Finland, the most sparsely populated country in the European Union, is situated on a peninsula in the Baltic Sea. It is one of the world’s northernmost countries. Of world capitals, only Reykjavík lies more to the north than Helsinki. Known as ‘a country of thousand lakes’, it has the most of any country in the world, with around 188,000. A quarter of Finland’s territory lies within the Arctic Circle and the midnight sun can be experienced for more days the farther north one travels. At Finland’s northernmost point, the sun does not set for 73 consecutive days during summer, and does not rise at all for 51 days during winter.

A few interesting facts:
Finland’s press has been rated the freest in the world

In Finland, 9 out of 10 plastic bottles are returned for recycling and almost 100% of glass bottles are also recycled
In Finland traffic fines are calculated by the severity of the offence and the offending driver’s annual income
There are around 2.2 million saunas in Finland, 1 for every 2.5 people
At the ‘Wife Carrying World Championships’ in Finland, first prize is the wife’s weight in beer

If you’re planning a visit, Lonely Planet’s highlights include learning about the indigenous Sami people and their environment at the Siida museum, relaxing in the giant smoke sauna at Jätkänkämppä, cruising through the canals of Helsinki and trekking the Karhunkierros Trail in Oulanka National Park.

The Finns are passionate about their food and are fiercely loyal to their culinary roots. In 2000, when Helsinki celebrated its 450th anniversary as the European Capital of Culture the city initiated a project called the HelsinkiMenu. The aim of the project was to bring global awareness to Finnish cuisine. The HelsinkiMenu featured fish from the thousand lakes, berries, mushrooms and game from the forests as well as special produce from small farms. A few traditional Finnish recipes I came across; Lohikeitto (salmon soup) , Kalakukko (fish pie) , Perunarieska (potato flatbread) , Silakat (pickled fried herring), Korvapuusti (cinnamon and cardamon buns) , Ruisleipä (rye bread), Laskiaispulla (sweet buns filled with jam and cream) and Vispipuuro (whipped lingonberry porridge). I made Kalakeitto (fish stew) which was velvety smooth and had a beautiful flavour. Finishing it off with fresh dill is key, so a big thanks to my local The Rose and Crown for coming to the rescue.

Rating: 10/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes

2 good quality salmon fillets
1 tsp salt
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 tsp dried dill
2 cups water
1 fish stock pot/cube
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
3/4 cup whole milk or cream (I used cream which gave it an unctuous finish)
1 tbsp butter
Fresh dill for garnish

Cut the fish into 2 inch pieces and set aside
In a saucepan add salt, onion, dried dill, water, stock pot and potatoes
Bring to the boil and cook for 15 minutes or until the potatoes are just tender
Add the fish and cook until the fish just starts to flake, about 5 minutes, depending on the size of your fish chunks
Pour in the milk or cream and heat gently for 5 minutes
Add the butter and sprinkle with fresh dill

Ingredients for Kalakeitto (fish stew)
Kalakeitto (fish stew)
Kalakeitto (fish stew)
Kalakeitto (fish stew)
Kalakeitto (fish stew)
Wood houses in the city of Porvoo, Finland
Oulanka National Park


Iceland, a land of beautiful landscapes and friendly charm. It is a Nordic Island nation with a population of just over 330,000. It is the second largest island in Europe after Great Britain.

When the Kárahnjúkar Hydropower Plant started operating, Iceland became the world’s largest electricity producer per capita and they expect to be energy-independent by 2050. The fishing industry is a major part of Iceland’s economy, accounting for 40% of the country’s export earnings with Cod being the most important species harvested. Whale watching has also become an important part of the economy since 1997. Iceland receives around 1.1 million visitors annually. Other than whale watching, visitors to Iceland can enjoy relaxing in Geysir and Strokkur hot springs, taking in the Jökulsárlón glaciar lagoon, the Laugavegurinn hike and of course witnessing the Northern Lights.

