Finland is a gorgeous country where you can see reindeers. I was driving down from the north of Finland, it was snowing and I saw a whole bunch of reindeers! One of the most amazing sights ever!
Moving on..It’s also a country with a whole bunch of celiac friendly options. My experience of Finland doesn’t truly represent the celiac friendly nature of the country. I arrived in cities late and night when most restaurants had stopped serving. Finland is definitely not an up-all-night kind of place but there are a lot of gluten free options if you get there when things are open! :)Â If you are headed to Finland you should have no problem finding safe, gluten free options both in restaurants and grocery stores.
After reaching the most northern point of mainland Europe, the only option was to head South. The end of the rally (we were driving 5000 miles from Scotland to Estonia via the northernmost tip of mainland Europe over 10 days!) was Tallinn so this meant driving down through all of Finland. It took usÂ five days to reach the top of Norway and we were now heading to the south of Finland in only two.
ROVANIEMI – As a result of the long drive and the hour time difference, it wasÂ after 9.30pmÂ by the time we got around to looking for dinner and being a fairly small town the only eateries open were fast food places. I noticed a couple of pizza places with gluten free options marked on the menu but they was closed already so no gluten free pizza for me. There was also a South Indian restaurant with plenty of naturally gluten free options but again it was closed. I decided to buy a tub of boiled rice from a chinese restaurant and managed to find the one supermarket still open at that time toÂ get some tuna and fresh tomatoes to eat with it. This obviously wasn’t the most exciting meal of the trip but all I can say is thankÂ you for late closingÂ Chinese restaurants -they can always provide aÂ desperate and hungry Coeliac with boiled rice! In reality, sometimes when you’re travelling gluten free this is the type of thing you have to do to stop from getting hungry, especially if you don’t want to risk getting sick. That evening was the big get together for all involved in the rally and thankfully vino is gluten free so whilst everyone else drank their beersÂ I enjoyed a fewÂ glasses with my new rally buddies.
Again it was late in the evening when we arrived in HELSINKI. The drive from Rovaniemi was almost 600 miles and the walk from our hostelÂ intoÂ townÂ was a few kilometres. What was I going to eat tonight? IÂ caught aÂ glimpse of a couple of restaurants in the centre of townÂ which had gluten free options (oh how I wish we had arrived earlier!) butÂ they weren’t open so I quickly walked on in search of something that was.Â Everywhere but bars and nightclubs seemed to be shut, the supermarkets were closed for the night and only a few 24 hour deli’s were open, which had nothing but glutenous things to offer. I almost gave up on the idea of eating that night when my friend called to say they were finishingÂ dinner. They were at an Indian restaurant, which was now closing,Â so I asked ifÂ she could get me a portion of boiled rice. How exciting,Â right? But atÂ least this meant I wouldn’t starve.Â When I met them a short time later they hadÂ rice and chicken korma for me.Â IÂ hadÂ noÂ idea what was in the korma so my boyfriendÂ took that while I stuck to the rice. Unfortunately, unlike the previous night, there wasn’t anythingÂ I could find to make my ‘meal’ a little more interesting…
My boyfriend fancied some chips with his curry so weÂ stopped by a small streetÂ vendor selling various fried, meaty treats. We started talking to the guyÂ who owned this vendor and ended up having a really interesting chat. He was from the States and had been living in Finland for the past couple of years. On noticing that I was eating plain rice he asked if there was anythingÂ he could get for meÂ to make itÂ taste better. We explained my situation and he beganÂ looking through everything he had to see if he could find something for me. He felt bad for me and went above and beyond to look for something to giveÂ my rice flavour. WeÂ checked the salsasÂ and sauces he had but nothing was gluten free. He asked if I wanted some meat or cheese but everything was processed. HeÂ even offered to cut up some tomatoes for me but I didn’t want to riskÂ contamination. IÂ thanked him for tryingÂ and said that I would be fine withÂ my rice. He gave me aÂ complimentary bottle of waterÂ and apologised for not having anything safe for me to eat.Â It’s nice when you meet people like him in life….
The following day before heading to the Ferry terminal, we decided to walk into town again to findÂ something for lunch. TheÂ boat to TallinnÂ was 2 hours and I was lookingÂ to make myself a packed lunch for the trip.Â It was before noon and a Sunday so again many places were closed but fortunately today the supermarkets was open. I’m happy to report the supermarkets in Helsinki carry a bunch of clearly labelled gluten free products! Cereals, breads, rice cakes, crackers, sauces, pasta, bars, snacks – they have it all so preparing and cooking safe, gluten free food here would be pretty simple. I bought a variety of gluten free crisp breads and some fresh slices of salmon, a tub of hummus labelled as gluten free and a box of red grapes. I felt a bit queasy on the boat as we bounced throughÂ rough waters but my lunch meanwhile was delicious!
On the boat we took a walk around as usual to check out any possible gluten free options. Interestingly the ferryÂ did a buffet and their menu states which of the itemsÂ are gluten free. The cost wasÂ around 23Â Euros per personÂ so a bit steepÂ for lunchÂ but it was good to see that for any coeliacs who find themselves hungryÂ on the ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn or viceÂ versa, youÂ are catered for!
So my trip to Finland was a little unusual as I was there as part of a crazy 10 day, 5000 mile rally. I look forward to returning for the gluten free options I noticed were definitely available in restaurants but which I was unable to try due to arriving in towns so late. I walked past a tonne of closed restaurants with gluten free menus or gluten free options so you will definitely be fine in terms of finding safe, gluten free food if Finland is your destination.
If you are headed to Finland on your gluten free travels be sure to check out the Finnish Coeliac SocietyÂ for tips on travelling in Finland as a coeliac as well as information on where to eat out and where to shop gluten free. They have a great list of restaurants/cafes/stores etc where travellers to the country can find gluten free food. A great starting point for any celiac headed to this lovely country. 😀
Have you travelled gluten free to Finland in the daylight hours? Share your experiences in the comments below?