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Finland's Demographics, Translated Into High Cuisine

Immigration-rate lasagna, suicide soup and a "criminally stacked Russian salad": a look at the bizarre menu of Helsinki's Open Data Cooking Workshop.

What does the demographic shift in Finnish immigration over the last two decades taste like?

Well, if you were to imagine the data as a hot hunk of lasagna, the left side (representing 1990) would be rather bland. But toward the right edge (2011), the spice levels would shoot up, a gustatory signal of all the new ethnic groups moving to the country.

This surreal dish, "Spiced Foreigners Between Pasta," was on the menu of the recent Open Data Cooking Workshop in Helsinki. Its creator, Symeon Delikaris-Manias, isn't your usual chef: He's a researcher at Aalto University who studies esoteric topics like beamforming and parametric audio coding. The pasta-man was joined by other researchers and data geeks who wanted to see Finland's wealth of statistics translated into something they could chew on.

Explained the workshop's organizers:

Have you ever tried to imagine how a fish soup tastes whose recipe is based on publicly available local fishing data? Or what a pizza would be like if it was based on Helsinki’s population mix? Data Cuisine explores food as a means of data expression – or, if you like – edible diagrams.

Here's a look at some of the items on the nerdtastic menu, some delicious-looking and others perhaps more suitable for mathematical appreciation only.

"Taste of Migration," by Eleonora Ivanova

The different foodstuffs on the plate represent the population numbers of non-Finnish citizens living in the country. Salmon is Swedish and rice is Chinese, but who knows what those picked peppers mean.

"Criminal Herring in Fur Coat," by Dmitrii Rogozhin

This "criminally stacked Russian salad" arranges different crimes committed in 2011 into tasty layers.

Salad, by Nathalie Aubret and Melinda Sipos

Each lettuce salad depicts a different season in Finland. The dark months are represented by the vegetable's yellowish inner leaves because they receive no light, whereas the sunny months get played by the more healthy-looking outer fronds.

Suppi Célavi, by Nathalie Aubret and Melinda Sipos

This mushroom-heavy soup symbolizes Finnish suicide rates. The chefs explain: "The south is more sunny, and has a creamier, richer soup, representing less suicides. The north is darker and has a more mushroomy soup, both symbolizing more demanding living situation, but also nature’s compensation for the lack of light – the high amount of vitamin D in mushroom."

"Age and Language in Lentils," by Matt Zumwalt

These twin bites are the median age, population size and number of languages spoken in Italy and the United States. The amount of yogurt represents the totality of English speakers and the tomatoes Italian speakers, for example. The number of lentils fills in for population size, and their doneness corresponds to age.

"Spiced Foreigners between Pasta," by Symeon Delikaris-Manias

Says the chef: "You can essentially taste how immigration spiced up Finland!" No actual foreigners went into the dish.

"Kippis!"

For dessert, the workshop participants put together a map of Finland depicting rates of alcohol consumption by location. Each region of the country gets its own "typical" food, while how much that area's residents drink is shown by how high the glasses are filled. Kippis, for what it's worth, means "Cheers!"

All images courtesy of the Open Data Cooking Workshop.

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