Helsinki, Finland may not be among the culinary capitals of the world but that doesn’t mean the city is without good food and native specialties worthy trying.
A good place to start is right in the center of the city at Market Square by sampling some of the tasty treats on offer in stalls under orange tents such as the reindeer meatballs.
The reindeer meatballs with potatoes and beer proved a huge lunch but am glad I ventured outside my comfort zone for something completely different. The big reindeer meatballs are much leaner than ground beef so don’t drip with fat as hamburger would and had a bit of a gamey taste, sweet more than spicy.
In a city noted for its design and sleek modern aesthetic the orange tents are paradoxically practical and utilitarian but have become a familiar local landmark so ate my hearty lunch at a measured pace with a number of locals.
Helsinki’s venerated retail institution Stockmann occupies a supremely central square block and has an eighth floor Fazer Food Market and small café that offers an affordable light breakfast so is worth a detour.
The original Karl Fazer Café is a few short blocks away and is another worthwhile stop for its myriad of diet destroying chocolates, pastries and deserts as much as the art deco design. This flagship of the Fazer chocolate empire dates back to 1891 and is near the Hotel Kamp and Esplanadi.
Before embarking on a harbour cruise another day I arrived early to have lunch at the restored 19th century Old Market Hall which has vendors selling everything from cheese to fish to vegetables and cakes but it was the soup at Soppakeittiö that stopped me in my tracks.
After much debate went with the chorizo bean soup which was hearty and with the free bread filling. The little soup stall has seating for a dozen so finding seats can be hit and miss but the soup is definitely worth waiting for.
Directly across from the Old Market Hall is Sundmans Krog, a cozy, casual restaurant serving fine fare at prices easier to swallow than the more formal Michelin-rated dining room within the same harbour front building.
I arrived at what I thought was a choice time for dinner, 7:30 PM, to find the place empty but was given a warm welcome and so having my choice of seat picked a window booth to admire the view. The waiter explained that the austerity protest march by large city transit workers planned for the next day was likely keeping many locals at home so revelled in the pampering of being the only patron in the whole Krog.
I started with the Caesar salad which came with fresh baked bread that tasted almost like sourdough.
The main course was steak cooked medium with mushroom side and French fries with a garden salad.
While I normally prefer my steak on the well done side I let the chef do his thing and it came out cooked perfectly and was a rare meal I had to slow down to fully savour. The whole 90 minute meal with tip and beer wound up around EUR40/CAD$60 which isn’t too much more than I would pay for a comparable dining experience in Edmonton. I’ll recall this meal not only for the outstanding flavours and local specialties but the luxury of having the whole place to myself. When I reluctantly left the restaurant after a fabulous meal I was completely satisfied which pretty much was the same feeling I left Helsinki with.