Hold the rein­deer

Tasty bites on the hop in Fin­land’s hip cap­i­tal

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - CHRIS­TINE McCABE

Food is the per­fect in­tro­duc­tion to a city and as this is my first visit to Helsinki there are new con­cepts to grasp (chil­dren avert your eyes now), in­clud­ing rein­deer meat­balls, sold in lit­tle stalls on the water­front mar­ket square. And at break­fast, “egg but­ter” along­side kar­jalan­pi­irakat, what­ever that may be.

I need a lit­tle culi­nary con­text here and I’ve been put in touch with a guide called Heather who I’m sched­uled to meet out­side the Stock­mann de­part­ment store, home to the city’s pre­mier food hall.

Petite, perky and car­ry­ing her own pic­nic ac­cou­trements, Heather prof­fers a busi­ness card (“Heather’s Helsinki”) be­fore out­ing her­self as a Tas­ma­nian. Nonethe­less, she’s lived in the cap­i­tal of Fin­land for 15 years, is a ded­i­cated foodie and seems to know ev­ery­one work­ing in this su­pe­rior food hall where we are in­vited to taste as we go. There’s the likes of dark ar­chi­pel­ago bread flavoured with mo­lasses, pe­runar­ieska (potato flat bread from La­p­land), smoked rein­deer, black sausage with lin­gonberry jam and La­p­land salmon, flamed, charred and smoked, the fil­let nailed to a board. And the mys­te­ri­ous kar­jalan­pi­irakat or Kare­lian pasty is ex­plained — it’s a rye pasty filled with rice (or potato) por­ridge and eaten warm slathered with but­ter mixed with chopped, boiled egg. De­li­cious. On Heather’s rec­om­men­da­tion, I also stock up on some creamy Fin­nish mus­tard in a tube called Tu­run Si­nap­pia and am now ad­dicted.

Our tour takes in restau­rants and stores across down­town, all of which of­fer gen­er­ous serves and tast­ings, with Heather pro­vid­ing the kind of in­sight into the city only an out­sider-turned-in­sider can bring. She reels off food facts as we walk, such as the Finns drink more cof­fee than any other na­tion; lo­cal pizza joint Kotip­izza won the world’s best at a com­pe­ti­tion in New York in 2008 with a smoked rein­deer and chanterelle mush­room combo named the Ber­lus­coni af­ter the former Ital­ian prime min­is­ter who was very rude about Fin­nish food.

From Stock­mann, it’s off to a cafe and “muffini” store, for a bowl of four-grain por­ridge cooked in soy with birch su­gar and berries. Cross­ing the lovely Oldd Church Park we ex­plore wine shops s and tiny cor­ner stores sell­ing bou­tique beers. We carb-load at t Bryg­geri Brew­ery near the mar­ket square tuck­ing into bratwurst washed down with a pad­dle of house ales. Then across the square to the water­front Vanha Kaup­pa­halli, a mar­ket hall dat­ing from the 1880s, metic­u­lously re­stored d and sell­ing cakes, cof­fee, meats, breads and wine in the most charm­ing sur­rounds; we’re here for the Pel­tola blue cheese served on Patsy’s home­made crack­ers with cloud­berry jam. This is the per­fect spot to grab a cof­fee and browse (avoid­ing the rather dis­tress­ing cans of bear meat).

Our food walk ends back in town with cof­fee and a dainty cake or two at the fa­mous Karl Frazer Cafe, housed in an art deco build­ing. The cho­co­late here is as close to Helsinki’s heart as Haigh’s is to Ade­laide’s and it would be a sin to leave town with­out a few bars of the Frazer Blue.

Chris­tine McCabe was a guest of Fin­nair and Fi­navia.

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