Eating habits in Finland: The pea must be preserved

In Finland, people meet for lunch at the buffet at 11 a.m. sharp. There’s a very special combination on Thursdays. Hyvää ruokahalua!

Neon sign with a motif of a coffee cup and a knife and fork

A coffee in Finland Photo: Mark Thomas/mauritius images

Everyone knows this colleague who, with the reliability of an atomic clock, gets up from his desk at 12 sharp to make lunch. He is secretly smiled at because he pays so much attention to the business-noodle cliché of the over-punctual canteen German, and at the same time admires him because one knows that someone here has their life under control. There is a calming structure here, at least in the middle of the day.

Well, and then go to Finland.

Here said colleague would be a daydreamer and late eater. The lounasaika, which means lunchtime, starts at 11 a.m. in Finland – and that’s not an exercise! I recently sat in on the daily newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, in whose glass headquarters the canteen in the basement is clearly visible from above, and reliably a few minutes after 11 the place was banging.

And that’s how it works all over Helsinki, in front of almost all restaurants there are signs advertising the Lounas offer from 11 a.m., sometimes as early as 10.30 a.m. There are even websites like, which provides an overview of lunchtime menus from over a hundred Finnish locations. But where lunch in Germany consists of one-plate dishes, the standard solution in Finland is: the buffet. You take a glass of tap water (which is available for free everywhere in Finland anyway) or – yes, why not? – Milk. There is bread, a soup of the day, a salad bar that is always well stocked, then several main dishes and starchy side dishes. And finally, of course, filter coffee, the sacred drink of the Finns, all inclusive, also to take away.

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As with us, the price of the lunch offer is significantly lower than for a dinner at the same place. That means in Helsinki: between 12 and 14 euros, strikingly often exactly 12.70 euros. For bargain hunters, this is a good chance to explore some great locales. Because, as was aptly noted on these pages a few months ago, “Helsinki is home to many earlier testimonies to architectural modernism, buildings from the 1930s, 40s and 50s, which in many places have long since been demolished and replaced with a transfigured past”.

Long, flat and white, the Lasipalatsi

There is, for example, the Lasipalatsi. Long, flat and white, it lies like an elegant piece of furniture in the center of Helsinki and forms a clear contrast to the city’s massive, often clinker-dark block buildings. It is a child of functionalism, opened in 1936; today the perfectly renovated building exudes retro charm, also thanks to the neon lighting. This continues inside, for example in the “Café Lasipalatsi” with its cantilever chairs and brass coat racks. The food here is rock-solid international cuisine, a snippet from this week: cashew and cauliflower soup, chorizo ​​balls in Arabiatta sauce, rosemary root vegetables. The hustle and bustle on the magnificent Mannerheimentie boulevard can be followed through the large windows while eating.

Just across this street, into the Sokos Hotel opened in 1947, through the breathtaking lobby and up to the tenth floor, you are already in the restaurant “10. Kerros”. On one side of the room, the classic interior offers an intimate clubhouse atmosphere, on the other side an elongated window front with a great view. The 13-euro deal only applies to the soup and salad buffet, which is enough to fill you up. But if you only invest a few euros more, you get a dish on top; in my case it was an excellent piece of salmon.

Continue to the bistro of the Olympic Stadium built for the 1952 Games. Spherical lamps made of yellow-tinted glass set accents in the otherwise unadorned room, the slope of which is reminiscent of an attic apartment – eating is under the spectator stand. Windows offer a view of the inside of the stadium, you sit right next to the tartan track and you can imagine Emil Zapotek trotting past.

And then there is Thursday. There is a double culinary tradition in Finland: pea soup and pancakes, don’t worry – one after the other. A possible origin is that before the (fasting) Friday, calories should be tanked again. You can still enjoy the result in the secularized now, and very well in the “Pompier” on Albertinkatu.

Here it goes into a backyard and there into a windowless low-rise building. Inside, warm-hearted staff are waiting at the checkout, if you like you can also order a Lounasviini, wine, 4 euros for 12 cl – otherwise you rarely get this amount for less than 10 euros in Helsinki. The chairs in the dining room are upholstered in petrol, the walls are paneled with light-colored wood, they have showcases full of trophies and drinking horns, historical photographs and paintings of men, and finally there is a large metal bell standing around: These are premises of the Helsinki volunteer fire brigade, hence the name Pompier. Finnish hits sound discreetly, which interestingly sound like either Russian or Japanese pop songs. The crowd is as mixed as the atmosphere is rustic. It’s also a bit of an Aki Kaurismäki place.

Next to the salad bar is the essentials, a large pot filled with plenty of soup. It is light green and mild, you can clearly see and feel the individual peas. In addition, as toppings, finely chopped onions, diced bacon and dark yellow mustard. They all make the soup even better, especially the crunch of the bacon, and the real trick is to use lots of everything but not too much to keep the pea flavor.

Besides, you still need space for the pancakes! Here they are baked in the oven in a flat dish, then cut into manageable, thumb-thick pieces and served cold. Topped with raspberry jam and a whipped cream so thick and sweet you could mistake it for meringue.

Then you know why lunch starts at 11 a.m. Because you are full until the evening and long after that.

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