Denmark has Noma, Sweden has Fäviken, and Finland has a Buzzfeed post. Don’t let the lack of star chefs in Scandinavia’s easternmost country divert your attention elsewhere; Helsinki is Finland’s biggest tourist draw and boasts a food culture fit for a European capital on the rise.
The city has plenty to offer the curious food lover, whether your tastebuds go haywire for meat, starches, or sweets. These 5 bites will guide you from the center of Helsinki to the harbor with a stop at the grocery store. You’ll discover weird textures, new flavors, and strange meats that make Finnish cuisine deliciously unique. As the Finns say, kippis! Cheers!
Start your exploration of Finnish food in the supermarket. As you wander through the aisles of smoked fish, rye bread, and milky cheese, pick up a container of Viili in the refrigerated section next to the yogurt. Viili is a cultured milk product with a consistency that resembles yogurt at first glance. Once you dip your spoon into the small plastic container, you’ll realise viili might be creamy, but sticks together, forming rope-like strands with each spoonful.
Filter Coffee from Good Life Coffee
Photo Credit: the waving cat
While the Finns drink plenty of kahvin, the Finnish word for coffee, the quantity, not quality, usually makes it noteworthy. At Good Life Coffee, that is not the case; the café belongs to a new spate of establishments in Helsinki that prize well-sourced and carefully roasted coffee. They serve coffee from a rotating variety of roasters available to purchase for home use and to order brewed. Ask for a black drip coffee for a typically Finnish experience, or opt for an espresso-based drink for a bright, lightly roasted coffee. Be sure to ask for a pulla, a Finnish cinnamon bun, to munch on as you cosy up in the minimally decorated space.
Salmiakki from Salmiakkikioski
Salmiakki, salt licorice, appears in everything in Finland from pastilles and ice cream to vodka. The saltiness cuts the bitter flavor of the licorice while adding a disconcerting sour candy taste. Stop by the salt licorice kiosk, salmiakkikioski, on Runeberginkatu to sample over ninety kinds of salmiakki. Although kiosks of every sort dot Helsinki and serve up coffee, pastries, and ice cream, this one is dedicated to all sorts of salmiakki treats. You’ll know after one bite if you’ve had your fill or if you’ve found a new addiction.
Finnish Delicacies from Konstan Möljä
Photo Credit: Konstan Molja
For dinner, stop by this dark, nautical-themed restaurant to sample a bounty of traditional Finnish foods. Konstan Möljä offers a buffet that combines appetizers, meats, fishes, and baked goods for a relatively cheap €19. Be sure to take a spoonful of reindeer, a small Karelian pasty (savoury rice pie), and a bit of pickled herring. Yes, we understand if you return for seconds.
Blueberry Pie from Konditoria Matti ja Mari in Vanha Kauppahalli
Photo Credit: Sarah R
For dessert, there’s no place better than Vanha Kauppahalli, the old market hall, which reopened in spring 2014 following a year-long renovation. If the abundance of stalls to choose from overwhelms you, head straight for Konditoria Matti ja Mari by the entrance closest to the street and ask for a slice of blueberry pie. You’ll receive a dense slab of cardamom-laced yeasted dough with a thick layer of tart blueberry jam spread on top. The chewy crust and pleasantly gummy filling are far away from the average super-sweet American pie. The blueberry is dense and comforting, while the cardamom adds a dash of the exotic.