Joulupöytä – Finnish Christmas food

Studying in Finland is a lot more than just studying. When you come to live to a foreign country, you go through a complex process of acculturation, experiencing cultural and psychological changes. To make this process smoother, one should make an effort to learn and understand a foreign culture.

In my previous post I discussed the Finnish language, and ways to learn it. I would like to devote this post to another important part of Finlandization – nutritious, delectable and often surprising Finnish food.

Food is no doubt an essential part of culture. The Finnish cuisine is seasonal, fairly simple, and based on a great variety of pure, fresh and natural ingredients. The ingredients of traditional dishes include various meat and fish, vegetables and mushrooms, whole grains, berries and milk. Finland has 4 distinctive seasons, which influence the ingredients selection of the traditional dishes. The typical seasonal ingredients for winter are white cabbage, red cabbage, carrots, swedes, parsnips, beetroots, dried and frozen berries, mushrooms and vegetables, hare, willow grouse, burbot, and burbot roe.

IMG_0198Kauppakatu, Jyväskylä. December 2014.

Each country has its own traditional Christmas dinner dishes. In Finland Christmas dinner is eaten on the Christmas Eve, December 24. Christmas is coming so I have collected top 5 dishes with recipes, which you would typically find on a Finnish traditional Christmas table – perinteinen joulupöytä.

Joulukinkku – Christmas ham

Joulukinkku is a star of the Finnish Christmas dinner. Preparation of this dish is quite time-consuming, but it’s definitely worth it.

The ingredients you will need:

  • Salted shank ham, 4 – 5 kg (make sure it fits in your oven :D)


  • Brown sugar, 1 glass
  • Mustard, 1 glass
  • Breadcrumbs, 2 glasses


  • Cloves


Step 1: Place the ham on a roasting pan skin side up. Cook the ham in the oven at 200°C (1 hour per kg)

Step 2: Remove the ham from the oven, let it cool down a bit and remove the skin.

Step 3: Mix brown sugar, mustard and breadcrumbs together, and spread the mixture over the ham. Decorate the ham with cloves. Put the ham back to oven and cook at 225 – 250°C for 15-20 min.

Step 4: Enjoy!

Rosolli – Finnish Christmas Salad

The name of the salad comes from the Russion word “рассол” (brine). The Russian version of Rosolli is called “Vingret”. Rosolli salad is an essential dish of the Finnish Christmas. Made of vegetables of Finnish origin, Rosolli brings bright colors to the joulupöytä.


  • 4 boiled potatoes
  • 4 boiled carrots
  • 4 boiled or pickled beetroot
  • 1 gherkin
  • 1 raw small onion,
  • salt
  • white pepper


  • Whipping Cream, 1 glass
  • Vinegar, 1 tbsp
  • Sugar, 1 tbsp
  • Water the beetroot was boiled in


Step 1: Peel the cool boiled vegetables and raw onion, and cut them into equal cubes. Chop the gherkin.

Step 2: Mix all the vegetables together and season with salt and pepper

Step 3: For the dressing, whip the cream. Season it with vinegar and sugar. Add a several drops of water the beetroot was cooked in. It will give the dressing a nice colour. Serve the dressing in a separate bowl.

You can also add egg to the salad, but it is optional.

Imelletty perunalaatikko – Sweetened potato casserole

Imelletty perunalaatikko is a traditional Finnish Christmas dish, which originally comes from Kymenlaakso.


  • Potatoes, 1 kg
  • Wheat flour, 3 – 4 tbsp
  • Milk, 0.5 l
  • Butter or margarine, 3 – 4 tbsp
  • Salt, 1.5 tsp
  • Ground nutmeg, 0.5 tsp


Step 1: Wash the potatoes and peel them.

Step 2: Put the potatoes into a pan, cover with water, and boil until soft.

Step 3: Remove the access water and mash the warm boiled potatoes. Add flower and sugar and mix. Let the mixture stand in a warm place for 3 – 4 hours.

Step 4: Add melted butter, warm milk, salt and nutmeg to the potato mixture.

Step 5: Grease the oven dish with butter. Pour the potato mixture into the dish so that it is half full.

Step 6: Bake in preheated to 150°C oven for 2 – 3 hours.

Graavilohi – Freshly salted salmon 

I am a big fan of fish, especially salmon. Therefore, I could not but mention graavilohi (gravlax). Gravlax, translated from Swedish as “buried salmon”, is a Nordic dish. Originally the dish was cooked by fishermen, who rubbed the fresh salmon with salt, sugar and dill and lightly fermented it. Consequently, the fish got a very strong taste.The modern recipe of gravlax does not require fermentation, but the seasoning remained the same.


  • Salmon, 2 kg
  • Coarse salt, 2 tbsp
  • Sugar, 2 tbsp
  • White pepper, 1 tbsp
  • Fresh dill


Step 1: Fillet the salmon. Do not remove the skin.

Step 2: Take a big dish and sprinkle half of the salt on its bottom. Place one of the salmon fillets on the salt skin side down. Spread the sugar, pepper, dill and the rest of the salt over the top of the salmon. Put the other fillet over the seasoning skin side up.

Step 3: Cover the dish, put some weight on the top and store in a cool place overnight.

Step 4: Remove the seasoning from the salmon and slice it into thin pieces.

Serve the salmon slices alone or with mustard dressing.

From my experience graavilohi goes best with buttered Finnish rye bread.

Piparkakut – Gingerbread cookies

Gingerbread cookies are one of the typical Finnish Christmas deserts.


  • Butter, 300 g
  • Sugar, 300 g
  • Eggs, 3
  • Dark syrup, 1 glass
  • Ground cinnamon, 2 tsp
  • Ground cloves, 2 tsp
  • Ginger, 2 tsp
  • Grated orange rind, 1 tbsp
  • White flour, 7 glasses
  • Baking soda, 3 tsp


Step 1: Mix the syrup with spices in a pan and bring to boil. Add the butter to the syrup, stir and let the mixture cool down. Whip up eggs with sugar.

Step 2: Take part of the flour, mix it with the baking soda, and add to the syrup mixture. Then add whipped eggs and the rest of the flour.

Step 3: Cover the dough and leave it overnight in a cool place.

Step 4: Roll out the dough and cut out the desired shapes. Cook piparkakut in the oven at 200°C until they are golden brown.

The traditional winter Finnish drink is glöggi – Hot Red Mulled Wine. You can either cook glöggi at home or buy it in any supermarket in Finland.

I hope that you find the recipes interesting and will try some of them out during the upcoming holidays! Please let me know in comments what is your favourite Christmas dish and how are you planning to celebrate Christmas this year.

Hyvä Joulua!



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