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Seija Kurunmäki: What does the national food poll reveal about us?

Seija Kurunmäki | 08.05.2017

Finland’s national food was selected in a public poll at the beginning of 2017. The winner was dark rye bread. The goal of the national food poll was to increase the Finnish nation’s understanding of its own culinary culture. An awareness of one's culture increases the appreciation of food and creates interest in the special characteristics of other cultures.

In summer 2016, Finns were asked to name their favourite foods, and a list of thousands of foodstuffs and dishes was created based on the responses. Some of the candidates were local specialities, such as the blood sausage; blood pudding and potato stew; blood pancake; ‘kalakukko’ – a fish pastry; blood and barley dumpling soup; pan-fried sausage and eggs with liver casserole; and bone broth and wheat dumpling soup, as well as other hearty exotics.

In the public poll, the most popular foods were traditional Finnish dishes that are still well-liked today: Karelian stew, pea soup, dark rye bread, Easter pudding, salmon soup, and fried Finnish fish. Pork gravy and reindeer stew were also favourites among many people.

As the poll sought to find a ‘national food’, many respondents suggested traditional foods. The most popular Finnish home-made dishes ranked surprisingly low: minced beef sauce, pasta casserole, lasagne, sausage, and oven-baked salmon. Pizza, kebab, and hot dogs were voted for by people who wanted to go against the ethos of traditional foods.

When picking the 12 finalists from among the most popular foods, the expert jury focused on dishes which are still prepared today. Of the contemporary favourites, pizza fits the Finnish tradition of pies, which is why the jury also included it in the final list.

But a minor media storm broke out once the finalists were announced. Some people were disappointed that their favourites were not included. Seeing pizza among the finalists also enraged some culinary enthusiasts. Some discussion threads criticised the fact that a major portion of the foods listed are products of the modern food industry.

Dark rye bread received 25% of the votes. Like the Karelian pasty, it was especially popular with people under 30 years of age. Among respondents over 60 years of age, Karelian stew and fried whitefish or herring with mashed potatoes were the most popular foods. To the relief of many people, pizza received less than 1,000 votes. Blueberry pie was the most popular dessert among people of all ages. The jury’s favourite was fish soup, which suits all seasons and is always a good match with dark rye bread.

Since the poll, the discussion on Finnish food specialities has increased and the iconic status of dark rye bread has grown. Our national self-esteem and understanding have also improved somewhat. Many provinces have resurrected their own local specialities. Dark rye bread, Karelian pasties and Easter pudding are being prepared with gusto at home as well. The selection of a national food will inspire people to have meals together and talk about food.

Seija Kurunmäki
Managing Director
ELO – Foundation for the Promotion of Finnish Food Culture

The poll took place between 1 October and 6 December 2016. The total number of votes cast was 38,500.

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