CUISINES OF THE WORLD

BRING YOUR AP­PETITE TO THE CAP­I­TAL AS FIN­NISH FOOD COMES OF AGE.

Seabourn Club Herald - - IN THIS ISSUE - By Kevin Revolinski

HELSINKI EATS

Bring your ap­petite to the cap­i­tal as Fin­nish food comes of age.

By Kevin Revolinski

A few years back, Italy’s then-prime min­is­ter Sil­vio Ber­lus­coni in­fa­mously de­rided the Finns and their “mar­i­nated rein­deer” cui­sine. In a swift re­sponse, Finn pizza chain Kotip­izza rolled out the Ber­lus­coni: a pie topped with red onions, chanterelle mush­rooms and, nat­u­rally, smoked rein­deer. The pizza went on to win the Amer­ica’s Plate in­ter­na­tional pizza con­test in New York in 2008. An amus­ing anec­dote but also sym­bolic of how quickly Fin­nish cui­sine has adapted in re­cent years. Helsinki is lead­ing the charge to change Finland’s rep­u­ta­tion from a meat-and-pota­toes cul­ture to some­thing play­ful, cos­mopoli­tan and fun. From mod­ern to tra­di­tional and from in­ter­na­tional to fu­sion, Helsinki of­fers a culi­nary play­ground that has only re­cently started get­ting se­ri­ous in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion.

I spoke with Helsinki guide and food ex­pert Heather Domeney and joined her on a visit to Finland’s fa­mous de­part­ment store Stock­mann. The lower-level del­i­catessen pro­vides the city’s best col­lec­tion of baked goods, cheeses, char­cu­terie, seafood and other var­ied del­i­ca­cies.

“It’s in­cred­i­ble how far Fin­nish food has come in the last 10 years,” she says. “Not just Fin­nish food, but what’s avail­able in su­per­mar­kets.” We stroll amid deli coun­ters filled with salted salmon and smoked her­ring, sam­ple lo­cally pro­duced ar­ti­san cheeses and pick up car­damom-laced pas­tries from the bak­ery sec­tion. I snack on a Kare­lian pasty — a Fin­nish sta­ple con­sist­ing of a palm­sized, fluted rye crust with a rice fill­ing served un­der an egg-but­ter top­ping. “When I came here in 2001, the fresh herbs avail­able were dill, chives and basil. But there’s been a huge ex­pand­ing of what is ac­tu­ally grown here year round.”

La­p­land, the north­ern re­gion of Finland that reaches deep into the Arc­tic Cir­cle, is known for rein­deer herd­ing and wilder­ness. Game meats — rein­deer, elk (moose) and even oc­ca­sion­ally bear — make

FINNS SEARCH FOR WILD MUSH­ROOMS AND COUNT THE MONTHS AC­CORD­ING TO THE BERRIES.

it into stores and onto the menus. At the mar­kets, look for cured rein­deer or jerky. In the restau­rants, beef lovers will be amazed at the lean and ten­der rein­deer steaks grilled to or­der. Rein­deer strips served over mashed pota­toes with lin­gonberry sauce is a stan­dard.

Vege­tar­i­ans should seek all the sea­sonal good­ies such as wild mush­rooms. “Have you heard of ‘ev­ery man’s rights’?” asks Domeney. I hadn’t and feared the con­ver­sa­tion had moved to pol­i­tics. But this is the cus­tom, she tells me, of go­ing into the for­est and for­ag­ing. Finns search for wild mush­rooms, such as chanterelles or morels, and count the months ac­cord­ing to the berries: first, the cloud­ber­ries in July, then the blue­ber­ries of Au­gust, then the tart lin­gonber­ries of Septem­ber. Finns are gen­er­ally fond of their pris­tine forests and for­ag­ing ex­cur­sions are a na­tional pas­time. Don’t be sur­prised to find th­ese “ev­ery man” prod­ucts at the mar­kets or even on your plate at a restau­rant.

