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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?

63 replies »

  1. Ah, pea soup would be perfect on a day like today – lots of sunshine and snow, and just cold enough to make you hungry for a thick, hearty soup.

    Your writing is fabulous, and especially so when you write about food. Could a food/travel book be in the works…?

  2. Hi BT! Sorry to be late as usual. I had no idea pea soup was a staple of Finns. It’s interesting because I always associated it with the French/Quebecois culture, as I grew up in Montreal and pea soup was a favourite. The Quebecois also put in ham or bacon or lardon in the soup. That’s what made it taste so good. As well, they used yellow, not green peas. 😀

    • Hello eden! Yes, I’d heard from another reader that pea soup was popular in French-Canadian culture. I look forward to trying that version at some point. It’s always such a pleasure to have you stop by for a chat! Hope all is well.

    • 😁 Well, you got the best of WP this time, because you told me that directly! I’m sorry the platform is being difficult for you. Thank you for stopping by to chat. Your humor is such a treat. Take care yourself!

  3. There on YouTube you have many recipes for cheese broth, all of them add a different touch, but just look for it as “Caldo de Queso:” It is a typical dish from Sonora and Northen Sinaloa.

  4. My Grandmother, and Mother, used to make it, for me, now I do it myself, when I am in want of a warm and comforting soup, specially in winter time, delicious! 😋

  5. It’s years now that I do not have chicharos, getting fresh peas here it’s not easy, you find them in a can on every market, but I like them fresh, not from a can.
    You learn something every day, did not knew in Finland are big fans of pea soup.
    My favorite soup it’s caldo de queso Sonora’ style you basically a diced potato soup, with poblano peppers, or California peppers, on a tomato broth, when you serve it, you add diced cheese, of your preference, and add totopos when served into your plate so you can control the amount, and the soup, or caldo as it’s name it here, doesn’t turn into a mess of bland totopos, the idea is they should taste kind of crunchy when you eat them, if you add too many the cruchiness will be gone, so you add them as you need them, every cook has his own way, here so you can have an idea:

  6. I didn’t know pea soup was a Finnish stereotype. I do remember eating it from time to time growing up, and liking it. My Mom’s side of the family is Swedish – maybe it’s a stereotype for them too?

  7. Strangely I never had pea soup as a child growing up on a Canadian farm. I recall having it for the first time as a brand new nursing student in the cafeteria and being smitten. Now it always reminds me of that new chapter of my life just opening up in my late teens.

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