The Impossibility of Finnishing Dinner
The phrase “Finnish kitchen” once conjured up images of robust, kerchiefed women ladling out cauldrons of boggy stew to cigar-smoking, moustachioed Finns. That was then. This is now.
I found myself one sunny afternoon during a recent trip to Helsinki at Juuri, one of the capital’s most gastronomically inventive restaurants, a precious little spot serving tasty, bite-sized tapas. My eyes fixated on a singular menu item: smoked reindeer heart. It may sound like an evil trick to play on the kids at Christmas Eve, but the diminutive dish was one of the most succulent, flavourful cuts of meat I’d had all year.
These days, Helsinki offers dozens of edgy, outstanding gastro-conscious restaurants that serve both exciting fusion food and back-to-basics Nordic dishes. One partcularly special spot goes by the name of Saaga, a space done up with pelts, moccasins and reindeer antlers that calls to mind the Arctic wilderness. They serve scrumptious Arctic delicacies such as snow grouse, reindeer, bear and the Fish of the Four Winds, a collection of uniquely prepared bites that includes char-grilled whitefish and vendace roe. And everything here tastes that much better after a glass of Saagin Jumpura, their cranberry house cocktail.
A long-standing favourite of Finns and visitors alike is Zetor, an irreverent and loud, country-themed resto-bar strewn about with rusty tractors and blasting 80’s hard rock. This late-night comfort food spot serves great meat-and-potatoes dishes (anything with lingonberries is a win), and it is also the best place to try out the local tipple, salmari, made with Koskenkorva vodka and salty liquorice.
For something a bit more outdoorsy, head straight for Regatta, a friendly wooden shack at the waterside where they bake cinnamon rolls fresh every day, serve free coffee refills and let you grill sausages on their outdoor barbeque. It is the perfect spot for a sunny, windy day in Helsinki.
Contrast is the main ingredient in Finnish cultural life, probably because everything looks and sounds different from our northern perspective.