In just a short time Helsinki has developed into the home of good food. “New Nordic Cuisine” has taken over the scene and found a truly receptive audience among the trendy small restaurants that have been established in recent years by up and coming chefs. In addition, new perspectives have been opened up by the sheer diversity of popup restaurants that appear in the streets, parks and homes of Helsinki during Restaurant Day, now held four times a year. Helsinki also has a dynamic new centre for food culture, the Abattoir, which hosts a variety of innovative food-related events. Taste of Helsinki brings the best restaurants and food lovers together once again in June. Street food can also be found throughout Helsinki!
Local residents are enthusiastic about local food
Being the only sizeable metropolis in the country, Helsinki is dependent on other parts of Finland for much of its food. But this does not take away from the sheer quality of fresh Finnish produce that underlines Nordic cuisine. The chefs working in the nation’s capital accept only the very best that Finland has to offer, creating exquisite dishes that highlight the unique flavours of each radically different season. These local offerings are easy to find in participating HelsinkiMenu restaurants – check out the bestseller at the restaurant Nokka, for example!
Just as local residents are discovering “sack farming”, a new form of urban agriculture, many restaurants also have their own designated farmers. Together they decide what to plant, resulting in harvests that are ready to be used as delicious fresh ingredients and dishes in themselves. The hit product of the restaurant Ask, which was just awarded a Michelin star, was a root vegetable carpaccio made from rutabaga and turnip grown locally in Muijalanniitty. The restaurant’s chef Filip Langhoff also serves an incredible turnip-rooted celery marinated in lavender sauce.
During the growing season the organic restaurant Chef & Sommelier prefers locally grown produce over certified ingredients. Sasu Laukkonen, who along with Langhoff was awarded a Michelin star in 2014, has his very own candy shop in the form of the local farm school in Kumpula in the heart of Helsinki, where he personally picks the very best ingredients each day. Some of his produce even comes from his own farm in Gumbostrand in neighbouring Sipoo.
Simple ingredients, genuine flavours
When chefs themselves fall in love with simple ingredients, visitors to their restaurants also get to taste local flavours at their finest. Even the most complex cooking techniques aim ultimately to accentuate the genuine flavours of the ingredients. In some cases this can mean serving vegetables raw, in others cooking them at a low temperature for many hours. Similarly, techniques that were previously used for meats are now being used for vegetables, and more and more restaurants are offering exquisite vegetarian menus. Chef & Sommelier, for example, has earned an impressive reputation, in part by offering daily vegetarian and vegan menus.
The role of vegetables on the whole has continued to grow in importance, and our star restaurants pay a lot of attention to highlighting even the simplest of ingredients. The chef Jari Vesivalo at restaurant Olo performs magic by transforming artichoke into nine different forms and serving them all on the same plate!
It is obvious that our local chefs have travelled the world, picking up influences from Stockholm, Copenhagen, Oslo and more exotic destinations known for their great food. Back home in Helsinki these ideas are transformed into unique creations with pure flavours that are utterly addictive.
Premium ingredients available to everybody
Fabulous local ingredients are also readily available to would-be chefs who like to show off their talents at home. Helsinki’s market halls, the Eat & Joy Farmers Markets and delicatessens like Anton & Anton offer the same premium ingredients that were once the domain of the finest restaurants only. Cold-smoked herring, fresh milk, special cheeses from small local producers, lamb from the Åland Islands – all of these and more can be picked up in Helsinki’s market halls and specialty shops.
With the arrival of summer, Helsinki’s open-air markets also come to life. Breakfast in the Market Square or Hakaniemi Market is a great way of slowing down and enjoying the city with all your senses. Hopping over to one of the islands in the archipelago is another fine way of unwinding – you can follow in the footsteps of wild herbs chef Sami Tallberg and head for the beaches of Pihlajasaari Island. Afterwards you can enjoy delicious smoked salmon on the beautiful terrace of the summer restaurant.
The island of Lonna opened to the public at the beginning of the summer in 2014. Visitors can go there for picnics or to enjoy the delicious dishes featuring wild herbs at the island restaurant. As the sun begins to set you can then taste some of the best ice cream in the world while watching the boats and passersby along the Kaivopuisto shoreline.
Text by Mariaana Nelimarkka