FINLAND, surrounded by sea and as the land of more than 150,000 lakes has a strong fishing tradition, mostly dominated by a fish species as astonishingly small and humble as the vendace (muikku in Finnish). Surprisingly enough, this tiny fish has managed to gain remarkable culinary prestige, inversely proportional to its modest size. But in this case, size doesn’t seem to matter the least bit; on the contrary, it provides an advantage. Small and thus easy to prepare, not requiring too much cleaning or filleting but yet delicious when fried, the vendace has proven to be the ideal ingredient to a classic dish of the Finnish cuisine, which could even be called “The fish and chips of Finland”: fried vendaces (paistetut muikut).
Fried vendaces are served in almost every market square in the country. Prepared on the spot under the shade of a tent in abundant butter they are served – instead of chips – with a hearty heap of mashed potatoes (perunamuusi), another Finnish favourite. The crispy, full-flavoured vendace melts in the mouth, making a visit to the market worthwhile even if its sole outcome is a taste of this traditional delicacy. This dish can also be found on restaurant menus as well. Sampo, established in 1931 is a legendary restaurant located in the main street of Kuopio which is reputed to be the best place in Finland to enjoy the freshest and most satisfying portion of fried vendaces.
Recipe for fried vendaces – for four portions
• 1kg small vendaces
• Plain flour
• Rye flour
• White pepper
• Butter (or margarine) and oil for frying
• In a bowl, mix two cups of plain flour and one cup of rye flour. Add salt and pepper according to your taste.
• Heat in a frying pan a mixture consisting of one tablespoon of butter (or margarine) and one tablespoon of oil. Use high but not maximal heat.
• While the frying pan is heating, coat the vendaces with the flour mixture.
• Fry the vendaces for 3-4 minutes on each side.
• Add another mixture of butter and oil should you need to fry several pan-fulls.
Fishermen are likely to encounter vendaces at any lake in Finland. However, for a most productive fishing trip it is recommended to visit Pyhäjärvi, the largest lake of southwestern Finland which holds the reputation of ‘the vendace lake.’ For those not so interested in fishing, there is the alternative to buy fresh vendaces from a fish market. In Helsinki excellent markets are, for instance, the ones of Hakaniemi and Eteläranta (nearby the market square). For best results, fry the vendaces while still fresh according to this simple but delicious recipe, and enjoy!
ANNA MARIA ALEXANDROU