Finnish food is a mix of Western and Eastern influences, with Scandinavian-style fish specialities and exotic meats such as reindeer and elk alongside dishes that bear a Russian stamp – pastries, and casseroles strong on cabbage and pork. Also keep an eye out for karjalan piirakka – oval-shaped pastries containing rice and mashed potato, served hot with a mixture of finely chopped hard-boiled egg and butter. Kalakukko is another inexpensive delicacy, if an acquired one: a chunk of bread with pork and whitefish baked inside it; it’s legendary around Kuopio but available almost everywhere. Slightly cheaper but just as filling, lihapiirakka are envelopes of sweet pastry filled with rice and meat – ask for them with mustard (sinappi) and/or ketchup (ketsuppi).
Breakfasts (aamiainen) in hotels usually consist of a buffet of herring, eggs, cereals, cheese, salami and bread, while you can lunch on the economical snacks sold in market halls (kauppahalli) or adjoining cafés. Most train stations and some bus stations and supermarkets also have cafeterias offering a selection of snacks, greasy nibbles and light meals, and street stands (grillis) turn out burgers and hot dogs for around €3. Otherwise, campus mensas are the cheapest places to get a hot dish (around €4); theoretically, you have to be a student, but you’re only asked for ID on occasion. In regular restaurants or ravintola, lunch (lounas) deals are good value, with many places offering a lunchtime buffet table (voileipäpöytä or seisovapöytä) stacked with a choice of traditional goodies for a set price of around €10. Pizzerias are another good bet, serving lunch specials for €6–9. For evening meals, a cheap pizzeria or ravintola will serve up standard plates of meat and two veg, while in Helsinki and the big towns there’s usually a good range of options, including Chinese and Thai.
Most restaurants are fully licensed, and many are frequented more for drinking than eating. Bars are usually open till midnight or 1am (and clubs until 2am or 3am) and service stops half an hour before closing. You have to be eighteen to buy beer and wine, twenty to buy spirits, and some places have an age limit of twenty-four. The main – and cheapest – outlets for takeaway alcohol are the ubiquitous government-run Alko shops (Mon–Thurs 9am–6pm, Fri 9am–8pm, Sat 9am–4pm).
Beer (olut) falls into three categories: “light beer” (I-Olut), like a soft drink; “medium strength beer” (keskiolut; III-Olut), perceptibly alcoholic, sold in supermarkets and cafés; and “strong beer” (A-Olut or IV-Olut), on a par with the stronger European beers, and only available at licensed restaurants, clubs and ALKO shops. Strong beers, such as Lapin Kulta and Koff, cost about €1.30 per 300ml bottle at a shop or kiosk. Imported beers go for €2.20–3 per can. Finlandia vodka is €19 for a 700ml bottle; Koskenkorva, a rougher vodka, is €15. You’ll also find Finns knocking back salmiakki, a premixed vodka/liquorice cocktail which looks, smells and tastes like cough medicine, and fisu, another inexplicably popular drink that blends Fisherman’s Friend lozenges with Koskenkorva.