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Mmm. How is smoked fish so impossibly moist? It’s almost like it’s dripping smoky flavor. It was served with salad, boiled potatoes with dill, a creamy spinach sauce, and some onions that (I think) were cooked soft in water and butter (and tasted like heaven). It was all go good. Usually I’m a fairly dainty eater, meaning I generally only put a small amount of food in my mouth at a time. But at this meal, I was practically shoveling. I just couldn’t get enough. (There were probably two reasons for this– one is that it was delicious, and the other is that we had done yard work, gone jogging and gone to sauna since breakfast that morning so we were STARVING). In the end, I couldn’t even finish off a whole fish (much to J’s dad’s disappointment), but it was the best birthday dinner I could have asked for this year. (Interestingly, my excellent celebratory dinner last year was also seafood. I guess that’s just how I like to celebrate myself. Mmm… soft-shell crab…).

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There’s an Estonian folk song that declares “ei paremat pole kuskil maal kui suisel ajal Saaremaa,” which means “there’s no better place in the world than Saaremaa in summertime.” It wasn’t yet summer when J and I visited Saaremaa, Estonia’s largest island, in April, but we were blessed with gorgeous weather nonetheless. The weekend was a trip down memory lane for us, since we visited Saaremaa together back in October of 2005. To encourage our reminiscing, we even booked a room in the same home-stay in Kuressaare we stayed in 2 and a half years ago (our friendly host Ülo didn’t remember us).

I had my heart set on enjoying a meal at one of the many spa hotels in Kuressaare. After some research to weed out the options that were just too expensive, we made a dinner reservation at the Arensburg Boutique Hotel & Spa.

At Arensburg, we were served a meal that was simple, healthy, and well-prepared. It started with these sun-dried tomato rolls and dill butter. We also ordered a bottle of white wine, but sadly, I didn’t take a picture of it and thus can’t remember what it was. It was very refreshing though, a bit fruity but still dry.

We shared an appetizer of shrimp with a balsamic reduction and dill mousse (yeah, the dill seemed to be everywhere in this meal, which is typical in traditional Estonian food but sort of unexpected at a spa restaurant). Note that shrimp this size are called hiidkrevetid– giant shrimp– in Estonia, since the usual shrimp you see here are very tiny. I miss big, meaty shrimp, but these satisfied my craving, the firm shrimp nicely offset by the sweet vinegar reduction.

For my main course I had butterfish with hollandaise sauce. It was one intense piece of white fish, dense and filling, like a steak… made of fish. I liked that the buttery sauce was off to the side so I could choose myself how mush I wanted on my fish and the accompanying fresh vegetables.

J had salmon with a lime sauce, which I don’t remember too much about, except that the fish was lovely and the sauce slightly sweet. (And note the sprigs of dill on both of our plates!)

After our relaxing, satisfying dinner, we indulged ourselves with a trip to the hotel’s cigar lounge, where we took some very dramatic pictures against the remaining daylight streaming in through the floor-to-ceiling window.

Yeah… we know we look good :-).

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