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Where would Santa find Finnish flavors in Japan?

by Rebecca Milner

Dear readers, I have made a wonderful discovery: Finnish cinnamon rolls, korvapuusti, are not just cinnamon rolls. They are cinnamon and cardamom rolls and they are delicious. Also, korvapuusti translates to “slapped ear” — perhaps because the dough is rolled rather than coiled — which is adorable.

You can try korvapuusti at Moi Café in Kichijoji (2-28-3 Kichijoji-Honcho, Musashino-shi, Tokyo; 0422-20-7133; moicafe.blog61.fc2.com), along with a cup of The Emperor’s Bride tea (a blend of Assam and Ceylon seasoned with elderberry and quince from Finnish tea maker Nordqvist). On Wednesdays, the cafe closes to devote the whole day to baking and, if you order in advance, you can pick up large quantities of cinnamon rolls to go. There’s your holiday party sorted.

I decided to investigate Finnish food this month because it is December and Finland is one of several countries that claim to be the home of Santa. But Finland, I have since learned, is more than just possibly the home of Santa: It is a country that puts vodka in its coffee. Presumably you can do this yourself (use Finlandia vodka to be extra authentic), but if you want it done for you, Café Poro in Yokohama (1-11-4 Tennocho, Hodogaya, Yokohama; 045-442-4667; www.poro-coffee.com/tervetuloa.html) can oblige.

Poro, my Finnish acquaintance informed me, is a play on words: In Finnish it can mean either “reindeer” or “coffee grounds.” Clever! Café Poro also serves pyttipannu, a sausage and potato scramble topped with a sunny-side-up egg that is Finland’s favorite late-night takeaway.

Finland is also a country that loves a salty licorice candy called salmiakki. Unfortunately, salmiakki does not seem to be available in Japan. (Japanese people apparently don’t like it: youtu.be/7gtMY_27PTc)

The Tokyo branch of Arnolds (2-13-1 Kichijoji-Honcho, Musashino-shi, Tokyo; (0422-20 5550; www.facebook.com/Arnolds1991), Finland’s largest donut chain, is supposed to have a donut topped with licorice icing. However, it is currently unavailable, the shop staff informed me, because the ingredients are held up at customs. Perhaps licorice is considered a national threat?

A more universally palatable Finnish treat, Marianne mint drops (chocolate encased in a minty shell that tastes like candy canes), can be found at National Azabu supermarket in Hiroo, Tokyo (4-5-2 Minami-Azabu, Minato-Ku, Tokyo; 03-3442-3181; www.national-azabu.com).

However, if there’s one thing Finns in Japan miss, I’m told, it’s dark, whole-grain rye bread. It’s times like this that it helps to have a famous cartoon export: For Japanese, the Moomin Bakery & Cafe (Tokyo Dome City, 1-1-1 Kasuga, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 03-5842-6300; www.benelic.com/moomin_cafe/tokyo_dome) is a place where you can drink lattes with giant stuffed Moomins; for Finns it is a place to get ruislimppu (rye bread) and hapanlimppu (sour rye bread).

Ever-classy Kyoto has a Finnish bakery with no character tie-ins. Kiitos (33 Mibubojocho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto; 075-842-0585; www5a.biglobe.ne.jp/~kiitos) has even more varieties of rye bread, plus other baked treats, such as the seasonally appropriate piparkakku (gingerbread cookies).

Kinokinuya International (Ao Bldg. B1, 3-11-7 Kita-Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo; 03-3409-1231; www.super-kinokuniya.jp/store/international) also sells a few varieties of Finnish-style rye bread. And its online store (in Japanese only unfortunately) ships around Japan.

Rebecca Milner is a freelance writer in Tokyo and coauthor of Lonely Planet’s travel guides to Tokyo and Japan.

  • Chindonya

    Even the Finnish coffee shop Robert’s Coffee (the first in Japan) serves genuine Finnish coffee and good cinnamon rolls in Daimyo, central Fukuoka, opposite to the Hakata Ippudo Main Store.