What Makes Finnish Meat Pie Stand Out From The Rest?

Hand pies on a cutting board
Hand pies on a cutting board - JRJfin/Shutterstock

Meat pies have been a culinary staple around the world since time immemorial. From the Egyptians through to early Europeans, people made dough and wrapped it around meat and other fillings as early as over 4,000 years ago. However, Finland's take on a meat pie features an unusual twist. This version is called lihapiirakka and is usually made with a yeasted dough -- similar to that used to make donuts -- which is deep-fried until it's golden brown then topped with anything from a hot dog to a fried egg.

Other meat pies such as empanadas, pot pies, or Cornish pasties are usually made with flaky short-crust dough and are usually baked and served sans toppings. Lihapiirakka is also known to be an iconic street food item and a sought-after, late-night snack for those on the streets of Helsinki. This is likely due to being a convenient food to take on trips, or to eat on the go because it's a meal you can fit in your hand.

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The Different Variations Of This Beloved Dish

A plate of lihapiirakka
A plate of lihapiirakka - hokuogohan/Instagram

The recipe for lihapiirakka varies according to region, and people in different parts of the country will opt to add a variety of additional ingredients. In Lappeenranta, in southeast Finland bordering Russia, the meat pies can be stuffed with hard-boiled eggs, ham, or both. While in Riihimäki, just north of Helsinki, you'll find ground-up steak and a fried egg inside. It's also common in some regions of Finland to offer a slice of cheese as a filling or topping for your lihapiirakka.

These late-night street snacks are quite similar to an Eastern European pirozhki, known in the U.S. as bierocks, which are also yeasted hand pies. However, unlike lihapiirakka, they can be fried or baked. Fillings can vary wildly depending on seasonality and who's making them. The standard filling is vegetable-based and usually features cabbage and mushrooms, but meat is also a popular option. Pirozhki also comes as a sweet option, typically filled with stewed apples or blueberries.

You Can Recreate These Hand Pies At Home

Deep fried yeasted hand pies
Deep fried yeasted hand pies - Nataly Hanin/Getty Images

If you can't make it to Helsinki anytime soon you can create these delicious hand pies in your own kitchen with a few staple ingredients and some time. The dough is a rather standard yeasted doughnut recipe. As for the filling, a common one is ground beef, onion, and rice. The rice is also pre-cooked and usually short-grained as it has a better texture when cool than longer-grained rice like basmati, as lihapiirakka is often eaten when cool or at room temperature.

And then comes the best part -- the toppings. This is where people can really make it their own. Simply slice open the lihapiirakka and add whatever floats your boat. There are the usual suspects such as ketchup and mustard, but the options at Finland's "grilli kiosks" are numerous. You can add a hot dog, garlic, hot peppers, ham, or a fried egg -- it all depends on how hungry you are. To make it an authentic experience, you can top it with a classic Scandinavian pickled relish called Bostongurka (named after the Boston pickling cucumber, not the city). The pickled cucumbers are spiked with red peppers, onions, mustard seeds, and garlic in a tangy pickling liquid.

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