“So what’s Helsinki like?” I am often asked, when people know that I’ve visited Finland.
“Well, there are loads of great things about Helsinki, itself, ” I usually tell them, “…not the least of which is great design in clothing, architecture, romantic historical sites and a great summertime atmosphere.” [N.B. Most Australians only travel to the Arctic in summer!]
“But first up,” I then say, “you need to know that the people of Helsinki eat a good deal of fish, freshwater fish, that is. Even sometimes three times in a day. So when I think of Helsinki, I think of Salmon, and lots of it.”
And I remember it is not just ordinary salmon, because the thing that struck me about Finns, was that they had taken Salmon to a whole new level, like as in Heinz 52 different varieties.
Now I love Salmon, so I was pretty happy with this, until I realized how hard it would be be to choose which one to buy! I needed help to choose between Tsar’s salmon, Cold Smoked Salmon, Flamed Salmon, Lemon Salmon and Rose Pepper Salmon, etc. and in the end, feeling rather befuddled, I settled on Cured Salmon with Basilic??
“But freshwater fish? Why only freshwater fish?” – my Australian friends might continue to ask.
Apparently the waters surrounding Helsinki are extremely low in salt, due to the existence perhaps of only one, narrow channel entering the Baltic sea from the open ocean, (and that is around Denmark, for the geographically challenged). Therefore, the Baltic waters contain a multitude of freshwater fish varieties, but almost no prawns, (read: shrimp), or mussels, as those are the species that need salt water to flourish.
On a perhaps unsurprising side note: fishing or angling, in Finland is free and does not require a special permit, as it is considered every man’s basic right. – Yay for Finland!!
“But, surely there is not just fish to eat in Helsinki?” they continue to ask me.
“Certainly not!! There are many other indigenous styled foods, such as ‘Bear’ pate and ‘Reindeer Snacks.’ ” I venture.
If truth be told, when I first saw the reindeer ‘chips,’ I started to wonder if the Finns were chewing on Rudolph’s antlers for morning tea??? Feeling slightly bilious at that thought, I opted for a tin of reindeer pâté instead. But then I thought of home. And how I would explain a tin of reindeer/bear meat to Customs officials? I mean, Customs officers in Australia, take CITES and moreover, bio-security, very seriously: just ask Johnny Depp and Amber – if you haven’t – Heard. (apologies – bad pun!!). Thus, I ended up buying neither….. window shopping was the mantra at this store.
I digress. We were discussing Helsinki, itself, weren’t we?
If you do want to try any of the aforementioned foods of Helsinki, the place to go is definitely the covered and historic Market Hall, located right on the main square, adjacent to Helsinki’s harbor. It’s usually crammed full with locals, but is truly the best ‘old world-foodie’- style atmosphere, you can find in the 21st century and the food is good, seriously good.
From 8 am, visitors cram like sardines, into the deli stalls, micro-cafes, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers, (well: gourmet soap and candle stalls), for candles, seafood or cheese supplies or, they do as I did, they just hang out there for a delicious lunch.
Outdoors, I found more food and craft markets on the harbor square, selling both hot and cold foods, fruit and vegetables, fresh berries to die for and a variety of furs and traditional handicrafts of the kind that seem to fascinate cruise ship tourists, but few others!
Once I’d filled up on Finnish food, I decided to work off the extra calories with a stroll uptown, through both the Helsinki Botanic and Observatory gardens. In early summer, the gardens are lined with the omnipresent Birch trees.
That made me muse romantically that their delicate branches hang like the braided locks of a long-haired girl, lazily swaying in the cool breeze. I was also besotted with the tulips naturally peppering the garden verges and bare spots in the grass, almost like weeds, whilst the local squirrel population delighted me with their frivolous antics in the lower treetops.
I wanted to tell you about Suomenlinna and the marvelous architecture that you find in Helsinki, but that will have to wait for the next post.
Find my earlier post Finding my Feet in Finland here
Something to Ponder About