Street food is an element of cultural identity

I consider myself a gourmet of local food. Food-related experiences play such an important role in my daily life and there is a lot of things to tell about food tourism.

I have been a local gourmet of Vietnamese cuisine, or Saigonese cuisine in particular. For me, food should be an identity of a culture, and a means of the cook to tell specific stories to the taster. Experiencing local cuisine is not just because of the taste, the reputation, the appearance, but because culinary stories bring food to life, making visitors truly immersed in the atmosphere of culture and history that permeates the taste in their mouth. As the result, I prefer local and authentic food shop instead of those mainly for tourists, or if they are made for tourism, they should still maintain their local values.

Therefore, street food has always been my priority when visiting a new country. Street food is defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) as “ready-to-eat foods and beverages prepared and/or sold by vendors or hawkers especially in the streets and other similar places” (WHO 2019). It provides a source of food that is often rich in nutrients, affordable and has a distinctive taste due to the individual experience of the cook.

Vietnamese food is part of my cultural heritage

Street food represents a typical culinary culture of each region and country. I grew up with Vietnamese street food since it was so common, and I got so close exposure to Vietnamese culture that shaped a specific and important cultural identity in me. Vietnamese street food is interestingly diverse but still carries a strong Vietnamese taste, as if it carries our distinct patriotism. It’s convenient for anyone to grab anywhere – just like “pragmatic Vietnamese”, but it takes time to be cooked and processed deliciously, which reflects our industriousness.

Thus, for me, street food is one of the best approaches to discover the root of a culture since I believe that street food is made from every single basic and authentic ingredient from the region without any transformation or novelty. A bowl of phở on the street is always more soulful than an expensive bowl of phở in a fine dining restaurant, because there is an atmosphere which is a combination of the sound of the street, the traffic, the voice of local cooks, and there is a strong Vietnamese streets’ scent in it. In Vietnam, bánh mì is famous all over the world with a variety of different fillings. Even though it’s the same bread with “baguette” or “sandwich”, the world still  calls it bánh mì like a Vietnamese, and celebrates bánh mì day on 24 March 2020 since they appreciate this specially local dishes – because of the the taste, the ingredients, the street style and local people.

Street food in Finland?

In Finland, from my point of view, “street food” is not usually served on the street, but in shops or in food court, or “kauppahalli” – market hall. I have various chances to try Finnish traditional food such as salmon soup, bread cheese (leipäjuusto), Finnish pancake in real food stalls, but mostly in summer only. By far, my experience is not so much as a local person, but as a “temporary tourist”, they are very mild, fresh, and natural since all the ingredients are seasonal and from natural resources: water and forest.

In the respect of tourism, even though Finland is more well-known for its breathtaking landscape, lively wildlife of reindeer, moose, birds and interesting stories about Santa Claus, Finnish cuisine should gain better attention from tourists. What I am highly appreciate from Finnish cuisine is the food safety which is still not prioritized in my country. Finnish are really responsible and thoughtful when they focus on food hygiene and safety for the health of consumers, and also on the environmental sanitation as they have a high awareness of environment protection and preservation, both urban, rural or natural areas. There is still little understanding of food safety and hygienic conditions from most local Vietnamese food vendors, and when selling on the street, it is easy to cause food and drink to be contaminated, which is a great risk besides wonderful experience that street food brings.

As the results, I hope that there will be more participation from the local authority and professionals to solve these issues but still maintains this local significance. It is necessary to plan and organize restaurants that focus on separate areas or streets dedicated to street food. At the same time, there should be strict censorship of food hygiene and safety, price management, safety for tourists, and preservation of the surrounding environment.

Text: Ngan Nguyen Thai Thanh
Pictures: Pixabay

World Health Organization, 2019. FEEDcities—A Comprehensive Characterization of the Street Food Environment in Cities. Project Protocol.

Food tourism offers experiences for all the senses

Traveling the world offers incredible experiences through interaction with locals, nature, and culture all over the world. It is widely accepted that food is one of the best ways to absorb the culture of the destination. When booking trips tourists are always considering food as an important factor in choosing the destination, making culinary tourism more popular than ever before.

