Helsinki’s pride in local food production also evinces in its coffee culture. With
short days and long hours of darkness for nine months, Finland is the world’s largest
per capita consumer of coffee. But the coffee culture adheres to the country’s tradition
of artisan roasting and preparation—there are only two Starbucks in the city.
During the summer, residents flock to outdoor coffee shops that surround
Töölö Bay. Sininen Huvila at the Blue Villa is known as a romantic spot, with
seats overlooking music venues Finlandia Hall and the Finnish National Opera.
Café Regatta has a sailing atmosphere and overlooks a channel of the bay.
Another aspect of Helsinki’s culinary strategy is promotion of market halls
where farmers and artisans sell their goods. Aki Arjola is dedicated to making
artisan Finnish food products accessible. An active member of the food community,
he launched Eat & Joy retail food markets in 2008, which showcase native foods
and ingredients. “We are supporting the small producers,” says Arjola. “A whole
spectrum of flavors comes from fresh ingredients.”
The Hietalahti Market Hall and Vanha Kauppahalli are examples of Helsinki
food halls. Fresh soups and gravlax and smoked salmon are sold. Finnish specialties
include kuopion bread, dark rye stuffed with vendace (muikku), small silver fish
of the salmon family, and Karelian pies, crimped rye pastries stuffed with sweet
barley or rice, fruits and vendace.
The Abattoir (Teurastamo), a former meatpacking site under development as a
culinary center, houses Kellohalli, a casual, open-kitchen restaurant with communal
tables, owned by Antto Melasniemi. Alternately called the “good food guru” and
Finland’s “punk chef,” Melasniemi studied interior design and envisions food as art.
He often holds art and film events at his four restaurants.
fine dining, Finnish style
Ateljé Finne is the showpiece of Melasniemi’s restaurant portfolio. Located in
an older building once an artists’ hangout, Melasniemi’s sculpture collection adds
to the art gallery ambiance. The menu highlights Finnish specialties. Vendace
served with rye cubes and greens, and the country’s “national” soup, clear broth
with smoked salmon, round out the first course. Mains include fried lamb liver
with tomato salad and sour cherries, horse with pea puree and chanterelles, and
pike with spelt and zucchini ribbons in turnip sauce. The licorice creme brulee is
Melasniemi’s signature dessert.
One of the revered Helsinki restaurants is Kosmos. Established in 1924, the historic
design with wood banquettes, chandeliers and wainscoting spells timeless elegance.
Famous guests from politicians to generals have dined on the vinegar-scented borscht
served with sour cream, which, servers point out, is “Russian ketchup.”
Kosmos menus the Finnish trio of lake fish: perch, pike and pike-perch.
The “local” tartare is lightly salted reindeer with balsamic cloudberries. Meat
dishes include sweetbreads in creamy port/curry sauce with smoked reindeer. An
intriguing dish is vorschmack, likely of Polish origin. The seasoned, baked ground
lamb and herring entree is served with chopped beets, pickles and sour cream, and
duchess potatoes. Cloudberry vacherin finishes the meal with Finnish flair.
Other classic Helsinki dining options are island restaurants located a short boat
ride away in the archipelago south of the city. The island restaurants are renowned
for seasonally serving crayfish. Saari Restaurant, founded in 1913, serves them
with white toast, churn (fresh) butter and dill, the signature Finnish herb. The
other “must-have” accompaniment is vodka. Servers provide a Finlandia Vodka-
ethnic cuisine in full bloom
hiGh marKS For
Finland maintains a food culture that continues to
emphasize healthy eating, with fast food creeping
in at a slower pace than in some areas of Europe.
Unlike that in most U.S. schools, the Helsinki schools’
curriculum includes home economics for all middle
school students, with cooking and nutrition taught in
Meanwhile, Finnish middle school students
consistently rank in the top three in worldwide
academic testing. A key to academic excellence
may be the selection of teachers from among the
top scholars at universities. But educational success
may also lie in the emphasis on culinary culture in
the 165 Helsinki schools. The city serves 50,000
daily meals, including a hot lunch. The city’s broad
“Culinary Culture Strategy” report, published in 2009,
highlighted the importance of increasing the amount
of organic food to students and daycare centers.
The city’s objectives for school meals include offering
tasty and varied foods covering about a third of
daily nutritional requirements. The menus account
for special and ethnic diets. But more importantly,
a successful mealtime is an enjoyable meal that
“relaxes and revives,” is balanced and satisfies the
need for nutrition. Lunchtime is also an opportunity to
teach pupils about manners and discipline, from the
way students line up in an orderly fashion to portion
control, with return to the buffet line acceptable.
A visit to Meilahti comprehensive school in Helsinki
confirms these principles. A volunteer student group
is involved in giving feedback to the city’s foodservice
staff. The group evaluates food on taste, presentation
and texture. The most popular foods at this school
track national studies: fish fingers, lasagna, ham,
liver and carrot casserole. Themed lunches, such as
Chinese food for the Chinese New Year, are cycled
into the menu. Soup such as chicken/vegetable is
served once a week. Afternoon snacks such as fruit,
yogurt or Karelian pie are served at low cost and are
part of the overall culinary strategy.
opposite: Baltic herring patties with dill