In Finland, the sauna is a cultural institution. Finns once gave birth and washed their dead in the heated rooms, as they were the cleanest spaces in the home. Now, there are 3.3 million saunas for a population of 5.5 million, meaning just about every household has one.
As with any treasured national pastime, there are rules. First, you must strip and shower. When you enter, lay a towel on your seat. It’s going to get hot: The temperature should be 158–212 degrees Fahrenheit. You should work up a healthy sweat, but if you start to feel dry, simply ladle some water onto hot stones to create steam, known as löyly. When you’ve had enough, go outside and cool off by jumping in a lake or rolling in soft, powdered snow.
Refreshed and reinvigorated, you’re probably also hungry. It’s time for post-sauna sausage. While you were sizzling inside the steam room, so was your dinner: One way to cook makkara, a traditional Finnish sausage, is to heat it over the sauna’s stones, known as kiuas. Finns may place bare sausages directly on the kiuas (warning: This will result in louder sizzling noises) or wrap them in foil. One sauna company sells a special soapstone holder for the exclusive purpose of cooking sauna sausage.
Sauna visitors enjoy their makkara, which typically come plain or with cheese inside, with the sweet-hot zing of Finnish mustard. Everything gets washed down with beer or sima, a cider-like mead. By the time you’re finished, you’ll be ready to jump back into the heat for a second session.
Need to Know
Some Helsinki markets will sell meat specifically labeled "sausage for sauna." But if you can't find sauna sausage, Polish kielbasa will do.