That is what learning is. You suddenly understand something you've understood all your life, but in a new way. ~ Doris Lessing
ADVENTURE # 2: GROCERY SHOPPING AND COOKING
I wouldn’t say I’m a great cook, but I can certainly hold my own in the kitchen. I knew I might run into a few challenges here in Helsinki when it came to preparing food. I figured I wouldn’t be able to read the food labels, or cooking instructions for that matter. Additionally, Finland, like the rest of Europe, is on the metric scale. Goodbye pounds, cups and ounces, say hello to grams and liters. And let’s not forget the Celsius/Fahrenheit conversion either. It’s a little overwhelming, but here’s what I’ve been able to put together so far.
BUYING GROCERIES: The food labels are in Finnish (and usually Swedish). I know, this is no surprise as I’m in Finland. However, it is posing a little more of a problem than I anticipated. Some things are easy to find, like apples, bananas, yogurt, etc. I call them “common sense” items that need no label to figure out what they are. Other items, like meat, are a little more challenging. Fresh fish is very popular, after all, Finland boarders the Baltic Sea. However, I am not a connoisseur of fish products. Salmon can look like pork and cubed fish can look like chicken. Even though I know the words for chicken (kana) and pork (kinkku) it doesn’t do me much good. Sometimes there’s just a general term listed, like liha (meat) or filee (filet), and I guess I’m just supposed to know what variety it is. So for now, I’ll just stick to what I can identify, fruits, vegetables, cereals, yogurt, and frozen pizza.
COOKING: The old saying of “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone” holds true here. I have no microwave and no toaster. It’s not that they don’t have these things in Finland. It’s just that my apartment doesn’t have them. And I never realized how much I used either one of them. Gone are the days of grabbing a slice of toast and heading out the door because I’m running late. Toast takes about a half hour – 15 minutes for the oven to heat up and about 5 minutes on each side. I can eat a bowl of cereal faster than that. Along the same lines, leftovers can take time to heat up as well. I’ve found it’s easier to heat those up on the stovetop as I’m still playing with oven temperatures. When it comes to cooking, converting Celsius to Fahrenheit is not an exact science. I have managed, however, to master the art of baking the perfect frozen pizza.
I should also mention that there is no coffee maker, but rather coffee is made in the moka, one cup at a time. Water is put in the bottom, coffee grounds in the “filter,” screw on the top and put on the stove. About 5 minutes later, you have a nice cup of coffee. I can’t tell you it’s great coffee, or even good coffee, because I didn’t drink coffee until I got here. I’ve always been a Diet Coke kind of girl. However, at 1.80 euros for .5 liter bottle (about $2.30 for a 16.9 oz bottle), I’m confident I can learn to love coffee.
Living in Helsinki has given me a new appreciation for the everyday tasks (like cooking and grocery shopping) that I never gave more than a passing thought to before. These are some of the things I have observed and learned:
1. Groceries are purchased more often rather than in bulk. I have yet to see a cart full of food in the checkout lane. I’ve seen some full baskets from time to time, but they mostly contain perishable items (milk, fresh fruit, vegetables, etc.).
2. If you don’t bring a bag with you to carry your groceries home, you will need to purchase one for around 20 cents. (I tend to carry a bag with me, just in case a quick trip for milk turns into something else.) Perhaps this has something to do with why groceries are purchased in smaller quantities? Or maybe because carrying more than two bags home on the train is extremely difficult. . . .
3. Many of the food labels are in three or four languages. Other than the usual Finnish and Swedish, the languages are usually German and Russian. Sometimes a product will have “new and improved” written in English, but the rest of the label is in a language other than English.
4. Google translate does not work particularly well at converting recipes OR directions on the back of packages. A Finnish/English dictionary from the library causes fewer issues and has more words available than any “free” dictionary download I could find.
5. The metric conversion charts online are fantastic. I particularly found http://www.jsward.com/cooking/cooking-metric.shtml to be helpful.