• (c) Jussi Hellsten/Helsinki365

Helsinki’s culinary history

The restaurant culture in Helsinki dates back to the city’s first years as the nation’s capital in the early 19th century.

Residents were served meals at the Kaupunginkellari restaurant located at the City Hall, as well as at the Töölö restaurant.

Soon visitors began arriving in Helsinki to enjoy the international atmosphere of its new spas; Kaivohuone served health-giving waters during the daytime and champagne in the evening. Meanwhile, students would gather at the Kaisaniemi restaurant, while tourists would dine at Kappeli in Esplanade Park.

By the end of the century, Helsinki’s social life was shifting increasingly from private homes to restaurants

As the wealth of the nation increased, its business activities diversified. People travelled further afield for their jobs, making it harder for them to return home for lunch. Instead, they began to eat out in modest eateries near their workplaces.

Much more impressive meals were served around the turn of the century in the Kämp, Seurahuone and Fennia hotels. To participate in the merrymaking, women had to be accompanied by men.

Prohibition dampened the spirit during the years 1919-1932, although alcohol continued to be served illicitly. When prohibition was eventually overturned, cocktails became the fashion and were enjoyed to the tunes or large dance orchestras. Many new restaurants opened to suit a growing number of tastes. Then came the war and the rationing of food, which continued throughout the 1940s.

Having survived the war, the nation’s capital grew wealthier and more international

Restaurant life returned, and new general restaurants, grill restaurants and bars opened to serve the growing number of customers. From the 1970s onwards, pizzerias and ethnic restaurants began to offer new taste experiences. Gradually, the international prestige of Finnish food culture increased, and in 1987 a restaurant in Helsinki earned Finland’s first ever Michelin star. The culture of fine dining in Helsinki finally became established.

Over the past two hundred years Helsinki has developed into a diverse restaurant city

Helsinki’s restaurant scene has been further stimulated in the 2000s by top chefs, many of whom have opened their own restaurants. French cuisine has been largely replaced by local cuisine using the very best Finnish ingredients.

For the past 13 years local chefs have joined forces to offer the HelsinkiMenu, which has further promoted delicious local food. Once again Helsinki’s restaurants have led the way, enhancing the appeal of local food and making it even more accessible to everyone.

Helsinki and Finland have truly discovered their own unique food culture.