I had a quick 2-day trip to Helsinki in the spring for work. Although most of the time was spent at the offices we were visiting, I did get a chance to walk around downtown one evening and had a meal that more than met my expectations of hearty Finnish cuisine.
Like other Scandinavian cities I’ve visited, Helsinki is very clean. Wide streets, not a lot of traffic. The architecture I saw downtown had the classical look I’ve come to expect from European cities, but there was a minimalism and simplicity to the buildings as well. No big surprise that the city used to double for the USSR in movies shot during the Cold War!
My co-workers are as food-adventurous as I am, so we found a restaurant called Lappi which serves traditional Lappish food. Lapland is the northernmost region of Finland, so we were expecting real stick-to-your-ribs-cause-its-way-below-freezing type food. And reindeer. And alcohol. And we got all three!
The restaurant looked like a cozy wooden lodge inside – meget hyggeligt, as you’d say in Danish. Rustic wooden decor, exposed beams, and the whole place warmed up with woolen blankets and fires in the fireplaces. Sven and Kristof from Frozen would have been right at home.
There were 6 of us, so we started with a couple of sampler platters which featured: salmon tartar; salmon mousse topped with fish roe; reindeer carpaccio; reindeer heart jerky; a hunter’s salad of wild mushrooms; pickled fish; various cheeses; and something like cranberry sauce, expect made with cloudberries. We all drank cocktails called ‘Reindeer’s Tears,’ which were shots of Finnish koskenkorva (similar to vodka) with a few cranberries dropped in. Strong stuff. Everything was delicious, though I seemed to be the only one at the table who liked reindeer heart and fish roe, so I was half-full even before the meal showed up.
The other guys opted for the grilled fillet of reindeer – think venison steaks. I got the sautéed reindeer, which came out like shaved beef piled atop a mound of mashed potatoes. I don’t know how I finished the whole thing – I really shouldn’t have! Luckily there was time to walk it off afterwards, though we were all so full that we just headed back to the hotel instead of checking out the many bars downtown. Next time!
Will hopefully make it back to Finland one day – this time with the family, or at least to see a friend out there and check out the Tuska metal festival that’s held there every summer. Some of my favorite metal bands come from Finland, so here are some videos. \m/