Hungry in Helsinki?

Posted on August 25, 2011


Helsinki has just been rated as the city with the best standard of living by Wallpaper Magazine. Situated around a harbour, with green islands in sight, and available by numerous boat trips, and Scandinavian buildings around small parks, you can see it wouldn’t be hard to live here. But this is August, not January when I imagine it’s a totally different story.

It’s history is apparent through a few telltale signs from various occupations:
– There are various Soviet style buildings with matching bronze statues scattered around the cities.
– 5% of the population are Swedish speaking (not Swedes, but Swedish speaking Finns – the difference is important).
Both Swedish and Finnish are official languages and everyone has the right to speak either and be served in either. With the recent election of the right wing party ‘True Finns’ this is apparently being debated as many Finns believe that it may be more useful to learn different languages at school, such as English.
– The Finnish language doesn’t compare to Danish, Swedish or Norwegian. It’s not even that close to it’s neighbour on the East. I was told the closest language is Hungarian. Also a lot of Estonians speak Finnish as during the war, they received Finnish programming.

I stayed at Hotel Havan, which I can’t recommend highly enough. It’s a boutique hotel and not cheap but it’s perfectly located, the rooms are tasteful and well equipped and most importantly, the beds at comfortable. The staff were extremely accommodating and you can order a Swedish massage in your room. Bliss.

Finnish food centres around fish, particularly on the coast. Salmon and herring feature highly on most menus. The are a number of good restaurants, a few of which I sampled and details are below. In cafes, self service/counter service was the norm which normally puts me off but Cafe Lapalatsi and Cafe Esplanad both served yummy sales and sandwiches.

Kappeli, one of the oldest and traditional restaurants is unfortunately closed for renovations. It’s situation in a conservatory in a par next to the harbour and has been recommended by quite a few people.

The media and politician lunchtime restaurant is Ravintola Lasipalatsi. I had a menu which includes afavourite of a Finnish general named Mannerheim. Shredded lamb with beetroot, gherkin, baked potato and sour cream (served separately but designed to be mixed together) followed by perch from the harbour and vegetables. Technically this should be followed by Finnish cheese but I was too full to try. Over lunch I learned about the mandatory military service of one year for men which must be completed between the ages of 18 and 29. Many people, particularly those chosen for the officer training in this time, go on to business and then work part time for the military. Not a fan of military service overall, it actually seems to work well. And a great deterrent to potential invaders – half the population is military trained so beware before attacking!

There is a series of 6 restaurants by a&s scattered around the city, each with a different Finnish influence. I was taken to Saaga which had food from Lapland. The reindeer was delicious (three main courses of which were offered), and I am also a sucker for ligonberroes, adding a sweetness to the meet and potatoes. Main course is served with frozen vodka – a special one each for males and females. Dessert was frozen  lingon berries, served out of an ice bowl, with hot caramel sauce. It wasn’t the lightest of meal but I was delicious and I can imagine would be perfect on a cold winters day.

Also recommended by a friend, but I didn’t get a chance to try is Eliviira.

Hyaa ruokahuala!!