The European Region of Gastronomy 2024 – Saimaa in Lakeland, Finland

Nestled in the picturesque lake landscape of Lakeland, Finland, the Saimaa region is rapidly gaining recognition as a premier international destination for lovers of locally inspired cuisine deeply rooted in nature. In 2024, Saimaa is the proud recipient of the prestigious “European Region of Gastronomy” award, a recognition of the tireless commitment to cultural, sustainable and culinary excellence. The European Region of Gastronomy includes the three regions of Eastern Finland: South Savo, South Karelia and North Karelia, as recognized by the International Institute of Gastronomy, Culture, Arts and Tourism.

The Saimaa region in eastern Finland is rich in wild treasures, from juicy berries to tasty vegetables, mushrooms and freshwater fish. It is not just a place but a culinary and cultural adventure waiting to be discovered. There is also a hidden gem in the heart of the region – Lake Saimaa, surrounded by pure nature. Saimaa is the largest lake in Finland and the fourth largest in Europe and a popular refuge for Finns. Traditions come to life here – holidays in summer houses, sauna visits, collecting cloudberries and blueberries and the timeless art of fishing, which is practiced all year round.

“The new generation of visitors is looking for unique experiences, local and quality food and is ready to support responsible, sustainable regions. Saimaa has all the ingredients for this,” says Dr. Diane Dodd, President of IGCAT (International Institute of Gastronomy, Culture, Arts and Tourism).

The ethos of seasonal harvest

The Ambassador of the European Region of Gastronomy 2024, the former international top model Saimi Hoyer – now affectionately called “Queen of Mushrooms” – invites you to experience the source of Finnish happiness in Saimaa. Hoyer, a passionate mushroom picker, loves late summer and autumn, when “nature’s supermarket” is overflowing with delicacies such as chanterelles, porcini mushrooms and northern milk mushrooms. Almost half of the locals join the tradition of mushroom picking according to the principles of everyone’s rights.

“For us, gastronomy is a daily luxury and the source of our happiness, because our forests and lakes provide the purest food in the world. There is always room for guests at our table, and eating is a matter of honor,” says Hoyer. As part of the European Region of Gastronomy Award 2024, Saimaa wants to combine cuisine, art and culture in an unprecedented way and showcase the uniqueness of local culture.

Local restaurants and chefs rely on seasonal harvests. In winter, the frozen lakes produce the inconspicuous burbot, which is made into a delicious, warming soup. In spring, wild herbs such as spruce shoots are processed into syrup, which gives the dishes a distinctive taste. In summer, the forests are teeming with berries such as blueberries and cranberries, while the lakes are home to whitefish that are smoked, grilled or pickled. Old traditions such as winter Puruvesi vendace fishing, which was listed in the National Inventory of Living Heritage in 2017, and wood-fired pie baking are still practiced with pride.

“Finnish food is simple, delicious and based on fresh, natural ingredients. We have the ability to live in perfect harmony with nature, just like our ancestors. The long, white summer nights of the north create the ideal conditions for growing pure, aromatic ingredients. In the Saimaa region, creativity is our resource, thriving in both beautiful and difficult conditions,” says Ilkka Arvola, chef at D.O Saimaa and passionate fisherman. In Saimaa, guests experience culinary symphonies – this is where nature meets creative craftsmanship.