The restaurant life in Helsinki gradually got started in the early 1800s. In two centuries Helsinki has grown into a diverse restaurant city. The the 2000s the capital’s restaurant scene has been elevated to a new level of restaurants led by top chefs, and the initial French cuisine has been overtaken by a celebration of Nordic ingredients.
From Michelin star level gourmet restaurants to good food at moderate prices, the selection of more than 1 200 restaurants in Helsinki is able to provide enjoyment for all tastes.
Helsinki’s food culture is unique, surprising and authentic. The city offers local food made from fresh seasonal ingredients, haute cuisine in Michelin-starred restaurants, hundreds of popup restaurants a year, food events at the Abattoir, and much more. The new local food culture is packed with delightful surprises and sustainable pleasures.
The restaurants in Helsinki that have earned Michelin stars are Demo, Postres, Luomo, Olo, Ask and Chef & Sommelier. In addition, many less formal bistros and local restaurants have opened throughout the city serving great cuisine in a relaxed atmosphere.
Food and design interact at the refurbished Kellohalli “Clock Hall” at the Abattoir, where the programme ranges from various thematic lectures and one-day events to farmers’ markets and Mad Cook dinners. These days Linnanmäki Amusement Park is also a fun place for gourmands. The new dining complex Keittiömaailma Kattila comprises six different restaurants offering tastes from around the world.
Helsinki’s open-air markets and market halls are musts for food tourists. Hakaniemi Market Hall is a superb place to discover local food culture. Inside there is a wide array of stalls selling local produce, while outside there is a large open-air market and many ethnic food shops. For the best food products, head also for Hietalahti Market Hall.
Restaurant Day is an original concept from Helsinki that invites anyone to set up a popup restaurant, café, kiosk, street kitchen or other innovative food outlet just for a day. The setting can be anywhere: at home, at the office, on a street corner, in a garden or inner courtyard, at a park, or on the beach – only your imagination is the limit. The one-day carnival is always full of surprises: blinis have been served through a kitchen window, Ghanaian cuisine has been cooked up in tents, tomato soup has been ladled in a vintage shop, and an undergarment shop has been transformed into a tearoom. Restaurant Day is held four times a year.
Block parties are the newest trend in Helsinki’s food culture. Block parties are held in various districts, and their programmes include popup restaurants and music.
City farming has also grown in importance. Kääntöpöytä is a new kind of urban farming centre and vegetarian restaurant situated in a former railway yard.
Helsinki is also an oasis for coffee lovers, as Finns drink more coffee per person than anywhere else in the world –the equivalent of almost 10 kilos of ground coffee per person each a year. Helsinki has an enormous range of cafés, from the traditional to the trendiest. Many attractive cafés can be found right next to Senate Square and the Market Square. The most established cafés in town include Ekberg, Engel and Strindberg. In summertime the cafés spread out onto the streets, and sitting outside on the terraces or in the markets is a popular pastime among locals and visitors alike. There are also numerous cafés along the shoreline where you can enjoy the views to the sea, especially around Kaivopuisto Park and Töölönlahti Bay.
A wide listing of the restaurants according to type of restaurant can be found in the Helsinki This Week magazine. When in Helsinki pick up the free copy of Helsinki This Week in nearly 200 distribution places, e.g. the Tourist Information. Helsinki This Week is available also as a mobile application.
HELSINKI’S CULINARY HISTORY
In the early 1800s, Helsinkians were served meals at the Kaupunginkellari restaurant located at the City Hall as well as the Töölö restaurant.
Soon people also started to visit Helsinki for its spas that boasted an international atmosphere. At Kaivohuone people would drink health-giving waters during the day and champagne in the evening, while students would have fun at restaurant Kaisaniemi and visitors would eat at Kappeli in Esplanade Park. Towards the end of the century Helsinki’s social life moved increasingly from homes to restaurants. With the nation becoming more prosperous, local business life was also boosted.
People’s journeys to work were long, so they did not go home for lunch. Instead, they would eat at the modest lunching places that were popping up near workplaces. The city’s most elaborate restaurant meals were enjoyed at Hotel Kämp, Seurahuone and Fennia.
Women, however, were not allowed access without male company.
The prohibition years from 1919 to 1932 were hard on restaurants, but alcohol was still served. When the Prohibition Act was abolished, evenings were spent sipping cocktails and dancing to the tunes played by big orchestras. New restaurants to suit a variety of palates opened in Helsinki. This all came to halt when World War II broke out, resulting in food shortages prevailing throughout the 1940s.
Having recovered from the war, Helsinki became increasingly prosperous and international. Restaurant life was back on its feet and restaurants ranging from general dining venues to more casual establishments opened to cater for the growing clientele.
In the 1970s new culinary experiences were introduced by ethnic restaurants. Little by little Finnish restaurant culture also began to gain international recognition, and the first Michelin star was awarded to a Helsinki restaurant in 1987. Fine dining was now an established part of Helsinki’s restaurant culture.
Arising from cooperation between chefs, in the past 13 years, the HelsinkiMenu has focused more and more on local produce. One again the restaurants have led the way. Local food is valued and therefore becoming accessible by all. Helsinki and Finland have truly discovered their unique food culture.
Helsinki celebrated its 450th anniversary in the year 2000 as the European Capital of Culture. The HelsinkiMenu was initially a Capital of Culture 2000 project to spread the word that year about Finnish cuisine and introduce Finland’s high-quality ingredients and Helsinki chefs’ expertise. It proved to be one of the year’s most successful projects, and one of the few that endured to exert a long-term presence in Helsinki’s culinary scene.
Helsinki’s varied restaurant scene offers Scandinavian trends and a wide range of ingredients from all over Finland. The classic HelsinkiMenu restaurants serve fish from the thousand lakes, berries, mushrooms and game from the forests as well as special produce from small farms.
HelsinkiMenu gathers the characteristics of the whole of Finland into one city. The main Market Square is the best known and most cosmopolitan in Helsinki. The Old Covered Market next to the square sells traditional delicacies offering exotic flavors. The Hakaniemi Market first opened more than a hundred years ago and the popular Hakaniemi Covered Market can be found right next door. The Baltic Herring Market attracts true fish fans to the Market Square in the autumn. The Farmers Market brings provincial farmers and entrepreneurs to Töölöntori square at harvest time and before Christmas. St. Thomas Christmas Market ushers in the yuletide and creates a special atmosphere in the city center.