23 April 2009

how to eat in finland

When I first arrived in Finland, I found the food appalling.

Meals tasted like they had come from mass-production lines. Fruits and vegetables tasted like cardboard. Fresh meat was nowhere to be found in supermarkets -- everything was either cured, processed, marinated, or ground into mystery meat and resurrected as cold cuts and sausages.

My initial theory was that Finland, being on the edge of the earth, was so far away that fruits, vegetables, and meats aged and died before they could finish their journey to Finland. And, once they get here, they are cryogenically frozen by the Finnish weather.

The secret was to eat like a local.

Having come Aix-en-Provence and its lovely Mediterranean climate, I was expecting the fruits and vegetables I had in France to taste the same in Finland. That, of course, was a stupid assumption.

I have since learned to buy only produce in season at the kauppatori, and have grown fond of some local favorites, like Aura blue cheese (named after the River Aura in Turku), Fazer chocolates, and the wide array of Finnish breads. Finnish bread, in contrast to the crusty & airy ones sold in France, are hearty and grainy, perhaps to help keep you warm in the harsh Finnish climate. Hardly a day passes now that I don't have some bread -- whether its crumbly blue cheese on warm monivilja viipaleet (a soft, chewy multigrained bread) for breakfast; a generous layer of onions, peppers, lettuce, and roast pork on a ruispalat (a coarse, dark rye bread); or large chunks of sunflower seed bread slathered with butter from our bread station at the school cafeteria.

I still have to get used to salmiakki and lakritsi, though. :)

04 April 2009

encore provence

"Memory is a notoriously biased and sentimental editor, selecting what it wants to keep
and invariably making a few cosmetic changes to past events. With rose-coloured hindsight,
the good times become magical; the bad times fade and eventually disappear,
leaving only a seductive blur of sunlit days and the laughter of friends."

- Encore Provence, Peter Mayle

Was it real?

Sometimes I have to ask myself that, when I think of the time I spent in Provence.

I look at photographs I have, and I am hit by a staggering realization of how beautiful it was. I cannot believe that I lived there -- walked those weathered streets, laughed, loved, cried there.

Provence feeds the soul. It's like one of those melodies that haunt you -- even when you think you have forgotten about it, it creeps up on you and surprises you with a memory so vivid, so potent, that it feels like an oddly enchanting dream.

And the memory keeps playing again and again, forward, in reverse, in mometary pauses, until it overwhelms everything else and only the music remains.