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Navigating the Helsinki Food Scene

We were skeptical about visiting Finland in the winter… until we arrived and discovered the exciting Helsinki food scene. Who cares about a bit of cold weather when the food is so good!

Helsinki Cocktail - Navigating the Helsinki Food Scene

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Before we arrived in Helsinki we were full of questions. Would the holiday season weather be too cold for us to explore the city? Would a week be too long for our visit? And, most importantly, what would we eat???

We pictured ourselves snuggled up inside, hesitant to leave the warm hotel. We weren’t sure that there would be enough to do to keep us occupied for seven days after reading online articles about how to spend one day in Helsinki.

As much as we like smoked salmon and salty licorice, we also were unsure about the Helsinki food scene. To be honest, we wondered if Helsinki even had a food scene beyond these iconic food staples.

Smoked Salmon in Helsinki Finland
We expected to find good smoked salmon in Helsinki Finland, and that’s exactly what we found all over the food focused city.

Long story short, our concerns about visiting Finland were a complete and utter waste of time.

Perhaps we got lucky – the weather was cold but not freezing. In fact, it was warm enough that Daryl even took a dip in the Baltic Sea as part of our Christmas Day sauna experience at Kulttuurisauna without freezing to death.

Yayoi Kusama In Infinity exhibit at the HAM in Helsinki Finland
We couldn’t help but ham it up a bit at the HAM. We adored the interactive Yayoi Kusama In Infinity exhibit.

Though we had wondered about what to do in Helsinki prior to our arrival, we didn’t get bored for a moment as we ran around the deceptively compact city checking out the bustling Christmas markets, stylish shops, amazing churches and fabulous museums. We especially enjoyed the Yayoi Kusama In Infinity exhibit at the Helsinki Art Museum.

However, as much as we loved all of the Helsinki attractions, it was Finnish food that impressed us the most.

Helsinki Food Scene – Emergence of a Sleeping Giant

Shelter in Helsinki Finland
Chef Hanne Honkanen is cooking exciting food at Shelter, one of the many new restaurants redefining the Helsinki food scene.

As soon as we arrived, we started navigating our way through the clean, organized city. Though we enjoyed working our way through the grocery bag stuffed with local Helsinki treats like Nord-T tea and Goodio chocolate bars in our hotel room at Aallonkoti Hotel Apartments, we wanted to experience Helsinki restaurants.

But where to go?

The more we talked to people, the more we learned about the previously mysterious Helsinki food scene. It turns out that Helsinki has four Michelin starred restaurants and a range of additional restaurants at every price point.

Nha Truc from Papu Cafe in Helsinki Finland
It’s not difficult to find good coffee in Helsinki. Here, Nha Truc from Papu Cafe, brews up a Vietnamese coffee with beans from Kaffa Roastery.

Luckily for us, we met Alan Grosvenor on our first day in Helsinki soon after we walked into Kaffa Roastery, our favorite Helsinki coffee shop. As we sipped our perfectly crafted pour over coffees, Grosvenor filled us in on why he left Portland, Oregon to work and live in Helsinki, Finland.

“Helsinki has a really young and exciting coffee scene, food scene, craft brew scene and distillery scene,” Grosvenor advised us, pointing out that the city is experiencing a “kick-ass revolution of delicious things to do.” His excitement was contagious.

Based on Kaffa Roastery’s coffee, we knew that the Helsinki coffee scene is for real. But we were still skeptical about the food despite Grosvenor’s enthusiasm for the city’s culinary offerings. Sure, it may be easy to find authentic Finnish food if you

Sure, it may be easy to find authentic Finnish food if you visit Åland or another rustic spot in Finland, but what about the Helsinki food scene?

Korvapuusti at Fleuriste in Helsinki Finland
We fell in love with Korvapuusti in Portland and solidified this love at Fleuriste in Helsinki. Eija Limnel bakes the Finnish cinnamon buns with a family recipe. The result is magical.

Curious to learn more, we proceeded to eat a variety of Helsinki food from traditional Finnish treats like Korvapuusti (cinnamon buns) to global foods like hamburgers, pizza and barbecue. Yes, barbecue.

When the Helsinki food made us thirsty, we were happy to drink ultra-fresh water right out of the tap. True confession – sometimes we skipped the water and instead opted for fine Finnish beers at Bier Bier and creative cocktails at A21.

A21 Cocktails in Helsinki Finland
The vibe at A21 is almost too cool for school, but the cocktails made with locally sourced Finnish ingredients are divine.

“A lot of new restaurants are coming all the time, ” Katja Hagelstam said when we asked her about the Helsinki food scene. Hagelstam, photographer and owner of Lokal in Helsinki’s hipster neighborhood of Punavuori, plied us with local artisan ice cream as she shared her thoughts about the best Helsinki restaurants.

She wasn’t exaggerating about the abundance of Helsinki restaurants. In just one week, we dined at exciting newcomers like Shelter on the city’s waterfront as well as established eateries like Café Ekberg, an institution that dates back to 1852.