But what makes food tourism so special? It is the tourists that are always looking for new experiences, something that gives them an insight of the local culture, but which tastes great, as well. The evolution of tourism has made tourists wanting more than just your typical holiday; they want to experience the destination with all of their senses. Destinations need to consider this aspect, because food might not be the main reason for a trip, but surely it is an essential element, and destinations which have a good reputation for offering fresh, quality products always spark the interest of tourists. Besides from getting a good meal, tourists can meet locals and hear all the great stories and tips about the location.

When traveling to Finland, tourists can discover the passion for cooking local, fresh food. Local Finnish food improves wellbeing and delights the senses. Root vegetables, meat casseroles, ripe berries and mushrooms or wild game and freshly caught fish provide health and authentic flavor. Considering that the forest is full of delicacies, just waiting to be picked, local restaurants provide authentic ingredients, developing new flavors and dishes. Here in Finland, nature is filled with superfoods!

During summer, the Finnish people enjoy cooking, smoking, or grilling their food outdoors, in the serenity of the forest, by the lake or open fire. It is the idyllic scenery to end a hard working week! Finland is a culinary delight for foreigners where they can serve fresh seafood delicacies throughout the year.

Food tourism businesses in Finland need a better service promotion in attracting international customers. For our course Well-being from Blue Spaces, we created a food route in Finland. I truly believe that experiencing a food-themed route like ours would make tourists understand why Finland has been ranked ”the happiest country in the world” four times in a row!

Text: Patricia Ratiu, third year International Tourism Management student
Pictures: Pixabay

How does Finnish culture taste like?

While studying the course Well-being from Blue Spaces, I got very attracted to food tourism. Gastronomy tourism is a very interesting way of getting to know the destination and its culture. If we sit a bit and just imagine for example how Finland or Finnish culture tastes like? How would it taste to each of you?

For myself I imagine the taste of a grilled sausage, coffee, and ryebread. And if I imagine where I could have these foods it would probably be some really quiet place in the nature – a forest near the river where mushrooms, blueberries and cranberries grow, a forest where I hear birds singing and the sound of the wind that touches the trees.

For the Well-being from Blue Spaces course we did a food route assignment. I chose to make a route in Satakunta and searched all kinds of information about special foods in the region. As I am from Estonia, of course I was thinking that the most typical food for Satakunta would probably be karjalanpiirakka or salmiakki, but my research showed that karjalanpiirakka has nothing in common with Satakunta and well salmiakki is a favourite treat to nearly every Finn.

Personally, I was surprised after my research to see that Satakunta is the most suitable place for sea buckthorn to grow because of a colder climate in Satakunta. I have lived in Finland for six years and only now I realise why sea buckthorn is so popular in Satakunta – well, because this is the region where it grows in Finland, and it is a speciality of the place.

The second surprising news that I found showed that a long time ago, back in the past, Satakunta was very rich with salmon fish and every single family in Satakunta had salmon on their everyday table. That historical fact was a big surprise for me, maybe because now it is very expensive to buy salmon from the shop because usually it is pretty hard to catch it and because there are just few places in Finland that have salmon in the waters. If we take a look at what kind of salmon shops are selling here, it is usually salmon from Norway, and it is rare to be able to buy Finnish salmon.

How to understand Finnish food culture?

Overall, after all my research and thinking about food culture in Satakunta I got an idea for my assignment that was not only about food. If you want to understand Satakunta culture, especially its food, you have to taste that food somewhere in the nature and have it cooked in the way it was cooked back in the past or cooked by yourself.

It is impossible to understand Finnish food if you do not have any experience of Finnish nature. Finnish nature gives that special feeling and taste to the food that is the experience people should search for when they are visiting Finland. There is something special about Finnish nature and food, it is that calmness that you feel while being somewhere in the forest, listening to the place, eating berries from the bushes, drinking coffee and for example grilling sausages. No wonder Finnish people always say that sausage cooked in the nature tastes better than one cooked inside the house!

Text and pictures: Aleksandra Dmitrijeva, second year International Tourism Management student