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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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 would be easy to find traditional Finnish food if you visit Åland or another rustic spot in Finland, but what about the Helsinki food scene?
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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 their website 2foodtrippers. Since launching the site in 2012, they’ve traveled to over 40 countries in their quest to bring readers a unique taste of the world.
Original Publication Date: March 2, 2017