According to the stereotype, Finnish individualism has shaped the country’s food culture, too. Finns like to bring their own drinks to parties, buying rounds at the pub is uncommon, and asking to taste a friend’s meal at a restaurant is considered extremely rude – unless you’re with close friends or family.
Taneli Kesäläinen, Restaurant Manager at Helsinki’s Restaurant Andrea, has a different view. He sees sharing food as an essential part of the local food culture.
Think of the crayfish parties, the lunch and dinner buffets, and the Christmas feast. We have always shared it, just not really in restaurants, he says.
From holiday feasts to Helsinki’s Restaurant Day
It’s true that all the biggest parties in Finland revolve around food sharing. At Christmas, Finns don’t just gather around the table for one evening of ham and smoked salmon – they do it all throughout December, meeting up for so-called “Little Christmas” parties where everyone brings something for others to share.
At Midsummer, Finns head out to cottages in the forest, laden down with packs of sausages for a potluck-style feast. On May Day, entire cities celebrate springtime by picnicking together in parks.
In the last few years, Finnish cities have adopted a new take on food sharing with Restaurant Day, when anyone has the right to set up a one-day restaurant on the sidewalk. The result is an amazing combination of an ancient harvest feast and an urban festival.
Bringing fun into fine dining
Sharing food is all about fun, and that’s what Kesäläinen believes has been missing from Finnish upscale dining.
– I used to work at one of Helsinki’s premier fine-dining establishments, and it was crazy seeing the transformation in people who walked in. I’d seen them laugh and act rowdy out on the street, but they’d go all quiet and serious in their fine-dining mode.
Restaurant Andrea, which serves a quirky fusion of Anatolian and Finnish cuisines, is all about sharing food. No wonder, then, that its motto is “fun dining rather than fine dining”.
According to Kesäläinen, sharing food breaks the ice between strangers and makes a romantic dinner even more intimate. It also makes sure even the quietest of Finns always have something to talk about – the food.
Say goodbye to portion-envy
At Andrea, Anatolian appetizer-like dishes, known as mezze, are served in communal grab-it-before-it’s-gone style. The main courses, from octopus to grilled lamb, are also created for easy sharing, Kesäläinen explains.
–I’d seen enough of Finnish diners looking at other people’s portions around the table and say things like “I won, mine looks best,” or “Oh no, I have a terrible portion envy.” Here that won’t happen, as everyone can enjoy the same food.
Kesäläinen remembers how, in his childhood, Finnish pizza restaurants would still charge a “halving fee” to allow customers to share a pizza. Finns personal space clearly used to extend to their plates, but the fact that things have changed is something to celebrate.