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Finnish Your Soup

“Ugh…don’t talk to me about pea soup…every idiot who comes to visit thinks that is the only thing we ever eat…pea soup! I tell you the very words disgust me. There’s so much more to us than that!” My host exclaims, flailing their arms in wild emotion. “Just like they say, ‘oh, you Scandis are all so cold, so without emotion’…what? We are human. We feel things too.”

Lots of locals raised the same concerns when I talked to them about pea soup. It was cliched, basic. So, I didn’t want to write about pea soup when it came to exploring Helsinki food. Also, I wanted to write about pea soup, because it was one of my entry points to the city: brightly pastoral against the white of the bowl, my first tasting occurred on a rainy evening. There was a surprising smokiness to the thick pureed vegetable, a hint of sweetness, a dollop of pungency. What looked simple on the surface unfolded hidden depths. 

And I wanted to write about pea soup because it was more than a hackneyed dish. It contained memories and stories for people. Sini told me it reminded them of spending Thursdays with their grandparents. For Arja, it evoked a kitchen warmed by the baking of dark rye bread as an accompaniment. Mari said it remained to her a recollection of school cafeteria days.

Photo by Pixabay on

Whatever the tale, pea soup comes attached with traditions and cultural identity threads traveling beyond the singular. So, while pea soup does not define the nation of Finland, the dish provides one of the means to get to know the people residing upon this particular place. It’s a meal that can weave together different histories to show the power of food that survives limitations.


Serves  6 persons  Total Time: 12 hour 30 minutes [Prep Time = 10 hours; Cook Time = 2 hours 30 minutes]


500 grams dried whole green peas 

1 large yellow onion, diced

2 ½ liters water

300 grams smoked pork shank with bone*

sea salt to taste

cooking oil


  1. Rinse the peas and soak them in water for at least ten hours, or overnight. 
  2. In a fry pan bring your cooking oil to medium heat. Add your diced onions, cooking them until soft.
  3. In a large pot add the 2 ½ liters of water, soaked peas, onion, smoked pork shank, and salt.* Bring to a boil and then simmer for one hour. Skim foam and pea husks from surface of water. 
  4. Remove the meat from the pot. Take off the bone, skin, and fat. Shred pork into small pieces. 
  5. Place the shredded meat and shank bone back into the broth. Cook for another hour or until the peas turn mushy. If low on water, add more. If the soup is too liquid, cook with the lid off. Turn off once consistency of pea soup is thick. Discard the bone.
  6. Serve in bowls with side of mustard. Enjoy with freshly baked bread.

* BT Tip: For a vegan version of this recipe, switch out the smoked pork shank for smoked sea salt to flavor the water.


Is there a dish that for you has become either a stereotype of a culture or has regained its nuanced and complicated story?

68 replies »

  1. Hello my dear friend!
    I admit to being I good this particular stereotype, but the pea soup looks and sounds delicious 🙂 As you say, certain foods and soups are special because of the fond memories associated with them. Thank you for sharing the recipe as well.

    I hope you are doing well!
    Best wishes,

  2. I’m definitely in the group who loves pea soup ~ so I appreciate not just this post but the recipe too. I like how you’ve dived into this culinary piece of the Finnish culture 🙂 Reading your post, I am reminded how important food is to all cultures and perhaps the most critical bridge to wanting to understand the area you are visiting. The photos share the same feeling as your words, and I could use a nice bowl right now.

    • Mmm…here’s to a delicious bowl of pea soup. I’m a fan ever since I tasted it in Finland. Cultural touchstones such as food are so personal to so many humans and it can be tricky to get beyond the main sticking points into the complicated nuances. Thank you so much for your beautiful comment.

    • 😆 Never! I think they like anyone else is just annoyed when anyone reduces their culture/country to one main thing and only that. I had no idea how good pea soup could taste till I had it in Finland. Now I’m a fan.

  3. We love both pea and lentil soup in the winter. My traditional pea soup recipe is similar to this and I usually make it when we have a little ham left over and I add some small pieces of carrot and celery to mine. It’s very healthy, filling and doesn’t cost much to make. Well-written post and great photos to go with it!

  4. I always enjoy your posts, and I like how you’re blending the subjects of food and travel and viewing them from both a cultural and personal perspective. When we travel, we want to define a place, “oh, this is what people here do, think, eat, like,” but we can never grasp the nature of somewhere fully…

  5. I didn’t know Finland was known for/associated with pea soup. But I loved your description of “brightly pastoral . . . with a hint of sweetness, a dollop of urgency.” A very evocative culinary moment.

  6. I didn’t know that pea soup is associated with Finland. So I learned something today. The recipe is pretty much how I’ve cooked the soup, except for the mustard complement. A former colleague who was from Quebec said pea soup goes well with French fries. I tried it, and she was right!

    • Haha, sounded weird to me as well, but the pea soups I had while in Finland tasted fantastic. Thanks for sharing your experience with andouillette. Have yet to try that. All’s well with me. Hope this finds you safe and healthy?

  7. French Canada is also associated with pea soup; the recipe is very similar (thanks for sharing it). I understand the complaints around stereotypes attached to nations as I find the ones attached to Canada completely off the mark (to say nothing of how silly they can be). I’ve enjoyed significant time in Scandinavia and don’t find them “cold” at all. Enjoyable post! Nice to see you again.

    • I’m always puzzled by how these stereotypes begin and gain traction! Such an odd way to operate in the world, but so very human of us, no? Thankfully I don’t have any stereotypes of French Canadian food and I’m excited to hear that pea soup is relatively easy to get there. I shall be looking into this on my next journey north. Always so lovely to have you stop by for a chat!

  8. Oh actually that looks yum! I love vegetables, so I usually find green color in food appealing. However, I do understand why some Finnish reacted that way about this dish. To me as an Indonesian, our cuisine abroad is often reduced to nasi goreng (fried rice) and mie goreng (fried noodles), while in fact there is a wide array of dishes that vary from one region to the other. But I get why those two are popular — they’re easy to make! And pea soup also sounds quite easy to make.

    • Yes! I love this comparison. I find that to be true of so many dishes. Most of us eat a wide variety of things and yet most countries/cultures get identified by at most one or two “classic” meals. Thanks for sharing your experience with pea soup and Indonesian cuisine.

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