Food Recipes and National Mentality

I must admit that moving to Finland was a bit tricky in terms of cooking adjustment. Most of the recipes I got used to while living in States were not working here. Either it was hard to get ingredients or the taste would be completely different. Forget about making California style mahi-mahi steak with avocado sauce. Hello, potatoes and reindeer meat 🙂 It wasn’t the end of the world, really. I just realized that I need to switch to local recipes, that’s all. And local cuisine was not completely new to me – there is a lot of resemblance with Russian food either in terms of particular dishes or ingredients used.

Still, some things were completely new. Switching was painful at the beginning, as most recipes are in Finnish, but it also was quite exciting. Along the way I started noticing some interesting things, which I haven’t been paying attention to before. In particular, how different Russian, Finnish and American recipes are.

Russian recipes

Russian recipes generally mark only major milestones of a cooking process, the critical steps that absolutely can’t be missed. Everything in between is up to you. Strict measures are rarely used, and personal preferences play a great role. The most common measure unit is “glass”, which comes from the USSR times. It was at every family, government entity and cafe. Allegedly, it was famous sculptor Vera Mukhina and painter Kazimir Malevich who designed this glass in Leningrad in 1943. It looks like this:


Sometimes, authors of recipes also note which variations they added. Here are some examples:

“Sugar – 4-5 tablespoons (to taste)”

“Meat – beef, pork or chicken”

“Milk – 1 glass”

“Broccoli, onion and mushrooms – estimate by eye”

“Fry vegetables in wok fry pan. If you don’t have one, a standard one will do just fine”.

“Pasta – 100-120 gr (or 2 handfuls)”

“Add 2 full (with a top) tablespoons of cornstarch”

“The original recipe requires that cucumber and apple are fine grated, but I prefer to cut them in big pieces”

“1 big cucumber (if cucumbers are small, just keep cucumber – apple ratio 1:1)”

“While the chicken is baking, you can turn it around once or twice, but I didn’t”

I think it reflects well general lack of respect toward rules and regulations and desire to try new things. Also, Russians rely only on themselves in life, as one can never rely on the state. So, individual is a master of his or her life, and I think this is why recipes are written in a way that a cook is a real boss 🙂


Finnish recipes

Finnish recipes list all the things that you need to do from start to finish including all intermediary steps. Measures are usually very precise. Options for swapping ingredients are offered, but only in favor of healthier or lighter ingredients. Quite often it’s recommended to check the taste to make sure everything is going fine.


For example:

“Wash and peel potatoes”

“2 tomatoes”

“1 can (185 gr) of tuna in chili sauce”

“3/4 dl water”

“Add boiling water to the sauce. Mix all ingredients well. Try the taste. Let it simmer for 5 minutes and try the taste again.”

“3/4 teaspoon salt”

“2 dl of cream or water”

I think this shows quite distinctively the great respect that Finns have for rule and regulations. Try to cross the road when the light is red, and you’ll see how people look at you 🙂 Also, it’s very important for Finns that the final product is of the highest quality, hence “measure and check” motto.

American recipes

It seems that the main focus of American recipes is a reader, not the dish. Almost always ingredients are listed with indications of some preliminary steps you need to do before you start cooking. Sometimes, authors also give readers some extra guidance by mentioning their preference for a particular brand or type of product. Quite often stages of cooking are described by both how the food looks or smells and suggested period of action time. A reader is always well informed.

american menu

For example:

“1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced”

“Sauté till the onions and peaches are soft”

“2 eggs, room temperature”

“1 gallon whole milk (preferably organic), room temp”

“1 pound chicken breasts, cut into 1″ pieces and seasoned with salt and pepper”

“Heat over a low flame until the butter is melted and the sauce is smooth.”

“Crack four eggs into the skillet, then place a lid on top and let them simmer for 5 minutes, or until the whites are set but the yolks are still soft.”

“Bake for about 45 to 52 minutes (I baked 50 minutes) or until the top is golden, the center is set, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, or with a few moist crumbs, but no batter.”

“Turn the heat on to medium-high and sauté the mushrooms until they release all of their moisture and no more water remains on the bottom of the skillet (5-7 minutes).”

I think it displays the customer-oriented approach that is so well developed in the US. It’s very important that you feel comfortable and included. Hence, the variety of descriptions and lots of tips to make the whole process as easy on you as possible.

Did I miss something? Do you agree or disagree with my conclusions?

I’d love to hear from you! Have a great rest of the week 🙂


3 thoughts on “Food Recipes and National Mentality

  1. Great post! Very interesting to compare recipes like this. As you said we Finns obey all orders, and our recipes tell every step from the beginning to the end. I cook the Russian way, a little bit that, handful here… My grandmother Olga was Russian, she died when I was seven, so I don’t remember to way she cooked, but maybe my cooking is inherited from her.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Oh wow, so interesting! Thanks for your comment 🙂 I can follow strict directions, but generally I’m also more like a bit of this and a bit of that kind of cook – mixed approach, so to say 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think the point of Finnish recipes is also to show respect in some basic way. Precise measurements, simple steps, complete instructions, etc., are given so that everyone, even people who screw up boiling water, can succeed if they follow the instructions. They describe some sort of optimum, so some imprecision isn’t the end of the world. Also giving a single, working basic recipe allows easy reference and a departure point for experimentation and customization (to maybe find better, less robust recipes). It’s not be respect for skill, but respect for the person wanting to cook.

    Personally I hate vague recipes. They expect that you have already developed good cooking insticts and know what the dish (or whatever you’re making) should look, taste and smell like at every stage of the process. The thing is, people like that are the very people who don’t need any recipes. You can pretty much give them a campfire, some water, handful of gravel and a bucket to boil it in and they’ll make it taste good. It’s everyone else who need recipes.

    BTW, I’ve seen some American “recipes” use specific pre-made mixtures. That promotes non-cooking and the idea that seasoning is magic. Don’t get me wrong, seasoning is a skill and an instinct I’ve yet to acquire, but it’s not magic. What I mean by non-cooking is what colouring books are to drawing: giving (to an adult) the sense of achievement without the actual achievement or learning. People relying on them are completely lost without them.


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