THE MAR­KETS

Head down to the wa­ter­front mar­ket where food stalls line the quay daily, serv­ing fried fish, salmon soup, sausages and more. Dat­ing back to 1888, the Old Mar­ket Hall, also along the quay, re­opened in 2014 af­ter some preser­va­tion work. The in­door mar­ket features long hall­ways lined with ven­dor booths and a few cafés. On of­fer is a wide va­ri­ety of gourmet food rang­ing from fresh cheese, char­cu­terie and pre­serves to cof­fee, pas­tries, soups and other meals. Look for cloud­berry jam or cured game meats. Ei­ther in­side or out­side, this wa­ter­front area is a nice place to get a rea­son­ably priced bowl of an­other Fin­nish sta­ple: salmon soup. The creamy stew is hearty, with pota­toes and large ten­der chunks of re­gion­ally caught salmon.

Sit­u­ated a bit north from the port, a former slaugh­ter­house has be­come the lat­est food mecca in Helsinki. Built in 1933, Teuras­tamo (known also by its English name The Abat­toir) has kept its his­tor­i­cal look and is grad­u­ally be­ing taken over by hip new venues ded­i­cated to food. The Abat­toir’s sum­mer­time Thurs­day mar­kets of­fer food carts and fresh pro­duce at a farmer’s mar­ket. Cook­ing classes on­site in­spire peo­ple to spend more cre­ative time in their kitchens, and DJs and live mu­sic give the place a lively at­mos­phere. Stop in at one of the sev­eral restau­rants for lunch or din­ner, with menu se­lec­tions rang­ing from tra­di­tional to fu­sion.

Hi­eta­lahti Mar­ket Hall has been a landmark of one kind or an­other since it was built in 1903. More re­cently, for about a dozen years, Helsinki’s sec­ond-old­est mar­ket dealt strictly in an­tiques, but in 2012

it re­turned to its orig­i­nal pur­pose: a food mar­ket. (Though there’s still a pop­u­lar daily sum­mer flea mar­ket just out­side the front doors.) Many lo­cals come here for the fresh mar­ket in­gre­di­ents but there are also plenty of din­ing op­tions for lunch among the 119 shops in­side. Stop in for a bowl of soup at Sop­pakeit­tiö. Other shops serve ev­ery­thing from fresh shrimp and sushi to ke­babs and ham­burg­ers. Korean street food, smooth­ies and im­ported cheeses are not un­com­mon, and with a rather lib­eral pol­icy for new ven­dors who come and go, you re­ally don’t know what fabulous meals you might find here each week.

TAK­ING IT TO THE STREETS

Kirsti Tuomi­nen, a former Nokia em­ployee and now a pro­moter of Helsinki’s food scene, helped found Restau­rant Day. Of­fi­cially, it oc­curs four times each year and, with a nod from govern­ment, al­lows any­one who loves to cook to open a restau­rant, café or sim­ple food stand any­where in Helsinki with­out all the red tape and per­mits that are re­quired for a brick-and-mor­tar restau­rant. The first event in 2011 was such a huge suc­cess that the prac­tice has spread to over 60 other coun­tries. Walk along Helsinki’s lovely Es­planade Park and odds are good you’ll see an am­a­teur chef with a home­styled setup serv­ing grilled food or eth­nic dishes.

Finns don’t fear the chill. In March, they cel­e­brate food carts at the in­ter­na­tion­ally recognized Streat Helsinki fes­ti­val, which draws dozens of ju­ried street ven­dors and over 30,000 hun­gry fans.

AWARD WIN­NING

From Thai food to tofu, from gourmet por­ridge cafes to craft brew­pubs, the din­ing scene in Helsinki seems to cover all the bases. But one must also note that the Miche­lin Guide has taken no­tice of Fin­nish food. In 2015 the es­teemed restau­rant guide awarded stars to five city restau­rants.

One of th­ese is Chef & Som­me­lier, which of­fers only a few ta­bles, so reser­va­tions are es­sen­tial. The restau­rant is noted for its multi-course gourmet cre­ations that of­fer mod­ern takes on Fin­nish fla­vors and of­ten in­cor­po­rate wild for­aged foods from the coun­try’s end­less forests and fields. The chefs them­selves bring the dishes to the table and talk pas­sion­ately about lo­cal in­gre­di­ents and meth­ods of prepa­ra­tion. Ad­di­tion­ally, the wine list is ex­cel­lent and of­fers flights to pair with each course. For a very per­sonal din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, this is that splurge meal you’ve promised your­self — one of the best of many that will make your time in Helsinki un­for­get­table.

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