To my knowledge, I have never eaten Finnish cuisine before going to Finland. I have had my fare share of smoked fish, eaten at a Swedish restaurant, and purchased salty licorice from Ikea but never authentic Finnish food. As such, I really did not know what to expect.
As I have said in other posts, I am a vegaquarium – a word my daughter created to describe pescatarians. Therefore, my experience with Finnish cuisine would NOT include reindeer meatballs and bear sausage. However, it did include LOTS of fantastic smoked fish, delicious dark breads, rhubarb, rhubarb, and more rhubard, great Finnish cheeses, and some very unusual flavor combinations that sound strange but taste really great.
All together, we had great meals, bought seasonal foods from the markets, and had terrific culinary adventures.
Here are a few of the delicious treats that I discovered:
Breads: Any and all Finnish breads are divine from the hearty dark rye breads to the delicate Pulla Finnish Cardamom Bread with sugar sprinkled on top.
Korvapuustit, aka Cinnamon buns: These charmers are found at all cafes and bakeries and are perfect with a cup of coffee.
Bread Cheese (see top photo): Bread cheese is a firm fresh cheese that can be torched without turning into a puddle of oily goo. It gets its name from the fact that it was originally baked in bread ovens after the breads were finished baking. Grilling or broiling it a second time further enhances its mild flavor and gives it a crackly crust and creamy interior. Most places served it up warm with some delicious Finnish jam, such as cloudberry or lingonberry. I also had it prepared in a vanilla cream sauce as dessert.
After being heralded as the “worst food in the world,” Finnish chefs have really taken it upon themselves to raise the level of cuisine in Finland. Here are a few recommendations:
Both the Hakaniemi Market and Vanha Kauppahalli (The Old Market Hall) along with their outdoor counterparts, have great restaurants and cafes. I had an absolutely delicious bouillabaisse at the Old Market Hall at a little restaurant called Soup Kitchen. They have a daily menu of three soups – and that’s it. Of course, there is bread to dunk in the soup.
Eat&Joy Kluuvi Market Hall (Kauppahalli) has delicacies from more than 500 small producers across Finland: wild reindeer (poro), salmon, artisan cheeses, berry jams, fish roe, hand-crafted beer and cider, mushrooms, rye bread, smoked specialities, kyyttö forest cow, artisan chocolates and much more – all direct from the producers. Take home the true taste of Finland!
Chef & Sommelier – The special restaurant is located in a very intimate house in the Eira district of Helsinki and seats about 20-25. Chef Sasu Laukkonen creates majestic dishes utilizing organic, local foods that are in season but do not necessarily appear on restaurant menus. The dishes are paired with excellent wine choices. Read this great article that appeared in The Atlantic.
Café Ekberg is the oldest café in the city. Established in 1852, Ekberg is stylish and always popular with the rich and the famous, and it does great pastries and cakes.
Café Engel at the Senate Square – one of Helsinki’s biggest tourist attractions – is another café with a history. It is named after the architect Carl Ludvig Engel who designed several buildings in the area, including the Tuomiokirkko church, in the early 19th century. The café has two halls – the first one, more laidback, features old wooden floors, round-corner tables and an old clock that has long since ceased to count the time, while the other one splashes elegant, white-clad tables. Its inner yard in summertime is turned into the only outdoor cinema in Finland.(Aleksanterinkatu 26)
Café Krypta, inside the crypt in Helsinki Cathedral in Senate Square, is a summer café that is only open from June to early September in 2009. Its staff members are all voluntary workers from local charities. Every week a different organization looks after the café, and benefits from the profits. (Kirkkokatu 18.)
All on Esplanadi, you have Café Strindberg, Café Esplanad and Ashcan Café Jugend. Café Strindberg and Café Esplanad, on North Esplanadi in the very centre of Helsinki, are popular places to watch the world go by while sipping a coffee and a traditional Finnish “korvapuusti” or cinnamon bun. Café Esplanadi is especially famous for its big cinnamon buns. Both have a good selection of coffees and pastries, and their terraces are great for people watching. (Café Strindberg, Pohjoisesplanadi 33. Café Esplanad, Pohjoisesplanadi 37.)
The Kappeli restaurant has been going since 1867, and has a large outdoor terrace, lots of glass windows and big enough to seat 350 people. (Kappeli, Eteläesplanadi 1.)
Moko Market and Cafe, in the Eira District, is primarily a store that has a charming little café.
Café Ursula’s terrace, in the Kaivopuisto park and right by the sea, offers great views of the old fortress Suomenlinna that stands on an island just outside Helsinki. Part of the terrace is covered, making it possible to admire the sea view outdoors even if it rains. Ursula is open until midnight during the summer.
Nearby and also in Kaivopuisto is Café Carusel , another café with a terrace and a sea view, and an indoor fireplace to boot.
Cafe Fazer at Kluuvikatu 3 has delicious cakes, pastries & sandwiches. Karl Fazer Café is a modern classic café where the entire history of Fazer started in 1891. Karl Fazer Café is located in Helsinki on Kluuvikatu street.
Café Regatta is a cozy and unique place between the Sibelius monument and the old rowing stadium. The traditional red wooden cottage next to the water is easy to find. The simple wooden interior gives a cozy atmosphere right away. At the counter you get homemade Finnish pulla (pastry) and drinks.
For a Russian-style experience, there are two places in the Kallio district – Pelmenit at Kustaankatu 7 and Blini at Sturenkatu 9. They are both a short walk away from Sörnäinen metrostation. The blinis, pelmenit and borscht are all great.
Silvoplee is a vegetarian restaurant specializing in living and raw foods but also serves warm dishes. Buffet, pay per weight. Closed on Sun.
Vegemesta, Vaasankatu 6, and Pieni Roobertinkatu 2-4 . This take out burger place has the best vegetarian burgers you could imagine. Ask for your burger with dark bread. Cash only. You can get to Vaasankatu by taking metro to Sörnäinen. Another branch is located closer to the centre, near the corner of Pieni Roobertinkatu and Kasarmikatu, a couple of minutes walk south from the Esplanadi park.
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