Staple foods of Icelandic cuisine include lamb, dairy and fish. Some dishes I came across were Lambakjot meth Graenmeti (Lamb Fricassee with Vegetables), Saltkjöt og baunir (split pea soup with salt lamb), Kartofluflatbrauth (Potato Flatbread), Steiktar Heilagfiski (Baked Halibut)  Sild meth Surum Rjoma og Graslauk (Herring in sour cream) and Sveskuterta (Prune Torte). I opted to make Plokkfiskur (fish stew) which was simple and very tasty.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes

1 tbsp butter
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalks, finely sliced
1 small carrot, finely chopped
1/2 cup white wine
250g small, waxy potatoes, cut into quarters
500ml chicken or vegetable stock
350g haddock, cod or other white fish, cube into 1 inch cubes
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 cup single cream
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp chives, finely chopped

In a heavy-bottomed pot, heavy butter over medium heat
Add onions, celery and carrots and sweat until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes
Add white wine, bring to a simmer and reduce by half, about 5 minutes
Add stock and potatoes, bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes or until vegetables are soft
Add cubed fish and chopped tomatoes; softly simmer for another 5 minutes
Turn heat down to low, add cream and salt and pepper to taste and heat until soup is piping hot but not boiling (otherwise the cream with curdle), about 7-8 minutes
Turn off heat, add chives and serve immediately

Republic of the Congo

Republic of the Congo, not to be confused with the Democratic Republic of the Congo is situated in Central Africa.  Sadly neither country have ‘the Conga’ as their national dance (which originated in Cuba!).  The capital, Brazzaville, is located on the Congo River, in the south of the country, immediately across from Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  This is the only place in the world where 2 capital cities are situated on the opposite banks of a river within sight of each other.
The current president, Denis Sassou Nguesso, has ruled for 26 of the past 36 years.  He first became president in 1979 after the previous incumbent was forced from power.  Sassou aligned the country with the Eastern Bloc and signed a twenty-year friendship pact with the Soviet Union.  Pascal Lissouba became Congo’s first elected president from 1992 to 1997.  In mid 1997, civil war broke out and Lissouba and Sassou fought for power.  During the 4 month conflict much of Brazzaville was destroyed or damaged and it caused tens of thousands of civilian deaths.  In October 1997 the Lissouba government fell and soon thereafter, Sassou declared himself president once again.  In 2015 a referendum to change the constitution was approved, allowing Sassou to run for a third consecutive term in office.  The opposition claimed the government’s ‘approval’ statistics were false.
Tourism is still relatively in its infancy in the Republic of Congo despite it’s diversity.  It boasts beautiful landscapes characterised by undulating virgin rainforest, waterfalls, lagoons, river rapids and swamps.  The highlights include Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park (home to elephants, apes, gorillas, chimpanzees and bongo forest antelopes), Basilique St. Anne in Brazzaville, Conkouati-Douli National Park and The Gorges of Diosso, spectacular cliffs formed by the erosion of the sea.
Congolese cuisine incorporates French, Asian and Arabic influences into more starchy, traditional African fare.  Some of the specialities include Mwamba (stew of chicken, beef or lamb), Chickpea salad and Muamba Nsusu (chicken soup).  I opted to cook Mbisi Ye Kalou (fish stew) which I served with little roasted potatoes (not very Congolese I know, but my lovely Irish husband wouldn’t be too keen on fufu or cassava).
Rating: 6/10.  Even though it had chilli, it was quite bland in flavour.
Serves 4
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes
4 firm white fish fillets
1 large onion, sliced
1 green pepper, seeded and sliced
4-6 tablespoons butter or oil
1 red chilli or 1 tsp crushed chilli flakes
250g baby spinach
1 cup water
In a medium saucepan, fry the onion and green pepper in 2 tbsps of the oil or butter.
Add chilies, spinach and water. Cover it and simmer for about 10 minutes.
Add 2-4 tbsps of oil or butter and the fish.
Continue to simmer, covered for about 20 minutes or until fish flakes easily.