We did not have a bad meal. Not one. And coffee. We drank a lot of coffee. Again, we did not have one bad cup of Joe. Not one. This shouldn’t be a surprise – Helsinki residents drink an average of 12 kg of coffee each year, more than anywhere else in the world.

We quickly discovered that the Helsinki food culture is both local and seasonal. While we indulged in foods typical to the season, like root vegetable casseroles, beetroot salad and gingerbread, we also ate innovative food as well as some of the best seafood we’ve ever encountered.

Christmas dinner at Hotel Katajanokka in Helsinki Finland
This plate showcases the range of Finnish food, both traditional and modern, that we ate during our Christmas dinner at Hotel Katajanokka.

It all came together during our Christmas Eve dinner at Hotel Katajanokka where we got to taste a full range of foods like reindeer, herring and ham. Buffet meals are often disappointing; however, this meal was a delightful “best of” smorgasbord that exceeded our expectations.

“The Helsinki secret is bubbling over,” said Markus Veikkolainen, Co-Owner & Founder of Heleats and a proponent of fun dining. Veikkolainen summed the Helsinki food scene up best – with just one word – passion.

Food Scene in Helsinki Finland
The Helsinki food scene is an emerging powerhouse thanks to people like the ones we met during our week in the city.

We broke bread with him at the new Fisken på Disken in the centrally located Kamppi Center. As Veikkolainen shared his insight with us, the room buzzed around us with diners and servers reveling in the restaurant’s menu featuring inspired seafood dishes and local craft beer. There was not one empty seat in the restaurant.

As it turns out, we didn’t have to look hard to find Helsinki’s food scene. It permeates in every corner of Finland’s capital city, and it tastes good.

Get Naughty with our Helsinki Burger Video

Watch our YouTube video for inside scoop about the Helsinki food scene. In the video, we eat some of the best burgers in Helsinki at NAUGHTY BRGR and share our thoughts about the food in Helsinki.

Plan Your Helsinki Stay

We stayed at two awesome hotels during our week in Helsinki and loved both of them.

The Aallonkoti Hotel Apartments, an apartment-style hotel with an on-site sauna, is just a short walk from the central train station. Solo Hotel Albert is a stylish hotel located just a hop, skip and jump from Kaffa Roastery.

Click here to find the best rates for these and other hotels in Helsinki. Or, if you want access to a kitchen, click here to find an Airbnb apartment.

Hungry for More in Helsinki?

Check out our comprehensive Helsinki Food Guide.

Red Beach Selfie in Santorini

About the Authors

Daryl & Mindi Hirsch

Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.

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Disclsosures

Sponsorship
We thank Visit Helsinki for hosting us at the #HelsinkiSecret Residence and supporting our visit to Helsinki.

Article Updates
We update our articles regularly. Some updates are major while others are minor link changes and spelling corrections. Let us know if you see anything that needs to be updated in this article.

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Friday 10th of March 2017

Helsinki, in winter? Brrr The food porn looks delicious, but I'm waiting until summer. :)

Daryl and Mindi Hirsch

Tuesday 14th of March 2017

We would love to return to Helsinki in the summertime ourselves. In addition to warmer weather, the days are so long and sunny.

Gary Berry

Wednesday 8th of March 2017

I've never been to Finland but I want too now! Your photos looks fantastic too. Loved the video as well - great fun. Gary x

Daryl and Mindi Hirsch

Tuesday 14th of March 2017

We have just tipped the Finland iceberg, pun intended, with his visit. We can't wait to return and see more of the country ourselves.

Gingey Bites

Tuesday 7th of March 2017

Oh yum, that food and coffee all looks divine! I really need to visit this part of Europe as I've tended to stick to the warmer places like Italy, Spain and France. Perhaps Helsinki will be right for a city break later in the year when we're back home in the UK.

Thanks for the tips, will definitely make sure we check them all out!

Daryl and Mindi Hirsch

Tuesday 14th of March 2017

You should visit Helsinki in the summer if you like warm weather. The days are long and sunny, so you'd be able to enjoy the outdoors quite a bit. Plus we hear that there are lots of fun festivals during the summer. That being said, there is a certain charm about visiting Helsinki during the winter when it's cold and there are fewer tourists.

Elisa

Tuesday 7th of March 2017

Interesting to know that the food scene is so cool in Helsinki! I am not a food lover like you but a good restaurant ( and its food) can be the perfect shelter when the weather is freezing outside

Daryl and Mindi Hirsch

Tuesday 14th of March 2017

Whether you love food like we do or not, you will surely enjoy the food in Helsinki.

Sandy N Vyjay

Monday 6th of March 2017

This was my baptism into the Helsinki food scene. I can see there is variety on the table. Given my vegetarian leanings, I would be happy to settle down with a Korvapuusti and a cup of hot and freshly brewed Vietnamese coffee.

Daryl and Mindi Hirsch

Tuesday 14th of March 2017

There are loads of vegetarian and vegan options in Helsinki. When you visit, you will find plenty of delicious food to eat. Then again, you could just eat Korvapuustis with coffee all day. We won't judge you.