Ever since I moved to Oulu from Northern Italy back in 2013, I have admired the connection people here have with nature. In the beginning, I thought it to be something innate in the Finnish culture; it was only later I discovered this trait to be much more enhanced in the Northern part of the country, where nature is at its quintessential wild state. This connection goes beyond simply taking walks in the forest and admiring its beauty in any kind of weather, be it favorable and sunny or slippery and freezing. It is much deeper. It’s about coexistence and understanding.
Northern Finland is a land of contrasts. Long and dark winters where the most prevalent colours are black and white eventually make way for a very colourful and lush summer. To me it’s almost a miracle how nature has the energy to be reborn after so many months of frost and freezing temperatures. Despite the harsh winter, when the sun’s warming power returns and melts the snow and thaws the ground, invariably nature begins to flourish. Sap starts to flow in the trees, wild herbs emerge from the ground, leaves and blooms appear.
Northern Finland has some of the most pristine nature in the world. And this nature is something anyone can benefit from. For many foreigners the concept of everyman’s right is an unfamiliar one. The idea that everyone has the right to roam free in nature, enjoy it and benefit from it as long as it’s left unharmed is so liberating. And the variety of Arctic wild food is noteworthy. It is not limited merely to one of the widest varieties of wild berries in the world, but also includes mushrooms, edible wild herbs, flowers, leaves, sprouts and wild fish.
Local, seasonal ingredients are incredibly tasty in Finland, especially wild and organic ones. And that’s really what I find to be at the base of Finnish traditional cuisine: a few, fresh ingredients. The secret, really, is to eat seasonally and so adjust one’s diet to what nature provides in that season instead of buying imported goods. Nature adapts and transforms. Being connected to nature means adapting and transforming along with it.
I love to combine different food cultures, highlighting the strengths of each. In particular, I specialize in bringing a Nordic twist to Italian recipes and vice versa. It’s very satisfying to look outside the box and create new flavors. In my creative process I usually start with an ingredient and I develop a recipe around that ingredient or I think of an existing recipe that might need an interesting addition. Giving a Nordic twist to some recipes can be as easy as adding a few wild berries on top of a breakfast bowl, a cake or even a meat stew. Another way to travel through food to the North is to use some signature Arctic flavors, such as fresh dill, rye, butter and cardamom to name a few or even salty licorice and tar for the real culinary adventurers.
This pandemic has certainly made a lot of people appreciate nature more than they used to. More and more people value organic and sustainably sourced food. Suddenly, the possibility of going out and being in nature is connected to safety, freedom and mental health. More than that, nature has finally regained its rightful place as a food resource. The people that before would go to the supermarket to buy superfood powders from a faraway land now realise that they can go out to forage for themselves the forest superfoods and even start to grow their own vegetables in their backyards and balconies.
In conclusion, I find the Nordic and Arctic wild food scene to be an incredible resource that deserves to be enhanced. It is something completely unique in the world and a territorial asset beyond comparison. It is an exclusive attraction for a very specific niche in tourism. For people who value the concepts of slow living and sustainability and that would like to experience for themselves this kind of special and primordial connection with nature.
Thais FK (http://www.thaisfk.com/)
Photographer, Recipe developer and Content Creator. Half Italian and half Brazilian, born and grown up in Italy, moved to Finland soon after graduated. Lives in Oulu.