You can’t even begin to imagine how I felt the night I finally arrived in Ivalo, in far Northern Finland. It had taken 6 flights to get there (Brisbane – Hong Kong – a day in HK thanks to Volcano – back to Brisbane – 10 days later to Singapore – Paris – Helsinki – and finally, Ival0 – thank you very much jerk volcano!). We had been in transit from Australia for 36 hours.
Our hosts kindly greeted us at Ivalo airport, and then took us to see the local scenery – Ivalo sits above the arctic circle, and we were greeted by snow as far as the eye could see. It was a balmy 4 degrees, and all of us were looking forward to a hot shower after our extensive journey.
But of course, our hosts were keen to take us to the local restaurant for dinner, so we followed them wearily and sat down at a large table, were brought pints of the local beer… and then it came. The most marvellous culinary delight: lohikeitto.
I don’t know quite what it is about your first meal in a foreign country. My first pizza on my first night in New York was the same, life-changing experience, and no other delectable pizza I ate from then on could ever match up. Lohikeitto was the same for me on this night, too.
Imagine: delicious morsels of salmon, and just-soft potatoes drenched in cream, with just a little butter and a good helping of dill. Served with buttery rye bread, it was just about the most sensational soup I think I’ve ever tasted.
Fast forward a week, and I’m in Oulu, in central Finland with my host mother, Arja, and we are discussing this first, sublime experience with lohikeitto. We had been discussing my desire to learn to cook some Finnish foods, and so, with much enthusiasm, she proclaims, “Julia, we make lohikeitto on Saturday!” I was delighted.
We made a visit that Saturday to Kauppahalli, which is a bit like the Victoria Markets in Melbourne, for those of you who have been. It’s a big, beautiful old building right by the port of Oulu, and inside are a variety of market shops that deal with their various specialities: rye breads, baked goods, sweets, cheeses, meats, and of course, fish. We bought a kilo of the most incredibly fresh (like pink and glistening, sweet-smelling, one day off the boat from Norway fresh) Salmon – for only $15 Euros, or roughly AU$20 if you don’t mind – and headed off to Heikki’s apartment in downtown Oulu.
We had invited some of my fellow exchange companions and their families along, and so we set to work, cutting a mountain of potatoes, salmon and dill, and setting the dining table in Heikki’s beautiful home with gorgeous Iittala glassware, Marimekko textiles, and Heikki’s mother’s (roughly 65 year-old-) Arabia crockery. I say this not to sound overly pretentious, but mainly to point out that good design is such an integral part of every Finnish home. It was really quite amazing to experience.
It was such a joy to share this day with Arja and Heikki. When our guests finally arrived, the lohikeitto was bubbling away, and we all enjoyed the gorgeous lunch together with crisp white wine. A truly marvellous Finnish experience.
- 1 Tbsp Butter
- 1 Brown Onion, finely chopped
- 4-5 Potatoes (buy a firm variety they should retain their shape through cooking)
- 1.25 l Fish Stock
- 1/2 kg Fresh Salmon Fillet, cubed
- 100-200 ml Cream (or Milk, if you prefer a thinner soup)
- 1 cup Fresh Dill, finely chopped
- Cut the potatoes roughly into 1-inch cubes, and keep in water to prevent discolouration.
- In a large saucepan, cook the onion in the butter over medium heat until soft.
- Add the potatoes, the fish stock, and then enough water so the potatoes are just covered. Turn up the heat to high, cover the saucepan with a lid, and cook the potatoes until they are just soft.
- Add the salmon to the pot and cook until it is mostly opaque (about 5 minutes).
- Add the cream, and a good heft of salt and pepper, tasting to ensure desired saltiness. Cook for 5-10 minutes.
- Stir through the dill, and serve with rye bread and butter.
Hyvää ruohahalua! (Bon Appetit!)
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